“Double Jack and Coke,” I said to the tender of the dive bar near campus the night of May 25, 2005. I wanted another (or two), and cheaper to make it a double.
I started downing my drink, my head cocking to the side with face grimacing at the strength of it. But I continued, because I wanted to have a good time tonight.
If a good time is measured in drinks, I should’ve been having a ball. I wasn’t. In fact, was approaching my limit of alcohol before I started throwing it back up. This was just another attempt to feel good, desperately overdoing it, and reaping the consequences.
Even before I was able to finish that plus-sized drink, I walked out of the bar and back home. Of course, I wasn’t going to let the alcohol go to waste. So I took the glass with me.
I woke up the next day, made my way downstairs to the kitchen in our old, college-student house, and opened the fridge to find the half-full, chilled drink sitting right there on the middle shelf.
I took the glass, lifted it up, and poured it down the sink. Then I made a phone call.
The summer before, I knew I had a problem. Yet I resisted going to treatment. Then after treatment, I didn’t want to live in a sober living environment–something treatment counselors strongly suggested. I was going back to college in the fall after dropping out a couple of years earlier. I wanted to live near campus and have fun. But then I thought about the house I was to live at–and how right before treatment I went there for a party.
Truth dawned on me that I needed the aftercare. I needed more, it turned out.
I stayed clean six months. I got good grades; I paid my bills; I stayed connected to family. By the winter, I had moved out of the sober house and into a house near campus. Now I could enjoy college life.
Doing so clean would prove a challenge.
When the house next door threw a party a month later, I went. Unable to enjoy myself, I drank. I still didn’t have fun. But I kept on drinking. That spring, my grades fell. I was broke all the time. And I began spending more time in my room on the computer–with a drink. Alcohol had become my go-to outlet for excitement, no matter how isolating.
Addiction is a veil between a person and reality. This is obvious when we watch a person in the throes of their addiction, and they can’t see the harm they are doing to themselves and others. But this veil is also the reason I started to drink heavily in the first place.
I wanted this escape from pure life, because life as is was uncomfortable. Basic functions like asking a question during a lecture or talking to my boss at the clothing store were alarming. Then once acting on this general discomfort–at first by drinking and then later by drugs or activities like going to the casino–it became an obsession to maintain the escape. Because even with the altered mood, I can assume that mindset of discontentment once again. It isn’t good enough. I can feel better. And even if I do attain a level of contentment, then I need to maintain it. This pattern is then enhanced by tolerance and dependence.
To me, this tweak of the mind–the chronic, though often subtle, state of discontentment and unease lending to a desire to start and maintain distraction and escape–defines addiction. And it usually does maintain until the subtle has accumulated to the drastic.
Addiction by it’s nature is subtle because the mental condition is encompassing. Yet it doesn’t show signs like chicken pox. One doesn’t know they are unique in their discomfort. They think it’s just how life is. And then one doesn’t know their drinking is problematic. Then when they do, and try to clean up, they don’t realize they are being taken over by the precursory mindset again until they are back to drinking/drugging/behavior. And even then they’ll often swear things are okay this time, until they inevitably get worse.
Things were bad enough for me.
My decision to quit was a blessing of consciousness and conviction. During that spring, I couldn’t fool myself anymore, even if I wasn’t having much fun sober. And I was able to raise the bar–beneath which was any consideration of drinking. I just knew I couldn’t drink.
My decision was also a product of coincidence and connection, a theme of this blog as of late.
Maybe two months earlier, I had met another undergrad in one of my classes. John was older–mid-thirties, hefty guy with black beard and ponytail. I thought he was the teacher’s assistant (TA). He and I bumped into one another in a study lounge in one of the university halls one random afternoon and struck up a conversation. I don’t know how the conversation became personal so fast. But before we finished speaking, I shared my struggles with drinking–and then he admitted his own similar past.
I called John the morning of that May 26 to tell him I drank the night before. He responded, “Why didn’t you call me before you drank?” I took his advice from there on out.
I’ve done much since to stay clean: created a support network, strengthened my spirituality, meditation, sought professional help, and even taking medication. There is no room for pride on the path of recovery. That addictive mindset is sneaky, and no matter how seemingly benign the addictive activity, even in sobriety–TV, food–everything starts to suffer as that mindset and behavior displace pure life.
But there is plenty of room for gratitude. I want to thank my friends and acquaintances, family, and health professionals–there have been hundreds of you–as well as all the other forces at work that have helped me get and stay clean the past ten years. Many don’t know this, but there’s a quiet, yet incredibly vast, network of people here in Minnesota and all over the Midwest willing to listen and help their fellows who suffer this malady.
If you’re anything like the way I was, I recommend you reach out, to remove that veil from your life. Raise the bar. There is life after alcohol/drugs. In fact, mine started once I stopped drinking. I discovered the fun missing from my life by exploring the world, making and building relationships, and offering myself to work, projects, and causes–all that I’ve shared here on this blog.
In short, I’ve been able to participate in life. To do so as I have over the past ten years has been a complete reversal of the isolation I had known the years prior. And because I know what got me here, I’m excited to continue the path to new and better.
Here’s to the next ten–seconds, hours, months, years. Every moment is an opportunity and a gift.