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Monday, July 30, 2012

253

The Best Time I Quit Drinking

I was sitting in a cafe the other day drinking tea and watching a woman sip a glass of wine. I wasn’t fully boring-holes-into-her-head watching her, of course, but working on my computer and dividing my attention among a project, two e-mail inboxes, iTunes, cute dogs trotting past, and this woman holding a glass of white wine and talking to her friend. I must have glanced over a dozen times to see the glass still held aloft and half-full, as if she had forgotten it was in her hand. My god, had she forgotten? What was wrong with this woman? Could the conversation be that interesting?

It’s at moments like these that it becomes impossible to forget what I would sometimes like to, that as perfectly okay as it might sometimes seem to have just one beer or join in a champagne toast, I can’t. If I start I won’t be able to stop; I’m not and never will be a normal drinker.

I never in my life forgot about a drink in my hand or a bottle in my cabinet. In those last desperate months when I still hoped that if only I exerted enough self-control I too could drink normally it was as if an open bottle of wine languishing in the pantry glowed phosphorescently. But it didn’t glow for everyone, and for a very long time I imagined that I could make myself not see it. I would leave notes taped to my bedroom door pleading with myself to not venture into the kitchen, I’d exult in having a single glass of wine with dinner, think “see! I can have just one!” then spend the next three nights bombed. I remember one particular bottle of vodka belonging to a roommate that I must have drunk and replaced a dozen times. I would drink just a little bit at a time until I knew it would be noticed and felt I might as well finish it off before I bought a new bottle. I would worry all the next day that I would be caught before I could smuggle in the replacement but once I did I would tell myself it was no big deal: everyone drinks their roommates’ booze sometimes, right? But this wasn’t sometimes anymore. 

Was I always this way? Yes and no. I loved alcohol from the second I first felt the fire of purloined whiskey in my throat at some high school party, but I was cautious, too. Three of my grandparents were addicted to booze or pills, two of them burning out before I was born (one doing so quite literally in a house fire caused by passing out in bed with a lit cigarette). Even before I was treated for an eating disorder at 15 I suspected that my mother’s food and exercise obsessions were manifestations of that same addictive hunger. And so part of my behavior toward alcohol involved careful self-monitoring — afraid that I would have to give up booze if it became an obvious problem I learned to be cautious and secretive about my relationship with it.

I hid the extent of my drinking, trying to camouflage myself as a moderate drinker. I drank before I went out and after, added shots to my drinks at parties when no one was paying attention, carried flasks. I can’t think of a single time when any one person knew how much alcohol I consumed over the course of an evening. This furtiveness is common to many alcoholics but seems more common among women, for one way we show our power and status in this society is by visible self-control, never letting anyone see how hungry we are (why else is Victoria Beckham so fascinating?).

I’ve heard the condition of alcoholism defined as fear of life, a condition alcoholics treat with booze and drugs as well as a variety of addictive behaviors. Although I rarely made the mental equation I feel bad = I need a drink, my cravings for alcohol manifested when I felt most keenly the gap between how other people saw me: a smart, cool, cosmopolitan person with a fascinating career — and how I felt inside: hollowed out, desperate, and worthless. I drank to blunt my fear and discomfort, to blur the edges, to forget I felt like a fraud. As Caroline Knapp put it in her beautiful memoir Drinking: A Love Story, “I loved [alcohol]’s special power of deflection, its ability to shift my focus away from my own awareness and onto something else, something less painful than my own feelings.”

Since I started the process of recovery four months ago life has been a series of slightly frightening sober firsts: first sober concert, first sober dinner with the family, first sober wedding, first sober forsaking of the sexual kryptonite of an ex-flame. Although I never drank every single day, alcohol was a part of nearly everything I looked forward to and a security blanket I knew would be there when anything went wrong: my constant companion and faithful friend. Even when I knew it was damaging my body and my life it was desperately hard to give it up.

And yet with the option off the table, so to speak, I’m becoming accustomed to a new sort of normal. Where once upon a time Sober Frightened Me and Drunk Fearless Me were a world apart, they seem now to be slowly integrating. At a dinner party two weeks ago I was the only one of nine not drinking, and I watched with curiosity as strangers became more relaxed and comfortable with one another, laughing and flirting and hollering for refills. Without a chemical transition of my own I could only paddle through the never-not-awkward small talk and find comfort and pleasure in simply getting to know people (also, a cheese plate really facilitates bonding).

I’ve done a bit of reading on the science of addiction, learning that once the trajectory is underway the relationship of the addict to their chosen substance becomes one of needing, not wanting. Where alcohol once presented a comforting possibility, a place of safety and invulnerability and pleasure, at some point things turned. Research shows that as use continues addicts derive less, not more pleasure from their drug of choice, and yet their cravings do not diminish.

I never hit a hard bottom — crashed a car, woken up next to a complete stranger — but I know if I’d kept going I would have. I’d started to black out most nights I drank, but the monstrous shame and daily, low-level hangovers would fade from my memory the minute I felt again that I needed a splash of something to see my mother, go on a internet date, even, on one inglorious occasion, to get my ass to yoga (I do not recommend this). I would surely have continued on the self-destructive path I was on had not a roommate’s boyfriend, fresh out of rehab, moved into our place temporarily, placing square in my path an example of a person transformed. I made up my mind to talk to him about it but it took weeks to screw up the courage to do so. I couldn’t have imagined a person less likely to judge or mock me and yet when I saw him I just couldn’t get the words out, finally sending him an e-mail hemming and hawing about how I guess I couldn’t control my drinking and maybe I needed some help?

One week later I got sober. I love the company of other alcoholics, love sharing stories and experiences and the laughter of (sometimes painful) recognition. It helps not only to keep me from taking that first drink but acts as an antidote to the anomie and class/gender/age divisions of our daily lives. Alcoholics are all kinds of people but they share something fundamental and deeply personal, and when we come together honesty prevails: you can talk to a stranger about the worst things you did and the deepest fears you have, and they will happily tell you theirs.

I’m also, I hope, a better friend. When I was drinking my number one priority was the next drink. If I was at a party and my glass was running low it didn’t matter if someone was telling me about their recent trip to China or their sister’s brain tumor — I wanted to listen, I really did, but I needed to know the gin hadn’t run dry yet. Now that I’m sober I actually can listen, and sometimes people who are curious about why I’m not drinking share with me their own stories about how they smoked weed every day for eight years or their father’s drug addiction or maybe just why some people can sip a glass of wine over the course of an hour and other people can’t have just one, ever.

An Alcoholic has discovered you can buy a lot of nail wraps when you're not spending money on booze.

253 Comments / Post A Comment

allofthewine

really, really excellent post. I'm so glad you were able to come out on the other side; many, including my grandfather, are not as lucky. Congratulations on 120+ days sober.

(I apologize for the seeming bad taste of my user name.)

AW@twitter

Yes. To the writer, I've been a friend of Bill's for a few years now.

It gets better. So much better. Juts stick around.

and it's not even my birthday

@AW@twitter

Tom Waits on not drinking anymore: "I think maybe when you drink, you are – you’re probably robbing yourself of that genuine experience, even though it appears what you’re doing is getting more of it. You’re getting less of it. And it takes a while, when you’ve had a rock on the hose like that for so long. It takes a while for the hose to be a hose again, you know, and for things to start flowing."

I wouldn't say that anyone and everyone who drinks has a rock in their hose, but I've been sober for about a year now and I feel like my hose is still re-accelerating its flow. While it gets hard sometimes, it's actually kind of exhilarating. I still love many of the trappings of booze, like bars, people who drink and the kinds of things people often do while drinking, but I don't really miss the actual booze that much anymore. In fact, I feel kind of a punk thrill whenever I go up to a bar and order a ginger ale.

aphrabean

I love Caroline Knapp's book, and I love this. Thank you for sharing this, so much.

OhMarie

This is really lovely.

liverwortlaura

I really love the image of standing over a cheese plate, just being present with the party. Thank you for sharing this honest and thoughtful piece, and sending good vibes!

freelee

Such a wonderful piece. Congratulations and thank you so, so much for sharing. (repeat, a million times)

Felix@twitter

Great piece. Excellent example of the awesomeness of The Hairpin.

sarah girl

At a dinner party two weeks ago I was the only one of nine not drinking, and I watched with curiosity as strangers became more relaxed and comfortable with one another, laughing and flirting and hollering for refills.

I am not in recovery, but I don't drink anymore due to medications I'm on - I had this exact experience a few weeks ago. It's like this weird combination of jealousy and almost... feeling a little smug, because you don't need alcohol to have fun at the party? That sounds awful, but it does pass through your mind. Although the smug isn't very merited if you just stay in the corner talking with your boyfriend for the whole party and don't socialize. Hmm.

WaityKatie

@Sarah H. You just confirmed everyone's perception of the "sober person silently judging everyone"! Just kidding (kind of) but I have had that experience too when I've been sober at a party or concert..."god, drunk people are annoying!"

redheaded&crazy

@Sarah H. I go through phases where I don't drink and just DD for a few months and it is definitely an interesting experience being the lone voice of sobriety. although my friends kind of take turns DDing, some of them are more ... committed to zero tolerance than others.

let's call it ... feeling a little proud that you don't need alcohol. proud is a nicer word than smug. right?! totally.

sarah girl

@Sarah H. Oh yeah, to be clear, I don't ACTUALLY feel superior - it's just something that passes through your mind, just because you're looking at the situation from on the other side, so to speak. Maybe smug isn't the right word, it's more... just being intrigued by seeing the stages of drinking, from buzzed -> tipsy -> drunk? And a bit of "Huh, is that what I'm like when I'm drinking? Fascinating!"

I've definitely been on the drinking side, too, and do miss it sometimes. :(

WaityKatie

@Sarah H. This probably sounds equally annoying, but this is the main reason why I'm kind of leery of dating someone who doesn't drink. I don't drink very often, but sometimes I like to hang out, have a couple beers, etc., and I hate sitting across from someone who's not drinking because there's just such a disconnect. Like he's going to be sitting there thinking, "Ohhh hahaha, WaityKatie's geting A LITTLE TIPSY NOW, smugsmugsmug." How irritating. And what is the alternative, like, I'm never allowed to have a beer because my boyfriend is sober? Ugh, I feel bad about having some kind of weird policy about that because people can't help being alcoholics, etc., and I don't even drink that much! The whole thing is kind of a social minefield.

sarah girl

@WaityKatie I totally understand where you're coming from. I dated a guy for a while who wouldn't have more than one drink in a sitting, and he absolutely judged the shit out of me if I drank more than that, especially in a social setting. If I remember correctly, a choice quote after I was somewhat tipsy at a party was "I feel like you've been dishonest with me, I don't want to see you like that." To be clear, I was on the buzzed side of tipsy; I was giggly and maybe slightly louder, and that was it.

On the flip side, though, I've dated another guy who didn't drink at all (he never had, and wasn't particularly interested in starting), and he was completely fine with me and other people doing whatever. I think it helped that he was an excitable guy who liked dynamic conversations; he could loud-debate with the best of us drunk ones. :)

Moral of the story, it just depends. There are definitely people who are going to judgy-judge, but also some who will be totally fine with what/how you drink. Unfortunately, the hard part is finding the latter. :\

sarah girl

@Sarah H. Also aaahhhh I'm worried I'm sounding like a jackass in this thread. I think everybody should be free to drink or not drink, drink one glass or get bombed, whatever you feel is good for you!

Especially in a comment section on a post about addiction and recovery, I don't want anyone to feel like I have (or anyone else has) judged them for their relationship with alcohol.

WaityKatie

@Sarah H. Yeah, you're right. It's hard because, on the one hand, I would rather hang out with people who don't drink at all than with out of control drunks who need to be "babysat," or with people who get wasted from one drink, etc. But what I really want is someone exactly like me, who can have 3 beers and be done and have a nice time and that's it, and not drink any more than that because the hangovers are so horrible nowadays. Whhyyyy can't everyone be like me, haha.

EternalFootwoman

@WaityKatie I have a friend who is a fairly-heavy-yet-still-social drinker who is dating a girl who doesn't drink at all. They have fun together and she is not judgy at all. He drinks when he wants and she doesn't judge him, and she refrains from drinking and he respects that. So I wouldn't totally write someone off if they were a non-drinker.

bluewindgirl

@Sarah H. Excitable guy who loves dynamic conversations and never learned how to drink? That is the male version of me!

redheaded&crazy

@WaityKatie I'll have 3 beers and a nice time with you! that sounds like a good night for me.

I'm also now worried that i'm saying inappropriate things in this thread. I'm going to stop. I have some problem drinking behaviours too but I feel that it's under control these days.

WaityKatie

@EternalFootwoman I try not to write them off, it's just hard to get something started (re: meeting online, etc.) because, what is the first date going to be? A coffee shop? (I hate coffee shop dates, they are horrible). If it was someone I already knew, that wouldn't be an issue.

And I just want to say that I know I am incredibly lucky that I am able to have 3 drinks and stop, especially given my family's history of alcoholism, and I don't want to come off as a total ass talking about people who can't do that. And I'm sure part of my personal conflict is the fact that I've had to tiptoe around drunks (in my family) my whole life, and worry about whether they are drinking or not drinking and adjust my behavior and life accordingly...so I kind of resent having to do that for anyone else, even though I know that is part of being a decent human being. Bleh, it's just so complicated.

OhShesArtsy

@Sarah H. My husband is one of those excitable guys who just doesn't really drink. He may have one beer or sip a single glass of whiskey all night but he's never been interested in alcohol. He's totes fun at a party, though, because he doesn't draw that "I'm sober, you're drunk" line with the drinkers*.

I, on the other hand, drink quite a bit. I am very rarely sober at a party. We have never had any issues with that. He stays sober (or very very slightly buzzed), I get tipsy. It can work if both parties just don't care who else is/isn't drinking.

*the exception would be people who are stupid drunk. Neither of us are particularly interested in dealing with those.

redheaded&crazy

@WaityKatie It is complicated! I agree that meeting at a bar for a first date is the easiest kind of first date for me. And I don't think you or Sarah or I are saying anything inappropriate (I hope), it's just that it's a sensitive and complicated topic! Especially because it's such a huge aspect of socializing.

apb
apb

@WaityKatie Non-judgey, non-smug non-drinkers are terrified that everybody who drinks feels the same way you do. I've found drinkers to be far more judgemental of non-drinkers than vice-versa (and I've been firmly on both sides of this divide). Personally, I have a really problematic relationship with alcohol (I quit for five years once), and as much as I hate to admit it, the social pressure is the main reason I continue drinking. I mean, I love drinking, too, but.

punkahontas

@WaityKatie My husband stopped drinking about two years ago. At first it was a little weird, and there were a couple of times where he made judgey comments about my drinking. Then I (angrily yet patiently) explained to him that we drank together for the first ten years of our relationship, and just because he decided to stop, doesn't mean he can pass judgement on me.

I also told him he needed to change his attitude or he is going to be the sober guy nobody likes. Everything has been fine since then! He even gets me my drinks from the bar.

WaityKatie

@redheaded&crazie I think part of the reason I agonize so much over my policy on this is that I COULD stop drinking if I had a really good reason, and finding the love of my life would be a really good reason. If the love of my life were standing there and asking me to give up beer, or chocolate, or lemon bars, or any of the other things I truly love but can technically live without, I would do it. But before you meet that person, it's more like, "why would I give up any of these things for this guy? He's just some guy."

redheaded&crazy

@WaityKatie and most likely some guy who [insert terrible qualities that come up on first dates] at that.

Maryaed

@WaityKatie But, you know, why would you have to? Why fall in love with someone who demands sacrifices?

Sydney C

@WaityKatie If it is such a big deal to you, why don't you just not date sober guys and let them find someone who doesn't care? Is this something you really have to figure out right now?

WaityKatie

@Sydney C I don't. Thanks for your input.

AmeliaBadelia

@WaityKatie As someone currently dating an alcoholic, I'll tell you - it's definitely different. I drank in high school, went to a party school for college, and pretty much all of my major social interactions take place at bars while drinking. Then I met this boy who was 3 years sober, who had a rough past, but who was so incredibly kind, sweet and empathetic from it all. Because AA and the step work involved forces you to be so introspective and gain a better understanding of yourself, I think it also forces you to become a great friend and incredibly understanding and patient.

Now that we've dated for 9 months, I don't go to bars as much because, like some others have pointed out, bars are kind of boring sometimes. It's hard to talk to your friends when it's super loud and it's expensive! I do other activities with him and his friends in recovery and he'll come out with me and my friends to bars if I want him to. I still drink (though less than I used to) and I still go out and get drunk every so often.

At first I was pretty nervous about the whole idea since drinking was a large part of my social life, but now I have no regrets. In sum, for the right person, the no drinking issue just... isn't an issue.

redheaded&crazy

@WaityKatie damned if you do, damned if you don't eh?

AmeliaBadelia

I don't mean to sound preachy... it was more of a pleasant surprise. Dating an alcoholic definitely isn't for everyone, but for this lady, it turned out much better than I ever thought it would. :) Do whatever you're comfortable with!

WaityKatie

@AmeliaBadelia No, I actually think it might be great to date someone who doesn't want to drink all the time (or any of the time), and that it would be a good influence, etc. It's just...getting to that point...I appreciate your perspective on this.

harebell

@Sarah H. No, not at all, you're good!

I would be bummed by dating somebody who doesn't drink, but mostly because it's very social for me --the way food is -- and it's a lot less fun if we aren't sharing it together, clinking glasses and kissing before we start eating dinner, talking about the taste and whether or not we like it. Judgment about alcohol would be a deal breaker, culturally. I don't drink that much per night, but I do have a glass of wine with dinner or share a glass of scotch after dinner most days.

But that's me and I like being around people different from me, too. & regardless of what I like, lots of people have good reasons to never drink, & there's no need to inquire why or convert. De gustibus, etc. etc.

Jawnita

@apb I'm a (hopefully!) non-judgemental nondrinker who definitely is terrified about that "smug nondrinker" stereotype. I've genuinely never been drunk -- the amount of alcoholic beverage that's passed my lips in my entire life would probably fill a shot glass, and I'm 25 -- but it's nothing moral or religious; I just cannot stand the taste of anything even slightly alcoholic (yes, including desserts with booze in them, and yes, I can tell). My friends don't actually drink that much, quantity-wise, but they take their alcohol very seriously, and a lot of our hangouts center around craft beers or hand-wrought cocktails made from top notch expensive liquors. And I'm always worried that my occasional "can we do something else tonight, guys?" comes across as snotty. At parties with less-close friends when I'm feeling lonely about being the sober person in the room, I just pretend to be a bit drunk. It's more fun that way.

(I also can't stand coffee. First dates involve museums/galleries/ice cream, for me.)

Myrtle

@WaityKatie Wow you named my dragon, which is chocolate. I hear people joke about being addicted to chocolate and I think "You bastards don't even know the pain." If I told you about the lying cheating and stealing I've done to get chocolate while leaving out the word, you'd think I was talking about cocaine or something. I was sober for 18 years and I'd sit in AA and Al-Anon listening to people while drinking coffee and eating chocolate chip cookies and think "Why isn't my life getting better?" I Love drinking and I'd say I've abused it at times, yet it was never a problem to quit for all that time. But I don't want you to know that if there's chocolate in the house, I can't stop until it's all gone. Or that sometimes I don't even taste it, I'm just trying to get high. I've never tried harder drugs b/c of this dragon.

ThatJenn

@Sarah H. Yes, THIS - I find I have very little tolerance anymore for tiptoeing around other people's problem drinking due to dealing with family and an ex with alcohol issues. It doesn't make me feel superior, or judgmental, but it DOES keep me from hanging out with people who have behaviors that make me uncomfortable with their drinking (some of which are serious alcoholism issues and some of which are probably just on the obnoxious end of normal, but I have some hardcore PTSD from the ex and can't cope with it).

It means I mostly don't get to hang out and drink with people, as about half of my friends don't drink at all, and the others often hang out with the problematic folks. But after suffering through it (and having it push me to drink more than I should, too, in those settings, just to cope), I think it's worth the trade-off.

Xanthophyllippa

@WaityKatie What, do all your first dates consist of getting shitfaced that you can't think of something other than a bar? Why should meeting for coffee elicit scorn?

Look, here's the thing: meet the other person in a bar. If they don't drink for whatever reason and don't have an issue meeting in a bar, they'll order a ginger ale or a tonic and lime or something. Or meet them in a coffeeshop, and if they don't drink coffee, they'll order tea or hot chocolate. And if you go to a restaurant and they don't like chicken, they'll order the fish. What your date chooses to consume has nothing to do with you and what you choose to consume, and if you're sitting there assuming they're judging you...well, then you're judging them. Really.

WaityKatie

@Xanthophyllippa Uh, thanks for not judging me. I'm going to go ahead and do what I want on first dates, regardless of your instructions, thanks.

Xanthophyllippa

@WaityKatie Well, that made me laugh out loud. You're welcome; turnabout's fair play.

Love from,
Your local haughty judgemental disapproving spinster prude non-drinker who's absolutely no fun and has no connection with ANYONE.

WaityKatie

@Xanthophyllippa Dude, I have repeatedly said that I DON'T get wasted, pretty much ever, and that I just like to have a few drinks. And yes, it is possible to sit in a bar on a date and just have a few drinks. I have also said that I would actually LIKE to date a non-drinker, but I find it awkward forcing them to sit there and watch me drink, because watching people drink is boring, as I know from personal experience. You came back with, essentially, "shut up you stupid drunken bitch!" You don't know me, so please take your issues elsewhere.

Briony Fields

Hmmm, this is timely. I had my first sober night out last week. It wasn't too difficult to stay away from booze, but I was severely depressed at how a night in the bar actually looks when you are sober. What normally would have been a great night full of jolly conversation and bonding was....dull. The conversations were super shouty about really boring topics but because everyone was drunk they were all really excited about their OPINIONS, man, as if they weren't just rehashing the same old shit everyone says about the same old shit. This is not fresh and new, your drink is making you think it is. Also, the sitting! Going to a bar means just sitting there. In zero other activities in my life would I be plain sitting for hours upon end. Sounds obvious but I'd never thought of it that way before. My arse was aching after the first two hours.

Hmm, this maybe sounds more bitter than I wanted it to, but seriously. Being around drunk people is highly depressing.

redheaded&crazy

@Briony Fields I also get super antsy sitting at bars. maybe this is why i haven't been to one in so long. I like them for pub food though. mmmm delicious greasy overpriced pub food.

EternalFootwoman

@Briony Fields So true. If you're not drinking, the hardest activities are the ones that involve...just drinking. It's not super-hard, if you're prepared for it, to go bowling or to a movie or to a dinner and not drink. But to go to a cocktail party or a bar, where the activities are small talk and drinking--it really makes you realize how boring drinking can be.

Briony Fields

@redheaded&crazie Mmmm, pub food! But then you finish the food and think "well now would be a nice time for a digestive walk! Wait, what's that? You're all going to drink eight more beers first? Ok..." (rubs sore haunches)
Honestly, I'm just disturbed that I never noticed it before. I'm pretty active, but it just never occurred to me that bar hopping is such a sedentary thing. Mind. Blown.

Briony Fields

@EternalFootwoman Yes! Small talk is great for a while, but it should be a preparatory activity for something else. When the whole evening is small talk it is so mind-numbingly boring. I mean, generally speaking. I can enjoy an evening out just chatting (soberly) to my friends, but mingling with strangers for hours on end, just, woof.

PistolPackinMama

@Briony Fields Nah- I get you. I don't think it's particularly depressing, just enlightening. And I don't think being bored by drunk people is particularly smug/judgy either (see above thread). I mean, it can be, but it doesn't have to be.

The thing is... it's a different dynamic, a room full of drunk people, and if you are sober sometimes it just doesn't fit with where you are at socially, is all.

And addicts at their most addict-ey can behave like such frustrating pains in the ass. Unreliable- don't show up, too trashed to drive, Untrustworthy- steal your stuff to pay for drugs (ugh... no. good.), Dull- as you say, bombed people are often very dull. Arranging your relationship so the priority is always addiction. It's a lot of balls to keep in the air, being around that.

It's not like I haven't been that bombed dull pain in the ass person, either.

I guess eventually you have to adjust your life so you aren't stuck in that place all the time. Thankfully the world is full of books and shopping malls and museums and other places and our social lives don't only happen in bars.

But first night out sober. Nice job lady (gent?). And, yay! Your BAMF merit badge is in the mail.

EternalFootwoman

@Briony Fields I know! I can definitely sit and have a conversation with friends for hours. But trying to have any sort of meaningful talk with someone who's on their third hour at the bar is pointless.

redheaded&crazy

@Briony Fields yes! i could sit in a bar for a short period of time. long periods of time oh man. I have so much trouble. and the last time I spent that long in a bar I ended up drinking too much cuz what else is there to do? bad times.

at least at parties I can rope people into going for walks with me.

also i am terrible at making small talk and turning that into more engaging conversations with strangers. just terrible at it.

noReally

The other night a visiting sober friend told me about going out with a bunch of old friends. He observed that in some cases, people's inhibitions do a lot for their personalities. Like, Hang onto those, they're really working for you.

Briony Fields

@PistolPackinMama Omg, BAMF merit badge? Squee! That'll be my first badge ever in spite of all those years of Girl Guides (laziest guide ever, is there a badge for that?)

Mmm, I agree that it's enlightening. I think what depressed me the most was the realization that *I* had in fact behaved that way so many times without even noticing it. I've many a time been the super obnoxious drunk that people were snickering at. Although I did find the evening boring, I wouldn't say I felt superior to the others at all, just...yeah, woefully enlightened. And suddenly retroactively embarrassed for all those years of public silly antics.

PistolPackinMama

@Briony Fields Don't be embarrassed. Just... let the memory of that make you more compassionate towards annoying drunk people. Which isn't the same as putting up with the stupid. But, you know how it is, and what it requires to move along from it. You probably also know how little being an interfering judgy person works.

That's a goldmine of understanding and insight that people need, when they are ready to need it, you know?

One of the wisest people I know is in recovery because of all that.

Briony Fields

@PistolPackinMama This is wise and I am committing it to memory. Thank you.

Brunhilde

@EternalFootwoman "it really makes you realize how boring drinking can be."

It doesn't really sound like anyone who was drinking was bored.

EternalFootwoman

@Brunhilde Well, no, but it can be boring to be among a group of completely wasted people who are all doing the drunken small talk thing. (To differentiate from people who are having good conversations and also happen to be drinking.)

thebestjasmine

@redheaded&crazie One of my good friends who is now sober started throwing/organizing different kinds of social gatherings instead of "let's all just go to a bar!" Which are like, "let's all go to this cool place and walk around" or "let's all go on a picnic!" etc, and they're a hell of a lot more fun than going to a bar and drinking. And I like going to a bar and drinking.

Xanthophyllippa

@EternalFootwoman That's the key distinction: are people chatting over a little wine, or is the sole purpose of the drinking to get completely blitzed? The former I find interesting; the latter, I find unbelievably dull.

Bon Vivant

Good luck to you. Actually, best of luck.

Slutface

Loved this. Going to send it to a friend going through a hard time. I think it'll give her hope.

elsbels

This made me think. Because of the never hitting rock bottom thing mostly. I wouldn't call myself an alcoholic, I can go weeks without drinking alcohol, but when I do, I also can't stop, I drink a whole bottle of wine by myself and then do some drunk facebooking and avoid facebook for the next few days, because I feel bad. It's never enough, same with food, cigarettes, anything. I've had the Caroline Knapp book on my reading list forever, I'm actually reading Portrait of an Addict as a young man, because I just finished reading 90 Days by the same author and I really liked it.

EternalFootwoman

@elsbels Being an alcoholic isn't about how deep your bottom is but what your relationship with alcohol is like.

Emmylou Who

@elsbels I saw more of myself in this article than I would like to admit. Or am comfortable admiting. It's certainly going to be rolling around in my mind for a while, which may be exactly what I need.

elsbels

@EternalFootwoman yes, I think my relationship with alcohol might not be THE problem, but how it ties into my other problems. I recently thought, I'm probably never having a kid (this is fine with me, not, dear god, I'm never having a kid) and many of my friends went 9 months without alcohol during their pregnancy (plus nursing and stuff). I want to try that.

packedsuitcase

@elsbels My ex's dad was an alcoholic, and the biggest thing that he taught me was that you're an alcoholic when you can't stick to a limit you set yourself. So if you say, "Yeah, I'll go out and have *a* drink with people and then head home," and find yourself there 5 drinks later, you're probably an alcoholic. It really made me think about my drinking habits and how in control I am about how much I drink, which is always a good thing.

Briony Fields

On a more positive note, congrats on the sobriety! Best of luck.

themmases

This is wonderful; congratulations on your sobriety! And thank you for sharing about it here.

I am uncomfortably familiar with some of this, especially with the feeling of trying to fix or control your relationship to alcohol so you won't have to stop drinking it. I still drink because I think I did fix it?* I started trying to lose weight of all things and, while I was never able to switch to chamomile tea or whatever, I found that I cared more about having "a drink" with my book in the evening than I did about what it was, how much of it I had, or how it physically made me feel. I just wanted to set something next to me while I read, have it signal "not working", and last me from 8-ish until bedtime.

I eventually managed to do this, first with carefully measured out whiskey and caffeine free sodas, then with wine. Now I can barely even drink liquor (maybe one fancy cocktail, out, with dinner) and feeling tipsy is my signal to take a walk or go to bed because I really don't like it. I feel really, unspeakably, lucky.

*Not that this is intended as advice, it is just what happened to me.

EternalFootwoman

@themmases "I cared more about having 'a drink' with my book in the evening than I did about what it was, how much of it I had, or how it physically made me feel."

Difference between a normal drinker and an alcoholic.

themmases

@EternalFootwoman Oh, yes, absolutely, hence feeling lucky. For maybe 3 years before that, my "not working" drink was a series of whiskeys that took me maybe half an hour each to consume from 8-ish until bedtime. By bedtime, I would have given up on book reading over an hour before in favor of listening to Lucinda Williams, reading old livejournal entries, and crying.

stuffisthings

@themmases I go through times when I think I might have a problem, but really I don't have a relationship with alcohol per se. That is, I don't crave "a drink" and I almost never drink at home -- maybe literally one or two beers, once or twice a month, if there happen to be some in the fridge, or one whiskey drink.

But I just absolutely love going to bars -- the camaraderie and random chance and conversations with strange people I'd never normally talk to -- and I generally don't feel right at social occasions that don't involve at least a little liquor, though I can handle them just fine. With certain people I genuinely enjoy spending time with I sometimes don't even notice that the night has come to an end and I've had only a normal person amount of alcohol (say, two beers, or one fancy cocktail) but then I also have drinking friends, whom I love dearly and enjoy spending time with, where a night is not complete without many rounds of shots and sloppy 2 AM taxis.

Really, the only problem I have with alcohol is that I spend too much money on it, because I only drink it at bars. Is it possible to be a baraholic?

EternalFootwoman

I mean, no one else can say whether you have a problem or not. What I have been taught is that if you start drinking even when you don't want to (or know you shouldn't, i.e., have a big work presentation the next day), or if you can't stop once you've started, then you should more closely examine your relationship to alcohol.

harebell

@stuffisthings Obviously none of us can know from the outside. From what you say, though it doesn't sound like a problem to me. It sounds healthy. If you're worried, you can always alternate your shots of alcohol with shots of water or just limit the number of rounds for yourself on nights when you go out with the drinking friends. If they are nice friends, it shouldn't matter at all to them.
This tends to self-regulate with age anyway, to whole groups of friends, as you all get older and can't do late nights & large amounts of alcohol well without losing most of the next day to feeling crappy. I honestly don't miss it.

stuffisthings

@harebell Well yeah, I have certainly been calling it a night earlier and more often the older I get, but these posts always make me wonder, since I do drink pretty heavily and booze is a big part of my social life. I think really what I'm worried about is my financial impulse control, not my drinking. My next-morning panic attacks are always about my bank balance, not the photos on Facebook or who's sleeping next to me or what body part I've managed to cough up.

ETA: To be fair sometimes the quantities involved could be worrying from a medical perspective. For instance, on Friday night, to the best of my recollection, I had 5 PBRs, 2 liters of Paulener Pilsner, half a pint of an unknown darker beer, and ~6 shots of whiskey and was still able to carry on a detailed conversation about the ins and outs of lobbying for the actuarial industry with my friend's new beau.

Poubelle

@stuffisthings I don't know about your drinking habits but your conversation habits sound amazing.

ThatJenn

@stuffisthings I've quit drinking for 6 months multiple times just to reset my tolerance to "cheap date" level. (I'm a non-problem drinker, generally, which helps. I do find myself over-drinking when I have Other Stuff going on in my head that I need to deal with, once every few years, but I've found that my problem is generally the Other Stuff and I can go back to having 1-2 drinks occasionally after clearing the air around the Other Stuff.) It helps that I have a lot of friends who also don't drink, who are OK with going to a bar and ordering bar food and talking and enjoying the experience without alcohol (hi, Stubbies! I am so glad I don't have to miss you when I'm sober).

Eliza Wharton

lovelovelove. i have this thing too: i mean, if i could drink normally, well, i would drink all the goddamn time! how wonderful to be at the beginning of this; bottle all this gratitude. also: your bottom will get harder and deeper with distance from it (only alcoholics will apologize for it not having been bad enough). daily living with "monstrous shame" is a horrifying and horrible way to live. the beauty of this new way of being, of living, is the wonderful and increasing inability to tolerate pain that great.

FoleySparrow

@Eliza Wharton - "your bottom will get harder and deeper with distance from it." Wow! Yes, how lovely and perfectly said. Thank you.

I have a sober friend who says the real bottom is always really about 2 years before the bottom that brings you to quit. That shocked me and upset me the first time I heard it, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized how it was true for me too.

I think we know there is something wrong for a long time, and we stick loyally to something that is costing us far too much, something that may in fact be damaging us if not killing us, for two years or more, before accepting bottom. And yes, it absolutely takes sober distance from that time and place to realize how long it was and how deep it went, even if we think we didn't earn our bottom, or that we should apologize for it. Yep, give it time. I've come to realize by being happy and free how bad things really were before I quit.

Kind of like a long stretch in a bad relationship. The more work you put in on yourself and farther you put it behind you, the more alien and terrible it seems. The more unimaginable it is you ever allowed yourself to slowly and by terrible increments be brought down to that awful place.

When alcohol becomes a bad boyfriend, DTMFA.

Thank you anonymous writer for this sensitive, gentle, honest article. Best wishes to you. Life sucks better sober.

Nichole Poinski@facebook

This is my story, as I have seen reflected in many others I have shared with and who have shared with me. I have 15 days, and in those 15 days, went to a music festival, danced, and sang karaoke, all sober. I am present, I am conscious, I am alive.

I wished desperately that I did not have this problem. That one drink would be enough for me. I thought I would escape my family's disease by not partying in college or high school. I couldn't escape it, it manifested anyway.

My sobriety time is short, and one of the ways this is working is by taking it one day at a time. By not thinking about the champagne I can't have at my wedding, but about how I might actually get to be present at my wedding and remember it the next day.

Thank you for publishing this piece. This new life is core-quaking, deeply humbling, hilarious, and scary. It helps to hear from others.

sarah girl

@Nichole Poinski@facebook Congratulations on your 15 days!! And good luck on adding more to that total, one day at a time, even if they aren't consecutive days. <3

EternalFootwoman

@Nichole Poinski@facebook Major congrats on 15 days! That's amazing and more than many people can do. I don't have a ton of time, but I do believe it gets better. One day at a time.

shantasybaby

@Nichole Poinski@facebook Good for you! Your bit about not partying in your youth making you think you dodged the alcoholism bullet resonates with me- I didn't drink much at all until I was in my late 20's and while I know I'm alot more responsible of a drinker now than I would have been when I was 19, hearing your story reminds me that I still have to be aware (strong alcohlic streak on my dad's side of the family.)

HereKitty

Welcome, Sober Fearless You -- what a brilliant piece!

cosmia

Echoing everyone else's thought, this is a really great, lovely post. I've known a few friends who emerged out of rehab feeling like this, and it's so wonderful being around them and knowing that they really battled something to emerge as better people

shawbaby

SO MANY CONGRATULATIONS on getting sober, it is so, so hard to do, especially at an age when a lot of your life revolves around going out to bars and getting drinks with friends.

My amazing, lovely mother is an alcoholic (4 years sober!) and the whole "forgetting the glass of wine in her hand" line reminded me of something she said recently: I told her I didn't like getting absolutely blotto because I hated feeling that out of control, I really only liked to be tipsy/a little bit drunk, and she said, "See, with me I don't even understand what you're talking about, I don't even know what 'a little bit drunk' feels like. When I think about having a drink I don't think about sipping a glass of wine, I think about pouring myself a glass of vodka and downing the whole thing."

But she also says she now doesn't even think about wanting a drink, and joining AA completely turned her life around, and gave her an entire network of support all over the country (she always finds a meeting to go to when we go out of town). It gets better! For you and everyone (that matters, at least) in your life. YOU GO, GLEN COCO.

TARDIStime

@shawbaby
Do people who were alcoholics but have been sober for years still refer to themselves as "currently an alocoholic?" Is this the terminology used in AA?
Just wondering 'cuz I like to know these things - not a criticism if you accidentally just confused your tenses (happens to us all!).

BTW, super congrats to your mum for not even thinking about wanting a drink - that's an amazing leap to make and then maintain for four years. I would be proud If I was you too!

packedsuitcase

@TARDIStime My ex's dad did. He was an alcoholic up until the day he died, but he died with over 20 years of sobriety under his belt. For him, being an alcoholic was like being a white man. No matter how tan (or sober) he got, his genetic makeup was white (or an alcoholic). Does that make sense?

EternalFootwoman

@TARDIStime I can't speak for anyone who has quit drinking on their own or who has used another program, but since AA uses the disease model of addiction, you are always an alcoholic regardless of how long you've been sober. The same way you're always a diabetic or a schizophrenic regardless of how long you've had the disease under control.

TARDIStime

@packedsuitcase and @EternalFootwoman
Thanks, this is exactly what I was wondering and yes, you do make sense.
:-D

like a rabid squirrel

This was a great piece. Congratulations on sobriety. I recently had to go on medications that interact with alcohol, and reevaluating my relationship to alcohol has been an enlightening and frustrating process.

City_Dater

Congratulations on your sobriety and writing about it so well and so clearly.
Work those nail wraps!

TARDIStime

@City_Dater What are nail wraps? I must know!

empathicalist

Bravo to the author, it's a brave, bold and beautiful choice you've made. Also, I'd really like to hear from others about their experience in sobriety and/or moderation, that doesn't/didn't involve AA.

AW@twitter

@minijen

I was born that way,

I always had to be the centre of attention, always had to be praised, always had to have my sense of being a wunderkid reinforced.

But that was at odds with my interior, always feeling unworthy, miserable, inept at social situations, 10 thumbs with women, and excluded from the " in crowd". I was so desperately lonely I felt I was two steps away from breaking down at all times (unless nicely buzzed).

When I first started drinking, it all made sense. I felt good, I felt wanted, it gave me solid piece of my identity that I had been missing. None of my problems actually dissapeared, indeed I was still all 10 thumbs (and creepy as hell, in retrospect) but that didn't matter. I now had affirmation that I had arrived.

It's obvious the warning signs were there from the start. Low companions, really bad situations, 4 day hangovers where I was incapacitated, a huge portion of my free cash into alcohol, intense suicidal depression when I was sober. However I was high functioning, I drank through a B.A. and Mphil, I drank my way across Europe, I drank my way into a nice career.

I had really strong series of justifications. I was smarter than you, I could control it, it wasn't really out of control - it was part of my identity, my tastes were too high class. I was an epicurian and had a right to sample the finest life could offer. I needed it because my lifestyle demanded it. I was never that bad. I was alone in the world and I was going to use any tool dammit to cope.

Then it became worse. I got in drunken brawls. I started to mix hard drugs in with sessions. I started blacking out, I could not hold or get a relationship going for the life of me. I puked up part of my stomach lining. The depression got more and more intense....

AW@twitter

@AW@twitter Cont.. But I didn't realize what needed to be done. Then one day I met someone and fell hard in love. But it was all wrong. I was too fucked up, she was too fucked up and when I woke to that fact It was just too painful to cope. I bendered.

Around that time people had started to drop hints, that maybe I was going to hard (perhaps they'd been doing it all along?), I would wake and find pictures of people doing handstands in my hallway(WTF when did that happen?). I knew I came from a line of alcoholics and so I found myself in a meeting.

I tried bravado, but by the end tears were streaming down my face. They gave me a book and told me to keep coming back.

I'd like to say it was simple. But I slipped for the next four months. However it convinced me that I was for sure out of control, also miraculously the depression that had been plaguing me for years cleared up. I woke one day to the realization I didn't feel like killing myself anymore.

That was enough to convince me that I needed this. So from there my path took me to the twelve steps. Which I completed with a sponsor.

I became more normal. I went out on dates. I could afford to by a co-workers mercedes-benz. One year to the month, after I sobered up I met the woman who was to become my wife. I was no longer alone.

It hasn't been an easy path, but what in life is? I can look back on my time sober and say, yes it is better and everyday it is becoming still better. I am constantly surprised by the clarity I now have at my actions and others. I far better able to cope financially and emotionally life's curveballs.

I'm no longer that active in the program, but I carry the 12 steps with me always and I know implicitly that I am always welcome. And of course I'm always ready to share.

empathicalist

@AW@twitter Thank you for baring and sharing.

Heat Signature

@minijen Why not involving AA? Reading the Big Book helped me understand that I was an alcoholic, if not clinically then certainly in attitude and actions. Even though I never "worked the steps", going to meetings and reading the literature was a great bridge from using to sobriety (for me, at least).

empathicalist

@Heat Signature I'm not ok with the 'divine power' and 'giving it up' parts. I think claiming responsibility is important. It's just a personal preference. Also, they get the most press, but stats are 75% quit on their own, and AA doesn't have a very good success rate. So, I'd like to hear about other options that have worked for others.

Heat Signature

@minijen AA doesn't have a good success rate? Just out of curiosity, what's your source?

stuffisthings

@minijen I think this is much more common in Europe than the in the US. Part of the problem, from what I understand, is that while the medical community is mostly in agreement on the disease model of addiction, most doctors don't believe that alcoholism is a treatable disorder. So addicts have created their own ad-hoc treatment system which, while it delves quite a bit into the realm of pseudoscience and outright hokum, is better than nothing and works quite well for a lot of people.

stuffisthings

(I believe this is one of the big non-AA approaches, haven't really looked at it in detail though: http://www2.potsdam.edu/hansondj/HealthIssues/20091103113344.html )

chevyvan

@minijen I know you don't want to hear this perspective, but I think it may help and I hope I don't sound condescending: AA saved my dad's life. He's been sober about 6 or 7 years now. He's a spiritual person, so he doesn't have a problem with the divine power part. Read up on Roger Ebert's take. He's an atheist and very vocal in promoting AA.

I have hung around my dad's AA friends (and attended some meetings at his invitation...you don't turn down an invitation like that when you're alcoholic dad gets sober) enough to know a typical AA response to your concerns:

"I may be stupid/a dupe/a sheep/an asshole, but at least I'm sober."

Miss Violet

@minijen I second what chevyvan says. I met my fiance in a bar - on the weekend he hit bottom. A few weeks ago we just celebrated our 7 year anniversary, and his 7 years of sobriety. He's a hard-core atheist, but he works a program and has a higher power, just not a God-power. More a evolution power - your higher power doesn't have to be God, it just has to be more powerful than drinking. I struggle with this whole thing a lot too, so I understand your issues.

Incidentally, I always thought I would marry someone who liked to drink as much as I did. But I love this person much more than I like champagne - so at this point I've pretty much stopped drinking altogether. I do recognize that I have to work a little harder to relax and make conversation at parties, but I don't miss my own binge drinking one bit. And thank you 'Pin for putting up this excellent post - and very best wishes to the writer!

sparrow303

@chevyvan I think ultimately, whatever system works for people is fine, you know? Like I lost weight on my own, but for my mom, it took Weight Watchers. I hate the idea of meetings and sharing, but it totally worked for her, and since she's happy, that's fine by me. I imagine the same goes for AA: It's not for everyone, maybe, but if it helps some people, so be it.

Murphy

@minijen

@anyone dealing with this: It’s been a very long time now, and it does get easier.

The timing of this post is odd – I’ve had one of those days that used to cause me to try to drown out the confusion of feeling life on two levels. My shell is tight and complete: I’m competent, intelligent, successful. But beneath it I’m hollow: a gaping pit of blackness and fear, bitter with self-loathing, clawed by rage. I don’t know where it came from, how it grew. It may have always been there.

Some days, the tension between the two would became unbearable, and all I could think about was making it numb. Anything to deaden these unbearable feelings. Anything for some peace. So I drank. Then, because I loathed myself for needing it, I drank more. On good days, I pretended it was cool.

I drank, and so I stole. I abused friends and friendships. I abused myself. Somehow it felt right that I should end up this way, that the darkness inside would engulf me completely. Sometimes I could tell myself it was the drink, that this wasn’t the real me. But it was. I hated myself.

The realization that I had to stop or this thing would kill me wasn’t sudden. The knowledge had been my secret shame for years. It became more urgent over time. Small humiliations piled up. Petty, nasty little corruptions became bigger. I would tell myself every day that today would be the day. And it wasn’t.

Two things happened. The first thing was an offer of escape and isolation. I took it, and stopped for 3 months because it was easier than finding a way to carry on. I thought about drinking all the time. I never expected to feel so trapped and alone.

Then I came back, terrified of what would happen next, and everything became worse. I’d stopped drinking. Supposedly I’d slayed the demon. But it was now that I became homeless, jobless. Every day my shell stretched thinner and tighter. And so I started again. I ran away. I tried to hide myself in the cheapest booze and the darkest corners I could find. I wanted to die.

But somehow, in the middle of all that, I sent an email. Too proud to ask for help, I made a joke out of the sorry state of my life to a very old friend. And she answered and offered me her sofa. And dear God, I am so grateful to her to this very day, because she saved my life.

She never said anything. I slipped a couple of times. But I know now, with a rock-solid certainty, that if I ever drink again, I will probably kill myself. And I also know that the moment when my friend replied was my life’s miracle, and I can never, ever tarnish that.

And that’s why on days like this, when part of me is screaming to do anything to stop these feelings, to shut down and find something, anything to make me feel numb again, I focus on moving – one small step at a time. And if I’m lucky, I remember that moment and my friend, and somehow, I’m glad that I’m still alive to feel this pain. And that's when I finally find my peace.

julietbitches

@minijen I'm 20+ months sober without AA. It's a good choice for many people, but it wasn't for me. I don't have a methodology per se for my sobriety other than taking it one day at a time.

whaaat

@minijen I quit drinking just over 5 years ago, at age 24, after a solid ten years of serious alcohol abuse. I did AA for the first 6 months, and hated it. I quit while I was working on my 9th step (a total AA cliche). I could never reconcile my atheism with the program, though I know others who have done so successfully. Not to mention I'm intensely introverted and "sharing" in front of groups of people at meetings was absolute torture. Like @julietbitches I don't have any sobriety methodology per se, outside of trying not to be a huge asshole to everyone I care about like I did when I was drinking.

empathicalist

@minijen You are all so beautiful...I can't express. I did not start the comment thread as an attack, and I'm grateful it wasn't taken as such. I was just curious. I'm an off and on again drunk (hmph, maybe I should have used my anon ID for this. Nope, accountability.). I have good times and bad, moderation and abstinence. Traditional thinking means that I SHOULD NEVER DRINK AGAIN. Perhaps. I just get frustrated when the only option is AA. I mean, there's got to be other options. Statistically. I was interested in the other options.

My dad is in AA, going on ~15 years. And, while we are close, and I'd love to be able to talk to him about alcohol, and the ways we self-destruct, I can't. He sees no option other than AA. I've been to meetings to support him, and I know this is not for me. Therapy is the route I've chosen. There's a reason for the self-loathing, the self-hatred. Even if I stop drinking, that will still be there. For me, addressing the cause with alter the effect/symptoms.

But! Thank you to those are in AA, and not upset by my comments. I never, ever wanted to come across as judgmental or critical, I just wanted other choices. Your grace is wonderful. And so are you.

laurel

@minijen: I'm a total atheist and the God part of AA has always been off-putting when I've wondered if I'd ever need it. A while back I read about this surfer/meth addict who has started an NA rehab program that teaches meth users to surf. His higher power is the ocean. I don't surf, but given what we know about how life evolved on Earth, I find that so fitting and perfect.

One of the things that mystifies me about addiction is how a substance can get in the way of our survival instinct, our life force. Linking the attempt to reclaim sobriety to the sea calls up for me the strength and humility of acknowledging that we are, for all that our giant brains can do, an organism like any other, evolved and born to strive to live as well as possible, as long as possible. A vision of myself as a living thing, briefly here as a descendent of a long line of similar living things, focusing my behavior on long tradition of preserving my own well being in order to live another day, gives me more peace than surrendering to an abstract supernatural concept.

empathicalist

@laurel Meditation and mindfulness are a big part of the road I'm looking at...basically communing with the ocean. I actually grew up a few miles from the ocean, so I get the power, the inherent power of nature and life. It exists outside of a person, but can still profoundly affect our lives.

laurel

@minijen: I added a paragraph to my comment that arrived after your comment. I think we're looking at the ocean as a signifier of different things, both valuable.

empathicalist

@laurel The ocean heals. The river heals. The bloom of a plant, the breeze in the calm. They heal. For me, growing up with the privilege of the ocean, it's my calm place. It's home.

DrFeelGood

@stuffisthings Unfortunately, it looks as dismal or worse than AA. At least AA is free. Their "88% success rate" is based on 2 follow-up phone calls to the alcoholic and a family member... Sounds just as scummy as any potential rehab facility; instructors with little/no training, nepotism in hiring practices, sexual relations amongst staff/guests.
http://www.ripoffreport.com/misc-health-specialists/st-jude-retreat-cent/st-jude-retreat-center-ripoff-p4dma.htm

stuffisthings

@minijen Oh thanks for the info! I remembered that there was a popular European program but I couldn't recall the name, I hope that's not the one I was thinking of. That was just the first thing I found Googling around at work, before I realized that Googling about alcoholism at work was maybe not the greatest idea.

EDIT: So, this article seems to offer a fairly thoughtful view of the scholarly debate over this topic. I wish I'd found this earlier because I did want to chime on in this debate. I worry that the focus on AA makes it difficult for problem drinkers who are not full-blown alcoholics -- in other words, we tend to assume that someone who drinks is either perfectly fine, or they are an alcoholic. No middle ground at all. For a lot of people, it seems that the very act of recognizing that you need to cut back or change your drinking behaviors is simply the first step towards total abstinence ("if you think you've got a problem, you probably do") which seems frankly insane to me.

Myrtle

@Miss Violet I'd heard some people at meetings turn "God" into an abbreviation for "Good Orderly Direction." I liked that.

EternalFootwoman

@minijen FWIW, I know a ton of people who are in AA and who use something like a cosmic life force, nature, or AA itself as their "higher power". There are definitely people who talk about God but there are no specific religious beliefs you have to follow.

shiv

@minijen I think the real value of AA, especially in the beginning of sobriety, is what the author here talked about. The ability to shamelessly share your experience with people who understand you. I don't believe that anyone who is not an addict can understand the mind of an addict, and that goes for medical professionals as well (not to discount therapy, it certainly helps). Addiction often comes from a feeling of being an outsider, of not fitting in or belonging to the world you live in. To finally share your life and experience with people who feel the same way and have come out of it is what AA seems to be the best at. And a huge part of the continued process is being of service to other people. Focusing on your recovery can often lead to being self-centered, but being in community and helping others with their sobriety can make life seem worth living. Or so I've seen. So I think it's worth struggling through the 12 steps to come out the other side with a diverse community of people who understand you and an ever-growing base of people who truly need your help. I think relationships and accountability are a solution to most problems. But people are people and they will disappoint you. You won't be friends with any and all addicts you meet, but it's a good base for finding your own friends that understand that very specific part of you. AA is people, not just an idea. So all that to say, don't throw the baby out with the bath water.

Miss Violet

@Myrtle I love that! Thank you so much for passing that along.

madge

for a lot of reasons i'm not going to go into, i really needed this today. you are strong and now, having heard your story, i'm feeling stronger, too. thanks <3

dtowngirl

This is beautiful--thanks for sharing something so personal. Congratulations.

punkahontas

Congratulations, and thank you for sharing!

Heat Signature

Not to go into a whole big thing (although I certainly COULD), but my long relationship with alcohol came to an end when I finally confronted myself with all of the problems that stemmed from my drinking, and then addressed all of the issues that I was using the alcohol to mask. November 3rd, 2011 was when I finally stopped the nonsense, and I am so grateful to my husband and family for supporting me and helping me change my attitude. No lie, it's been an absolute bitch, but its value is beyond measure.

entangled

Thank you for sharing this.

automaticdoor

Thank you for this, and congratulations! ♥

glow bug

Thank you for your article! 22 months into my own sobriety, I am happy to report that it gets easier and better so long as you continue to make it a priority.

avanikavita

I am really proud of you.

Creature Cheeseman

How do you, or can you even, approach a friend who may not have a healthy relationship with alcohol? I care about one of my friends very much, but I almost feel like I can't even be friends with her anymore because of her drinking. Sometimes I enjoy going out and getting drunk, but a lot of times I'll just DD for my friends. Everytime I went out with this friend, the night ended (around 7 in the morning, because she never wants to go home) with me having to carry her out of the bar because she was so drunk. Every.Single.Time. There's no such thing as casual drinking with her. Even a relaxing day by the pool would end up with her being blackout drunk. I stopped going out as much a few months ago, and since then we don't even hang out. She doesn't call me anymore, because she's not interested in activities that don't involve drinking. I still care about her very much, but it is hard to stay friends with someone who cares more about alcohol than they do about you. I know other people, including her parents, have approached her about her drinking, but she never seems to take them seriously. Is this one of those things where I just have to wait for her to learn on her own?

EternalFootwoman

@Creature Cheeseman You can approach her, but just know that your conversation is not likely to have immediate results. Tell your friend what you said here: "I have noticed X, Y, and Z, which worry me. I love you and I'm here for you if you need help." She will have to come to her own realizations about her alcohol use and her own desire to temper or stop that use. But having had that conversation might make it easier for her to either acknowledge that she has a problem and/or to seek help.

Gwdihw

@Creature Cheeseman
This is going to sound horrible, but the only way I have felt I can really send the message that the behavior is a problem is to dump the friend. When they look around and wonder where all their friends went....well, that can be a huge wakeup call. Otherwise, it would wind up with me being basically an enabler, and I won't play that game.

redheaded&crazy

@l'esprit de l'escalier I agree with this. I have had to deal with friends problem drinking behaviours and what I've found is most effective is 1. to call out the inappropriate behaviour (try to be nice about it, use "I" statements, etc etc) and then 2. put consequences on the behaviour

like I had a friend who was doing inappropriate things, spilling drinks all the time, and puking on an almost-every-time-we-drank basis. I stopped inviting him out, and I got a big apology and his behaviour was reformed. It's a process though, it goes up and down (same with me, same with lots of people) but yeah, I think tough love is the way to go.

whaaat

@l'esprit de l'escalier Agreed. When my best friend stopped speaking to me completely (after many attempts at talking to me about my problem, all of which I blew off), it was one of the major pushes I needed to get sober. She wouldn't talk to me until nearly a year into my sobriety, but our relationship now is a million times better than it was before I quit drinking.

laurel

@Creature Cheeseman: You can also tell her that based on X, Y and Z evidence you think she's an alcoholic, without giving her ultimatums. Acknowledge the truths of the situation even when they're in conflict: she's important to you, you're enjoying her company less, her behavior is unhealthy and what she does about it is up to her. You might be the one person she doesn't have to lie to, making it easier to stop lying to herself about the consequences she's dealing with.

Gwdihw

I'm glad that my method didn't read as too mean-- and I only do that type of thing if I've tried real talk and listening... I don't just go for the nuclear option up front.

I lost a very dear friend that way, but I just couldn't sit by and watch it anymore, you know? I didn't feel right helping her anymore. at a certain point, you aren't doing anyone any favors, unfortunately. :(((

DrFeelGood

@Creature Cheeseman You cannot change an alcoholic or an addict of any kind, nor can anything you say change them. You may be their catalyst but so could... anything else, or not. You can talk to her but it may not change anything, you have to do what you feel is best for you. The best thing I learned in Al-anon was "if you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten". An addict is depending on you to keep up your behavior/side of the bargain. Best of luck.

EternalFootwoman

I feel like I should add that you have the conversation and then step back (it sounds like you don't see her anyway?). It will help things "stick" a little more if a) she sees that she's losing friends and b) the discussion is the last one you have with her. And definitely be prepared for her to blow you off or get mad, because that's probably what will happen.

Alli525

I gave up booze for Lent one year, partly because it was a vice and I wanted to challenge myself (what I told everyone), and mostly because I wanted to assure myself that I was not dependent (the truth). It was so very, very hard - I don't have a classic Addictive Personality, but I am certainly prone to overindulging in wonderful things - but I am so glad I did it.

I also dated a guy recently who has NEVER had a single drop of alcohol due to addiction running in his family. I had and have such a profound respect for his decision, and while I didn't give up drinking in solidarity (that would have been a ridiculous choice that I would've looked back on as pandering) I definitely did drink LESS and have no regrets.

Thank you for sharing, An Alcoholic - I hope recovery & your renewed life continues to go smoothly! No Qooking with Qream for you! :)

CrescentMelissa

Thank you so much for sharing this.

karion

This was terrific - both the piece and the comments. Terrific.

thegirlsleuth

This was wonderful. I just celebrated 10 years, and you captured the whole "crap, I did it AGAIN" aspect of those final drinking days. But what I really liked is how you describe the return to really being a part of life. Russell Brand had a post after Amy Winehouse died in which he said "All addicts, regardless of the substance or their social status share a consistent and obvious symptom; they’re not quite present when you talk to them. . . .They have about them the air of elsewhere, that they’re looking through you to somewhere else they’d rather be. And of course they are."

Not drinking lets me really listen to people because I'm not having to obsess about where I am going to get my next drink, how I am going to avoid taking a drink, how I am going to remember the lie I told to cover up the drink. Plus not waking up with a hangover everyday is aces.

Myrtle

@thegirlsleuth This was gorgeous, thank you. And I see I've sorely misjudged Russell Brand, as that quote illustrates the awful state perfectly.

PistolPackinMama

@thegirlsleuth That was a really terrific column he wrote- so compassionate and honest. That not quite there part- so good.

thegirlsleuth

@Myrtle I know. Russell Brand? Russell Brand! The whole piece was gorgeous, from the phone call to his own honest depiction about who he was at the time.

Myrtle

@thegirlsleuth Wonder if we can pre-order the book I hope he's writing? :>

HeyThatsMyBike

Best of luck to you on your recovery "journey" (that's the cheesiest Dr. Drew-style term ever, but it really is a journey). I hope you don't run into any big bumps in the road, but if you do, remember that they're just bumps, not indications that you're going to go back the way you came.
I've only ever been an observer/supporting cast member in the recovery process (addiction is a family disease!), but it seems you've dealt with the toughest hurdle - which seems to be really and truly moving out of denial. So congratulations on that.

julietbitches

Wonderful post. Essays like this were a lifeline for me in the early days, weeks, months. Regardless of how we achieve and sustain sobriety, sharing our experiences is crucial. Thanks for your courage.

Morgan Schulman Wing@facebook

This is awesome. I have more than a decade and it just gets better and better. I'm so happy for you!

empathicalist

BTW, thank you Hairpin, and 'Pinners, for having this discussion. The lack of judgment, and pure support is the reason that I love you. This is the one of the last bastions of positive internet community that I've found.

theotherginger

@minijen if by last you mean only? or basically? and thank you so much for your honesty upthread!

squeee

"or one way we show our power and status in this society is by visible self-control, never letting anyone see how hungry we are".... SO. WELL. PUT.

@squeee I keep looking for a way to live my life the way I want and have no regrets about any excess I may enjoy, but I keep getting shamed by society in one way or another. How to tune it out without going completely delusional and disconnected? There must be a way.

SexySadie

Long time listener, first time caller here. This post is really timely, as I've been reflecting a lot on my own drinking habits lately. I'm going through a really difficult time right now and have noticed my drinking getting more and more out of control. I've been feeling tempted to drink to excess, or drink alone. Last week after a night out with friends I stopped by a bar on my way home and pounded a drink before going home. Last weekend I was particularly bummed out - out at dinner with friends, I came thisclose to buying myself a shot at the bar on the way back from the restroom, before heading back to my table. I had my wallet out, and I don't know what stopped me.

My dad has had problems with alcohol and I'm starting to fear I have the same addictive personality. Reading about other people's experiences really helps me get my mind around this whole thing, so thank you so much for sharing, everyone.

EastsideAphrodite

I am so grateful to the writer and to all of you for your thoughtful and compassionate comments. I needed this today, and I now I feel a little less alone - so thank you all.

weathering

I wanted to chime in with others and say thank you for this post. Does anyone else ever have the experience where something happens in your life, and suddenly you see related discussions All Over The Internet? I feel like that's been me and alcoholism recently.

In my case it's not me but a parent -- but like others I've been re-evaluating my relationship with alcohol, because while I don't have a problem now, I am so scared of winding up like [insert list of relatives here]. And because of that fear I watch a lot of my other behaviours -- for example, I absolutely have an unhealthy relationship with reading fiction. That sounds really stupid, but it's totally true. And going cold turkey on fiction seems... strange? Not like something I can imagine doing?

ThatJenn

@weathering I'm finding this post and its comments useful in my evaluation of my relationship with certain foods, actually, which sounds silly until you consider that I've eaten my way up to severe obesity twice now, and I am certain if I don't get it under control it will kill me eventually and slowly sap me of my ability to do the things I love to do along the way.

PistolPackinMama

@weathering Oh this makes a world of sense.

forensicRN

I have flashbacks from all of my stupid behaviours from my early years. Now at 53, I still enjoy a glass of Pino, despite a stint when a close(?) associate (who still is a closet drunk) became an employee at the Out-Patient place I was attending to get clean at scared me away. Moving on 10 years later; I worry; as both of my parents were addicts and alcoholics. I most absolutely worry; every time I have my LFT;s done; I pay attention. Secrets? absolutely.

Poubelle

Oh my goodness, the camouflage. I'd always have self-mixed drinks at get-togethers so nobody could know that my "shot" of vodka was the equivalent of several, and nobody could tell how much was Coke/Dr Pepper/juice/tonic and how much was liquor. And I'd always top things off (with both the booze and the mixer) before my cup was empty, so that often even I didn't know exactly how many I'd had. (Denial is easier that way.) There was no way I was fooling anyone by the end of the night, except maybe my fellow drunks who'd be as far gone or further than I was.

I don't know if it's right that I still get a serious joy from only having one drink (either a beer or something mixed by someone else) then stopping and switching to water. But there's a part of me that's always going to be proud when I order that G&T and ONLY that G&T. It took a lot of work, but I can do it, finally.

Thanks for this post.

packedsuitcase

First: Congratulations on 4 months sober. That's fantastic. Contratulations, as well, to the people celebrating other milestones, whether they're 1 day or several years. You guys are awesome, and super inspirational.

This...wow. It's hard and wonderful for me to read. One of the most influential people in my life was an alcoholic, and it's coming up on the first anniversary of his death, and I am so thankful to have a reason to think about him right now. Sorry to threadjack.

Much melancholy truth in this phrase: "one way we show our power and status in this society is by visible self-control"

NO! I refuse!

Fissionchips

It's really nice, well, not nice...helpful to read all the testimonies of people who're alchoholic. The person in my life who was alchoholic never really admitted it to himself and then it was too late, so I really have no idea what it was like for him, and I wish I did.

MoonFlavor

As many others have said, this post is very timely for me. Just this past Friday open thread, I posted about how I have been drinking to excess more often than usual lately. I know why, I just am unsure if it is a problem that needs addressing or if it will just go away on its own. I have an extremely addictive personality, food, drugs, booze, caffeine....you name it, I have at one time in my life done it to excess.

Alcohol is not my problem, the addictive behaviors are. I just need to train my brain to become addicted to positive behaviors. I came across this book that sounds like it may give some insight into how to do this exactly. For those of you like me who have addictive personalities, it may be a step in the right direction.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1400069289/ref=ox_sc_act_title_3?ie=UTF8&smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER

cupcake

@MoonFlavor I didn't look at your link but is it about replacing negative behaviors with positive ones ? I have heard that works. That and meditation.

cupcake

I just quit drinking. I found myself having an everyday beer or bottle of wine and realized its just not working for me. I find that using the vanity tack is what always helps it stick - I need to lose some lbs. I am just going to treat it like an adventure and be like YEAH WATER!!! woo hoo!!

sullafelix

My boss, who quit smoking, said that the mantra that worked for him was: don't think of what you're giving up, think of what you're gaining. As an alcoholic of 15 years who is trying to stop for yet another time, that sounds awfully hopeful. Lovely article.

Fluffy Ontare

Thank you for your honesty! I too struggle with a different type of addiction and appreciate your bravery to come forward and share your story with all of us!

MuffinMan

So I am an alcoholic who recently celebrated 3 years of sobriety. I have spent the last few days reading this post and the comment section (I have never, ever gotten to the bottom of a comment section on the internet, so I can only assume about 3 people ever will read this).

After hearing so many people asking and answering questions about AA, I can't help referring back to the book that the group is based on for a more accurate assessment than most people can give out of the blue.

On whether AA is the only option:

"...he must decide for himself whether he wants to go on. He should not be pushed or prodded by you, his wife, or his friends. If he is to find God, the desire must come from within.

If he thinks he can do the job in some other way, or prefers some other spiritual approach, encourage him to follow his own conscience. We have no monopoly on God; we merely have an approach that worked with us. But point out that we alcoholics have much in common and that you would like, in any case, to be friendly. Let it go at that."

On the perception of an alcoholic by others:

"How many time people have said to us: "I can take it or leave it alone. Why can't he?" "Why don't you drink like a gentleman or quit?" "That fellow can't handle his liquor." "Why don't you try beer and wine?" "Lay off the hard stuff." "His will power must be weak." "He could stop if he wanted to." "She's such a sweet girl, I should think he'd stop for her sake." "The doctor told him that if he ever drank again it would kill him, but there he is all lit up again."

Now these are commonplace observations on drinkers which we hear all the time. Back of them is a world of ignorance and misunderstanding. We see that these expressions refer to people whose reactions are very different from ours."

On who is an alcoholic:

"Moderate drinkers have little trouble in giving up liquor entirely if they have good reason for it. They can take it or leave it alone.

Then we have a certain type of hard drinker. He may have the habit badly enough to gradually impair him physically and mentally. It may cause him to die a few years before his time. If a sufficiently strong reason, ill health, falling in love, change of environment, or the warning of a doctor becomes operative, this man can also stop or moderate, although he may find it difficult and troublesome and may even need medical attention.

But what about the real alcoholic? He may start off as a moderate drinker; he may or may not become a continuous hard drinker; but at some stage of his drinking career he begins to lose all control of his liquor consumption, once he starts to drink."

And later it says:

"...certain nonalcoholic people who, though drinking foolishly and heavily at the present time, are able to stop or moderate, because their brains and bodies have not been damaged as ours were. But the actual or potential alcoholic, with hardly any exception, will be absolutely unable to stop drinking on the basis of self-knowledge. This is a point we wish to emphasize and re-emphasize, to smash home upon our alcoholic readers as it has been revealed to us out of bitter experience."

On AA success rate:

"Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates. They are not at fault; they seem to have been born that way. They are naturally incapable of grasping and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty. Their chances are less than average.

There are those, too, who suffer from grave emotional and mental disorders, but many of them do recover if they have the capacity to be honest."

On how alcoholism as an illness affects everyone around it:

"An illness of this sort and we have come to believe it an illness involves those about us in a way no other human sickness can. If a person has cancer all are sorry for him and no one is angry or hurt. But not so with the alcoholic illness, for with it there goes annihilation of all the things worth while in life. It engulfs all whose lives touch the sufferer's. It brings misunderstanding, fierce resentment, financial insecurity, disgusted friends and employers, warped lives of blameless children, sad wives and parents anyone can increase the list."

This is the absolute coolest public conversation on the subject I've ever heard. The Hairpin is my girlfriend's favorite site ever - constantly we have the experience of something that happens to us is on-line here within the hour - and this article was no exception. There are definitely some hard parts of dating across the drinking line, but there are also some serious joys.

When it comes to the issue of alcoholism, I really feel that if you or a loved one hasn't gone through it, it's probably best to tread lightly and I applaud you guys for doing that.

Harriet Welch

Thanks for this. I recently quit drinking in order to be ready to conceive. I have a history of alcohol in my family, I was never worried about my drinking until I decided to stop. Now I am a little scared that it will be hard. Because if it's hard, then there is something wrong with me. If it's easy, I am fine.
That's obviously a very simplistic view, but it's kind of where my head is at.

cmcm

I wish so much I could send this to my now ex-boyfriend, but it breaks my heart to know that it wouldn't matter, because even though he knows he has a drinking problem, he's not ready to do anything about it.

Drink All the Coffee

Congratulations to this Alcoholic from another one! I have ten months now and my life has changed in ways I never anticipated. AA is kind of amazing and delightfully cheesy at times. I liked what another commenter said about how the step work involved encourages you to do a lot of introspection, because it's very true. It's so uncomfortable at first, but I've gotten to learn how to be gut-level honest with myself and others about who I am and the choices I've made and the motivating factors behind those choices (usually fear, for me). I love what David Foster Wallace says about AA and addiction and recovery in Infinite Jest.

On that note, I'm moving to Brooklyn in two weeks... Anyone know of any good women's meetings over there?

MuffinMan

@Drink All the Coffee Hey I just saw this! Good luck with you move...did you find any good meetings? I'm a man in Boston so I can't say I can be of much use - but as someone who was a using alcoholic in NYC for a while, you have a much better chance in that city if you stay sober.

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