My mother handed me something the other day that made me laugh. It was a pamphlet titled ‘Overcoming Alcoholism.’ She had gotten it from Church. I giggled and promised her I’d read it.
It’s a running joke in my family that I’m an alcoholic. They laugh, I laugh, but there’s concern on both sides. I know I have a problem; I’m just trying to keep it under control.
I started drinking when I was twelve at basement parties with my junior high friends. That’s when I started, but I could have started earlier. My dad and uncles love beer and it would have been completely acceptable to have a can of beer at a family party. They even offered, “Beer? You want some beer?” I shook my head in disgust, heading past the ice chests to pour myself a cup of 7-Up or Coke.
So when drinking came up pre-teens, I never thought it was a big deal. I simply chugged wine coolers while the guys drank beer.
I built up my alcohol tolerance in college. After a few parties, I actually thought I was incapable of getting drunk. I congratulated myself. Here I was…a five-foot tall Asian girl drinking all these shots and I was perfectly fine, with only a slight buzz. Armed with that mentality, I went to a Goldschlager party my Freshman year and downed at least ten shots. I had been mixing my alcohol, going back and forth between beer, mixed drinks, and shots. I’d never had Goldschlager before, but I didn’t think it would affect me any differently. “Ooooh,” I cooed. “Look at the gold flecks, floating in my shot. They’re sparkly! PRETTY!!!”
Suddenly…very suddenly, I didn’t feel too pretty myself. Without even talking to any of my friends, I ran out and through the streets. In this case, there would be no looking both ways before crossing. I could’ve been crossing a barren country road or Broadway in Manhattan. It did not matter; I needed to get home. Fast.
I flung myself face-down onto my toilet and barfed non-stop until morning. When I thought the worst was over, I would crawl over to my bedroom, lie in bed for no more than two minutes, then drag my sorry-ass back to the bathroom to begin the vomiting process all over again. After enough back-and-forths, I brought my pillow and blanket with me to the bathroom for good. A couple of coughing heaves and a few good bursts of vomit, then I’d sloppily sink into the makeshift bed I’d made for myself right there next to the toilet.
I even contemplated calling an ambulance. That’s how bad it was. Here were my thoughts.
“If I call an ambulance, I’ll get arrested for under-age drinking. I’ll have to go through some detox program, I’ll have to quit school, I won’t graduate, and that’ll be the end of my career. I’ll end up working at the bookstore for the rest of my life. While all my friends at the bookstore are off in medical school or law school, planning their futures, I’ll be stuck cashiering at the bookstore full-time! Oh God, but this hurts. I’ve never been in so much pain in my life. I need an ambulance. WHAT IF I DIE?!?!? I’ll be in the papers. The article will say, ‘If only she had called an ambulance, we would have been able to save her in time.’ This psychological debate possessed me until morning when the illness completely left me. I had convulsed and vomited enough. The poison was gone.
During times like that, you make a promise to yourself to never do that again, but let’s be honest. Those promises never hold any weight. I continued drinking in college, but that was my worst episode. I had had the typical college experience. When I worked, I never shunned alcohol, going to happy hours and drinking with friends, drinking with my boyfriends. My drinking pattern was normal.
Then I got to business school and my drinking took a turn for the worst. There were the weekly Brats n’ Brew social functions, recruiting events with open bar, TNDC (Thursday Night Drinking Club)…you name it…alcohol was written all over it. We were a bunch of twenty-somethings who had tasted the good life (many of us were making good money even before b-school), had more than enough money from financial aid, and had one last opportunity to party like rock stars. Also, there were little to no repercussions. I had accepted my full-time offer with two more quarters left at school. Offer letter = time to party. If I was hung-over, I didn’t have to go to class if I didn’t want to. Hell, unless it was a class I found enjoyable, I spent class-time sitting at home sleeping or shopping on Michigan Avenue.
It was bad. Very very bad. Here was the routine.
Night 1: Get blistering drunk.
Morning After: Wake up hung-over. Thank God I was a student and didn’t have a full-time job. Promise myself not to drink that night.
Night 2: Drink, but not get drunk.
Morning After: Wooohoo, not hung-over. Go to class. Stop by Sweet Mandy B’s and treat myself to a cupcake for not being hung-over.
Night 3: Get shit-faced drunk.
Morning After: Wake up hung-over. Sleep in until I feel good enough to get a cheeseburger and French fries with friends. Thank God that this is the life I lead. I feel so blessed.
One night, I drank heavily—indifferent to the fact that I had an on-campus interview the next day. I conducted my interview in a sloppy fashion, but the company moved me on to second rounds. “Geez, if these people think I’m smart when I’m half-buzzed, and they’re going to fly me out to headquarters all expenses paid, then damn! What a bunch of dingbats!”
It was the ultimate drinking validation. Two executives had given me the thumbs-up in moving forward with their hiring process after I’d spent the night drinking up a storm. Suh-weet, I was golden.
I was certain that lifestyle correlated only to b-school. Once I start working full-time, I’ll have my career ahead of me and I’ll lead a mundane, upwardly mobile life. I was wrong. The drinking and partying wasn’t as frequent, but it was just as bad. I spent countless Saturdays and Sundays nursing violent hangovers. “I feel like a solid gold dancer,” I’d tell people on the phone. “I can’t stop spinning.”
Then there was the time I went drink-for-drink with my 6’6” co-worker. I kept up with him, but lost it shortly afterwards. My friend was having a party for his new plastic surgery office. It was a classy affair, wine and cheese, and so forth. The only thing I recall was wanting to go home and wanting to get there as quickly as possible. I exited the building without talking to anyone, hailed a cab, and got myself home. I later found out that I had thrown up in one of the patient rooms. I vaguely recall also throwing up before I got into the cab.
That is when I started thinking I might have a problem. Jeopardizing a friendship was a big wake-up call.
And finally, there was the blackout. The day after my 30th birthday, I woke up confused and relieved. I was relieved because I was safe in my own bed with my pajamas on and my contacts off. At least I had sense enough to get myself ready for bed. But I was confused because I had absolutely no idea how I had gotten home. I couldn’t even remember what had happened towards the very end of the night. I had to do some sleuthing to figure out what happened and who had gotten me home. It was the first and last time I blacked out.
Scared for myself and recognizing that I truly had a problem, I attended a few AA meetings. AA is a lot like going to Church. But there isn’t anything AA is going to offer me that I don’t already get from going to Church as a practicing Catholic. So I stopped going. I just tell myself that I never want to be in another situation where I’m hurting people or I’ve completely lost my sense of awareness—situations that are all possible and have come to fruition when I’ve been drinking heavily.
When I started thinking I had a problem, I told myself I would not drink a sip of alcohol for the next month, but I couldn’t do it. No alcohol for one week…couldn’t do that either.
I realize I cannot simply stop drinking alcohol. I think that’s extreme and pointless, because then the craving will never go away. It’s kind of like Lent. I can give up sweets or chocolate for forty days, but come Easter morning…Hell, even before Easter morning…when the clock strikes midnight, I’ve got a spoon in a half-gallon of ice-cream and my other hand reaching for a Twinkie.
I know myself well enough. Becoming sober will only ignite a craving that will never completely go away. I have to learn to live with my drinking and keep it under control. It’s about believing in and trusting yourself, and making the right decisions from now on. I guess that’s all we can hope for when it comes to addictions.
To complementing life with alcohol and not drowning in it. Cheers.