Originally published on 6/29/2017
I went to AA once.
And I wish I could say it was a couple years ago, or back before I got my shit together, but it wasn’t. I was living in Columbia.
It gave me a lot of perspective, but ultimately showed me that I wasn’t necessarily an alcoholic. I didn’t like the idea that I had absolutely no control over alcohol. Everyone in the meeting was kind and supportive. They asked how long it had been since I’d had a drink, and I replied,
“Don’t worry, this is the hardest part,” they assured me.
However, what I felt in that moment wasn’t hard, and it made me question whether or not I really needed to be there. I wasn’t craving a drink. I was fine with being sober. It was a Tuesday afternoon; why would I be drunk right now? I listened to the members of the group tell their stories, and I couldn’t relate. I’d never started my day with hard liquor. A mimosa, maybe, but that was only on special occasions. I don’t regret going. Attending that meeting was a step in the right direction for me to figure out what exactly my relationship with alcohol was.
Alcohol was one of the last things I got under control. Throughout the process of figuring out why I turn to alcohol so easily, and what exactly it does for me, I realized that I had been taught through socialization by peers, media, and even family, that alcoholic tendencies are a very normal part of our society… and I think that’s kind of fucked up.
After the AA meeting, I shelved my copy of the Big Book and made the decision that I probably wouldn’t ever go back. I still needed to do something though, so I sobered up for a month. I just wanted to see if I could easily do it. During that time, I took a notebook and wrote down every time I wanted a drink. It was a journaling technique I was taught in therapy, although I was using it for a specific reason instead of just logging my mentality throughout the day. I wrote down the date and time, what I wanted, and why I wanted it. The answer took me about two seconds to figure out, but I kept journaling anyway until I stopped wanting drinks for emotional reasons.
I’m an extremely emotional person. It’s just part of who I am, and I used to have issues with that. Emotions are what make us human, yet for the longest time, I wanted to deny that I wasn’t overly emotional. I felt that it made it harder for people to take me seriously. So instead of being upset, I would drink. Instead of venting my frustrations, I would drink. Instead of soaking up every ounce of happiness over an exciting event, I would drink. Mental illness didn’t help either. I coped with my depression and anxiety by drinking. During those years, being intoxicated was easier than being sober, but it didn’t solve anything. It just delayed the moment when I finally faced my shit head on, and the things that I had said/done while intoxicated added a ridiculous amount of other stuff that I also had to deal with.
When I moved to Columbia and went back to school, I moved away from the vast majority of my social stressors. I was able to finally start over and just focus on college. Yet, for some reason that I can only guess was habit, I was still drinking at least two nights a week, if not more. It wasn’t quite on the same level. I wasn’t going out and dancing on bars and blacking out. I wasn’t sleeping with a trash can by my bed, but I was waking up with a wine bottle on my nightstand. My recycling bin was mostly filled with empty bottles. I was spending my Friday thinking about the bottle of wine waiting for me at the end of it. I was significantly disappointed when my friends couldn’t make it to dollar margarita night, and would usually wind up going to the liquor store and throwing myself a marg night…alone. Yup, totally normal.
It took me a solid two years to actually see something wrong with that, because our society is so tolerant of alcoholic tendencies, especially in college. Now, the raging drunk who beats their children and spouse obviously needs to sober up and go to AA, but what about the functional alcoholic? What about the person who brags about a dinner of, “fruit salad, okay mostly grapes, okay wine, I’m having wine for dinner,” does that person need a meeting?
Back in my days of doing a lot more than just boozin’ at frat houses, I remember scouring the internet for something that would convince me that I had a problem. I knew I did, but I needed someone else to tell me, and I didn’t think it would be the people doing all of the same things with me. Anyway, I remember finding a quote on tumblr, and it was something along the lines of,
The second you use a substance to fill a void is the moment you start to abuse it.
It’s stuck with me. We drink to deal with our insecurities, to give us the courage to ask out the attractive person on the other side of the bar. We drink to celebrate. We drink to drown the sorrow of a loss. We drink when we win, and we drink when we lose. Win or lose, we still booze. You aced your final? Hell yeah, let’s go party. You think you failed? Oh well, it’s over, let’s go get drunk to forget about it. Why is this behavior okay, and more importantly, why is it normalized?
This is the part where I have to get really clear about what I’m trying to say, otherwise every time I post a photo of a glass of wine, I’m going to get shit: I’m not saying we should all stop drinking. I’m not sober. What I’m specifically addressing is the normalization of drinking to fill a void, which is 100% an alcoholic tendency. I got a grasp on my drinking by getting very real with myself about why I was drinking. I would turn to alcohol when I had something on my mind that I didn’t want to deal with. A test that I thought I did badly on. Loneliness. The guy I liked was dating someone else. A paper I didn’t want to write. I felt that I couldn’t be funny unless I was three drinks in (which is false).
I’m not talking about sitting around a table with your friends, playing cards and having some drinks. I’m talking about the, “Fuck it, let’s get drunk,” moments that are all over the internet and basically everywhere. I’m talking about drinking to forget about an ex or losing your job, or even spending an entire day looking forward to the drink that’s waiting for you at the end of it. Drinking from an emotional place. Drinking to numb something. Drinking to cope. That’s what I’m talking about.
One fun thing about myself is that I have a really hard time stopping my consumption of alcohol when I’m emotional. I don’t want to deal with whatever is happening that’s making me upset, so I just get another drink. Cutting myself off means sobering up and having to face whatever I’m avoiding. I finally got really sick of being the drunk girl, so I stopped drinking when I was upset. That’s when I have to tell myself, “Nope, I don’t need alcohol right now.”
My weekends with friends went from, “Hey let’s get drunk this weekend. We’re due for a drunk night,” to, “Hey let’s go out,” or, “Hey, let’s have a movie night,” and somehow that mentality has allowed me to actually remember time with my friends. Drinking to get drunk results in a different type of drunken state than just having a few drinks with friends does. I was recently in one of my best friend’s weddings, and we spent the night before the wedding drinking in the bridal suite after the rehearsal dinner. It was like a giant adult sleepover, and it was so much fun. We sat around in our PJs and drank champagne out of plastic cups and talked about life and love and relationships. I woke up the next day feeling completely fine, with all of my memories from the night before fully intact. Whereas on nights when the goal of the night has been to get drunk, things usually end in a much uglier manner.
Granted, a lot of this might have to do with the fact that I’m in my mid-twenties and just don’t feel like doing shots and keg-stands, or going from Jack to Malibu to Fireball to Budweiser and then back to Jack again. I was offered a tequila shot at the reception for the previously mentioned wedding, and I had to give myself a damn pep talk before I took it. Maybe this is just growing up. I’ve mentioned my past drinking problem to people and they say, “You didn’t have a problem, you were just in college. We all did that shit. We all drank multiple nights a week.”So maybe we all had a problem? I don’t know.
I guess all I’m trying to say is that just because it’s everywhere, doesn’t mean it’s normal or healthy. Facing whatever you don’t want to deal with is scary and hard, but no matter how much you drink, you’re going to have to face it eventually. Trust me.