For much of my life I was never much of a drinker. Sure, there were some wild parties as a late teen and young adult in which I drank to excess, but by the time my first child was born I was all but a teetotaler when it came to booze. I never bought it, rarely consumed it, and lived a life of relative sobriety.
Except for the very rare night out when I would drink too much and pay for it the next day, that is. Some call that "binging," but I just thought this was just "letting off steam" or something.
Yet somewhere around the end of 1998 - what I like to call "the year of pain" due to the high number of traumatic and life-changing events I endured that year - I began to use alcohol as a relaxing, sleep-inducing ritual, and after a year or two I was drinking every night to go to sleep. No longer was I having a glass of wine or two, but I was probably drinking two fifths of vodka a week.
But hey, no problem, right? I never drank before sundown, and I only drank to relax, and my usual routine was to pound a couple of tall snorts from a hidden pint under the front seat of my car just before getting home, so I could rationalize my drinking by saying that "the alcohol has not reached my brain, and I must therefore still be sober behind the wheel." I never racked up a DUI, never caused an accident, and I kidded myself that I thus did not have a problem with my drinking.
But near the end of my drinking career I remember getting ready to leave a restaurant at which I worked, and walking to punch out while carrying a nice, tall, icy glass of Stolichnaya. I slipped on the wet tiles, and my main concern as I was heading to the floor was how I was going to save that glass of hooch.
BAM! CRASH! SPLASH!
In my efforts to protect my precious distilled spirits, I managed to collect 30 or 40 shards of glass in the palms of my hands. Blood trickled down my arms from the numerous punctures, and this should have been a warning sign to me: the booze was more important than my safety.
Then there was the time around 2001, right before 9-11, when I was getting some serious headaches, and I naturally turned to extra-strength Excedrin to deal with my pounding skull. Little did I know that I had bleeding ulcers, and that the aspirin and alcohol were making the ulcers worse, and that my headaches were a sign that I was anemic. When my wife finally drove me to the hospital, my hemoglobin count was down to 6.9 gm/dl (for reference, a healthy adult male should be somewhere between 14 and 18 gm/dl).
In short fashion - over just a couple of years - my unhealthy living was starting to kill me.
Now, I would love to wind up a Hallmark-type story here, with that the intravenous transfusion of two pints of blood waking me up, but by then I was well along the way to being a full-time drinker. It was only a matter of days before I pronounced my ulcers healed, and that I would rely upon a better diet and no aspirin to allow me my nightcaps. It took my wife's insistence that I change before I made the move.
Was I an alcoholic? Who knows. I certainly used alcohol in a self-medicating fashion for 2-1/2 years, and when I was drinking my uninhibited self was game for whatever other inebriants were around. I did not experience any withdrawals, but it was clear that the psychological dependence was well on its way. If I was not yet an alcoholic, I was probably only a year or two away from being a full-blown drunk.
I sit here, look back on the preceding paragraphs, and ask I myself: "Why are you writing this?"
Part of this post is an exercise in demon-exorcism, coming to terms with the person I was (and in some ways I still am). I have not consumed booze in over six years, but I occasionally still get a mild urge for a drink, especially after a stressful day. Yet I fear that even one drink will make it okay for me to have two, and then four, and then ... you get the picture.
But part of my reason for discussing this in a very public forum is to do what friends of Bill W. call "carrying the message." Maybe I wasn't an alcoholic, and maybe I was, and maybe I still am, but I know that my life is a hell of a lot better without alcohol than with it. I'm more productive, healthier, and most importantly: happier.
So, to those of you reading this post: take a moment to decide the reasons why you drink, and ask yourself if booze is causing problems in your life. Maybe you are just feeling guilty because some ex-drunk is hitting a raw nerve, but maybe your mind could use some housecleaning. Or maybe you are one of the "normal" folks who have an occasional social drink and who never progress to the self-medication stage.
If so, God bless you: not everyone has booze-related demons.