Unrestrained alcohol abuse and dependency has been something of a family business for a few generations now and it was with a certain sense of purpose that I eagerly took up the flag in my early twenties. I’ve struggled with alcoholism for a decade now and it has completely wrecked my career, my relationships, and my life.
But today I wanted to talk about the day I realized (finally) that it was truly an uncontrollable problem in my life. Up until then, I had these blinders on and thought I was handling myself respectably. How wrong I was and in retrospect it’s hard to imagine how I could have missed the damage I was causing.
It was a horrible winter day, the kind that Midwesterners dread but always know is coming when the cold starts to move in. I was driving home from work in the frigid temperatures and saw the bar was open for happy hour. At the time I considered myself a “functional drinker”, meaning I was hiding it from friends and family for the most part and seemed to be able to hold down the basic job functions required to carry cinder block and orange flags.
I plopped on the bar stool in a near-empty bar in the afternoon and ordered my first drink. It hit my lips like candy and I gulped it down before I even realized what it tasted like. Then came the next. Each one dropped my mind into a fuzzy little safe place where it seemed like I belonged. After a handful of beers I ran out of money. I went to my car to scrape together enough change for one last drink, immune to how desperate and absurd it was.
It wasn’t enough though. I tried running a couple credit cards I knew were maxed out and the bartender got me one last glass on the house, probably out of some kind of pity. As I nursed that final drink, looking around the bar and staring out at the cold winter grey that somehow reflected my soul on the inside, it just sort of hit me in the face. A realization dawned on me that shook me to the core.
I realized that I couldn’t stop drinking. I wouldn’t be able to. It had its claws into me and I worshiped at the Booze Altar like a devoted zealot. That was a strange, yet crystal clear moment amidst my fuzzy buzz that showed me what I had allowed myself to become. I was a helpless alcoholic who embarrassed himself in a multitude of ways and had somehow failed to achieve anything of value in life because everything revolved around getting trashed and spending my hard earned dollars on the bottle.
My drinking problem (addiction) went on for another three months, the whole time this realization nagging at me and making me feel ridiculous about the booze but I couldn’t stop. It took another stint in rehab and a few family members threatening to never see me again that finally got me out of the rut. But I’ll never forget that one single realization. It was like the sudden understanding that I was drowning and needed saved but I looked around and wasn’t sure who to ask for help. I had hurt and alienated everyone already so who would throw me a raft now?
That’s where the AA meetings and the recovery facility came in. I had nowhere else to turn but they accepted me openly because we were all the same, on some level. When the realization finally hits you and know that you’re hopelessly addicted, don’t wait another three months to embarrass yourself and ruin your time on the planet. Go straight to a clinic and check yourself in. The rest will figure itself out. You don’t have time for more denial.