Thoughts on My Drinking, and Why I Had to Stop

Cook’s California Champagne: Keeping it Classy since 1859

   Update Monday March 12, 2012:   “Group Conscience” at my non-Atheist AA Home Group has ruled my run-in with three glasses of flat Cook’s champagne to be a ‘slip’ rather than a ‘relapse.’  (My atheist group, predictably, was disinclined to judge me either way.)  That means I have 90 days since my pre-Christmas relapse!  YAAAAY!  I have been sober for all but 5 days in the last 9 months!
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     I relapsed on half a bottle of Cook’s champagne that someone else left in the fridge.  


    How very dignified, Miss Margo.  I mean, really.  If I had to mess it up again, the least I could have done was drink something top-shelf.  Cook’s champagne is basically the “classy” alternative to Thunderbird or Arbor Mist.  In addition, it had gone flat, which contributed to its charm.  


    Drinking the champagne (“champagne!” ha! ha!) was both stupid and pointless.  It was stupid because alcohol kills alcoholics.  It was pointless because I did not even get drunk.  A part of me is tempted to run to the store, buy a bottle of whatever, and at least finish the job.  


     However, I have enough of my wits about me (Cook’s–your champagne is ineffective!) to realize that getting blasted would be moronic.  Spectacularly ill-advised.  


      Behold, gentle reader, the truly bizarre thinking of the addict: “Since I already had three glasses of Cook’s, I might as well get blackout drunk by myself in my apartment with my neon tetras.” 


vs.


“Thank God you did not get inebriated and disgrace or endanger yourself or anyone else.  Wouldn’t it be more fun to read the new issue of Harper’s that just came in the mail?  Or paint your toenails, or stand in traffic, or ANYTHING other than get drunk?  By the way, you know this shit is going to destroy your life if you keep doing it, right?  You can still pull out of this with your health, intellect, and reputation intact. You can still have a future.”


      Why would I even want to get drunk if I know what it feels like and its attendant consequences?   Really.  This is an honest question.  It’s not as if it feels fun anymore.  They call it “happy hour” for a reason: you feel good for about an hour.  Getting drunk on a regular basis becomes very boring, and very redundant, very quickly.  I wish that was the worst I could say about alcohol.  I quit because it was making me feel badly, and then it started to get scary.   I’ve heard stories in A.A. meetings that would turn your hair white.  Horror stories.  Comparatively, I started drinking late in my life, and drank alcoholically for only a few years (I am not trying to minimize my behavior).  I was mostly a quiet, at-home drinker (I think women tend to be), and for most of that time, I was functional.  I was never raped (to my recollection, ha ha), robbed, beaten up, thrown in prison, or thrown out of a bar.  None of my friends were hard drinkers. I didn’t drink at school, at work, or when I was  writing professionally (I confess: I did drink wine sometimes while grading freshman essays at night.  You would drink if you had to grade them too, gentle reader.  I assure you.  One immortal line, which I shall never forget, was: “The  Odyssey is like the movie Pirates of the Carribean (sic), only without Johnny Depp.”  Yes yes, pass me the wine, please.)  


       The gist of that imperfect paragraph is that, compared to many drinkers, I got off light.  Very light.  Nor did I have any family to harm, thank God, thank God. But I’ll tell you something else: it was still so terrible that by the time I knew that I had to give it up, I was so miserable that I wanted to die.  That is not an exaggeration.  It was truly wretched.  Astonishingly, it never occurred to me that soaking my brain in whiskey most nights out of the week might be a contributing factor in my unhappiness.  I thought to myself, “I’ll stop when things get better!  I’ll stop when things get better!”  But see, I had it backwards–circumstances did not (indeed, could not) get better until I stopped.  


      And, as I mentioned above, things were starting to get scary, and that’s saying a lot.  (Miss Margo was imprinted wrong, and so things (and individuals) that other people find frightening do not necessarily disturb her.  Instead, she is frightened of other things, such as spending the night in bed with a man and then eating breakfast with him.  FREAKOUT!!!)  A small constellation of frightening and utterly unnecessary alcohol-related experiences which occurred within a two-month period of time.   Some alcoholics experience a catastrophic, life-changing event which constitutes their “bottom;” I had a handful of smaller ones.  


     But it was enough.  It was enough.  It had become intolerable.  


      So, I dragged myself in to see the drug and alcohol counselor at the Campus health clinic.  She had me complete an extensive survey about my drinking.  It took an hour to finish.  I was honest about everything.  


      I went back to see her and get the survey results a few days later.  She looked up from her computer screen and calmly told me that I consumed more alcohol than, like, 94% of the college population.  


       Uh-oh. 


        So, how are we going to fix this…?  I wasn’t physically addicted (yet), so I didn’t need detox or inpatient rehab.  I could probably quit on my own volition without being strapped to a table in a fucking psych ward. Fortunately, we got to skip those parts.  


       What’s next?     


       I’ll tell you what, friends and neighbors.  The options on the recovery menu for addicts in this country are very limited.   One might say that it is indeed frix prixe.  That is being generous.  


      Would you like Alcoholics Anonymous, or would you like Alcoholics Anonymous? 


      You. Have Got. To be shitting me.  


      Is this really the best you can do for us, modern psychiatry?  AA?  Thanks for nothing!  They should force every M.D. to read The Big Book in their residency.  


        As you might infer from my tone, I am not a fan.  I will refrain from further criticism, but I assure you, the catalog would make for some serious reading.  I mean, they should play audio tapes of this book to torture the terrorists with at Gitmo. 


       If I said this at a meeting, at least a few people there would want to chop my head off and they would not be shy of telling me so (if you are in AA, you know exactly what I’m talking about).   Think of those crazy Arab dudes who went homicidal over the cartoons of Mohammad in that Dutch magazine.


       I fear their wrath and their spam and hateful hatemail, so I’ll shut up now.


        Fortunately, I live in New York City.  There are AA meetings here for everyone.  There is probably an AA meeting for tran-sexual turkeys somewhere.   


        I found a few meetings for people like myself.  They help.  My personal belief is that AA helps because it re-connects you to the human race.  By the time you actually get there–you know, show up for the first time–you’ve pretty much dropped out of life.  It’s the individuals and their stories that have helped me, rather than ‘The Program.’  


       I am so, so glad that I spent two hours writing this blog post instead of getting drunk.  It is not the best blog post I have ever written, but I enjoyed writing it.  Writing is definitely better for me than drinking.  Must remember that.  


       Three glasses of Cook’s is not the end of the world.  Boy, did I ever dodge that bullet. Believe me, if I was sitting here drunk right now (and I would be, watching nature vids on YouTube or some random thing), I would be feeling as if it was the end of the world.  As every police officer, bouncer, and prosecutor will tell you, booze does not exactly enhance the accuracy of one’s, ahh, perspective.  


        Tell you what–every time I really want to drink, I am going to sit down here and type out a scene from my drunkalogue.  Not to shame myself, but to keep the terror of what that was like fresh in my mind.  That is accurate perspective.  


P.S.  I CANNOT WAIT until I’ve recovered enough that I don’t have to maintain it all the damn time.  This is hard work.  It’s also ANNOYING.  


      


    


2 thoughts on “Thoughts on My Drinking, and Why I Had to Stop”

  1. Sorry to hear about your relapse. It is very hard. It sounds like you are in that hellish place where drinking no longer works but you cannot stand being sober. I was there for a while. It sucks big time.

    It’s been a while since I read the Big Book. I didn’t mind the writing style so much. I thought of it as very late Victorian. The capitalization of every possible term for God became a bit tiresome.

    I read that book through several times, mostly as self-defense. I was scared. So scared that I was vulnerable to every loser who told me what I had to do, and when I questioned their (nutty) advice they would scare me with a possible return to drinking. Once I was conversant with the book, I was stunned at how much personal opinion is passed off as ‘the program.’ I found the book a lot less religious than the people in the meetings. Certainly a lot less pious. I hate pious people.

    In my experience 90% of the people in AA are jerks. Someone once told me that looking for healthy people in AA is like looking for health in a hospital. Someone else, at a meeting in Derry in Ireland, told me that when people come into AA they are spiritually dead and wherever you have dead people, you have vultures. The bad advice I saw given and taken in AA – my God! In my experience some of the sickest, most unhappy, controlling people were the most vocal and active in the groups.

    The way I see it, a group of people stumbled onto a path to recovery from addiction IN THE 1930’s. Since they grew out of the Oxford Group/Buchmanite movement, they thought in religious terms. They wrote down the stages they passed through between drinking and stable sobriety, using religious terms. These stages can serve as guideposts for us. Like the fourth step. In the book, it’s a structured remembering, year by year. I think this serves the purpose of reconnecting us with the men and women we were before the addiction warped our personalities. Recovery undoes the damage done to our personality by being addicts. Sadly, that is all it does. I always hated people who saw the program as a way out of every unhappiness and sorrow in life. My pain is not my fault. A lot of it is just the human condition. Some is specific to my past.

    I see the meetings as an unfortunate necessity. A habit is something we do without thinking. I drank habitually to relief the pain of being alive. So, when I first quit, I was in a very dangerous place. The meetings are hours of brainwashing to break the habit by making room for a thought before I pick up. I think I sat through at least ten hours of meetings for every one useful thing I heard. But those useful things I heard were all-important. They gave me words for what was going on inside, gave me perspective on my past and my present situation. And those words and that perspective are what allowed me to think before I acted on the habit.

    Anyway, I’ve run on. I want you to stay sober. I want you to recover. The pain you feel from not drinking will lessen with time. And as someone who has passed through it, this is a major source of pain. Sobriety will give you a chance to learn to avoid some and cope with the rest of the other pain in your life.

    Hang in there,
    John

  2. This is an outstanding comment, John, and I thank you for taking the time to write it.

    I wouldn’t say that I can’t stand to be sober–absolutely everything in my life has improved tremendously since I quit. Like, there is no comparison. It’s more like sobriety is…exhausting, like hyper-vigilance. I have to work at it every…fucking…night. Why? I guess it’s like you said–force of habit. And if sobriety is partially a skill to be learned, well, every skill worth learning takes a lot of time and effort. It requires discipline to show up to the meetings no matter what, endure the crazies, put the chairs away, do stuff like gratitude lists and the Steps. I bake a lot of cookies.

    It can be funny, though, cultivating new habits. I go to a restaurant and the waitress asks “Can I get you something to drink?” and I think “ARE YOU TRYING TO KILL ME, BITCH?”

    I agree with all your sentiments. I know about the Buchmanite movement; I’ve spent many hours reading the Orange Papers (probably not the smartest thing to do for me right now, ha ha). I wanted to be an educated consumer of this…program. I think Wilson was a phony and an asshole. I really don’t like him.

    The Book does have some good ideas; I’d like to credit most of them to Jung.

    And yeah, it’s brainwashing. Absolutely. Fine with me! My brain needs to be washed! If it’s a cult, then give me a tinfoil hat and pass me the (nonalcoholic) kool-aid!

    Most of the meetings I attend are Agnostic/Atheist, and I am very grateful to have access to them here in NYC. Only problem with them is that the Big Book is universally despised (my peeps!), so the program is very unstructured–not much sponsorship or supervision; it’s anarchic (?). Also, most of the people in these meetings have been sober for a zillion years. They almost all have their shit together. Good role models, but it’s helpful to be around the freshly struggling and suffering, you know?

    So, I have another group (two, actually). One of these groups has really crispy burnouts. REALLY crispy. Most of them are friendly, though, and they eat my cookies. It is an instructive experience. And the Chairperson is Hawt. ha, ha.

    Vultures–oh my, yes. Several people have told me that their “sponsors” tried to exploit them sexually. “This guy said he wanted to help me and took me out for coffee, and then he put his hand on my thigh!” (this, coming from a hetero young guy) Unbelievable. You have to be careful. And the scare tactics. As if we weren’t frightened enough. And the sackcloth-and-ashes stuff; the Calvinism.

    Thank you for your concern. I feel fine now; I’m over my dangerous confrontation with Cook’s (ha! ha!). I refuse to beat myself up over it; the important thing is that I didn’t go out.

    And with that, I’m off! Hoboken awaits.

    Thanks for reading.

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