It’s odd now to talk about it. Even through my therapy process, we rarely discussed it. I hid it from everyone. Not intentionally, it just never really came up. No one ever asked, “AJ, are you an alcoholic?” Everyone knew I could drink most people under the table. It was just who I was. No one looked twice.
For many years, I was what I call a “functioning alcoholic”. I tried not to drink before going to work, but at any other point in time, you could be assured, I was drinking. I used to tell myself, “as long as it doesn’t affect your job, you’re safe.” The truth was, I wasn’t. I was drowning my emotions in a sea of booze. I always dreaded the forms at a doctor’s office. They looked like this:
Alcohol consumption per week: 0-1drink ____ 1-2 drinks____ 3-4 drinks____ 5+drinks____
Well, I would laugh. The answer was always 5+, but that was more accurately per day than per week (though technically still not a lie). I would think, ‘are there really people who have less than 5 drinks per week??’ I tried once to calculate the amount of drinks I had in a given day and reached 10, but then I remembered that I had 2 glasses of wine for lunch and half a bottle of champagne for breakfast (it was a day off), plus the two shots I took before leaving the house. It was staggering that I couldn’t even recall the amount I had consumed in a given day, let alone a week. Weekly consumption needed to be counted in bottles and cases. This also does not include the pot I smoked daily.
Looking back, I didn’t feel anything for years. Every part of me was numbed by drugs or alcohol whenever I could. I was a harmless drunk, if anything, I was a very loving drunk. When I was really on the sauce, you could be sure there were more than few drunk dials of love. Fortunately, they were mostly to my sister. No one worries about the happy drunk – everything seems fine.
Recently, I mean very recently, maybe two months or so, I have nearly stopped drinking. Not intentionally. There was no specific event that spurred me to quit or even cut back. I think I have been the person most shocked by it. I just don’t really drink anymore. I will have the occasional beverage, but now, I fit into a box on the doctor’s forms. I may have a drink every 3-4 days in a social setting, but that’s all. I go WHOLE DAYS without drinking. For someone who consumed 7-15 drinks per day on average and thought nothing of consuming 20+ drinks on a day off, that’s HUGE!!! I told my therapist that I couldn’t remember the last time I had a drink, I was so proud. Granted, it was within the last week, but it was days before, not hours.
The other major change was, I no longer WANTED a drink. Drinking had become reflexive. It was part of my routine. I would count down the days until I could get “day drunk”. One morning, it dawned on me that it was the first day in weeks that I had the opportunity to drink with breakfast, so I threw a small bottle of champagne in the freezer (I had already stopped drinking as much and didn’t think I could handle a full bottle on my own). I was shocked when three days later, I found the bottle still in the freezer. I forgot about it. I forgot to get day drunk! That was when I was truly floored. I have never “forgot” to drink in my life. How was that even possible?!
It was possible because I didn’t need it anymore. I was alive and present in my life now. There was nothing to numb. It didn’t work anyhow. I imbibed a bit at a big work party and all the alcohol did was heighten everything I was feeling… which was everything! It was trippy in a really uncomfortable way. I didn’t like it. I didn’t need it. Life had become trippy enough without it. I’m happy. I like my feelings. I even like the pain because it reminds me I’m alive. I love feeling.
To my surprise, I’ve attended a number of social functions sober recently (or maybe I will have one drink and nurse it through the night). For someone with huge social anxiety, alcohol was always my friendly crutch to make me more open and charming. Not anymore. I don’t worry about what people will think of me. It is amazing.
At this point, you may be thinking, what is this miracle that cured your alcoholism?! But that’s where I will say, nothing. I didn’t cure my alcoholism. Alcoholism was a symptom of a greater disease that tormented my soul. A dark mass had taken root on my soul and by turning a blind eye, I allowed it to fester and grow. It manifested itself in alcoholism, drug abuse and eating disorders. It was a cancer and those were the symptoms.
Through my therapeutic process, my therapist and I faced the blackness and piece by piece excised it. Much like with physical cancers, once the mass was removed, the symptoms disappeared as well. It feels like a miracle to me. I didn’t have to cut it out or consciously reduce my use of anything. It just went away. I can still go out and enjoy a drink or two with friends, I don’t need to quit anything, it simply no longer has control over me. The addiction is gone. I actually prefer not to have my mood altered. I like feeling and experiencing.
I’m not saying that therapy is a cure for all life’s problems, but before treating symptoms, you might want to look at the cause. I never really asked myself “why do I drink or smoke?” ‘It makes me feel better’ would have been the answer. ‘Or I just don’t want to feel’, might be more accurate. The pain was too much. The pain I carried around every day. It ate away at me and I wanted to kill it. Drugs and alcohol were a quick and easy way to do it fast, but they only masked it. The pain was still living underneath, growing. Therapy has solved that. I’m definitely not saying it was easy. It was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Quitting drinking would have likely been easier, but the pain would have still eaten away at me. It wouldn’t have solved anything. Therapy has actually solved things.
Like with many cancer treatments, there was some cutting open wounds to excise the black parts. Lots of vomiting induced by the stuff meant to prevent the cancer from returning. Many highs, lots of lows. Weakened states of being. Much bedrest, warm baths and hot food to help regain strength. Baby steps and giving your body the space to heal. That was therapy. It was awful, unrelenting and brutal. And now I’m happy. Real happy. So happy and full of love it hurts. But a good hurt. An alive hurt.
I still feel pain. I still get afraid, but it doesn’t consume me the way it did. It doesn’t dictate my life and decisions. It serves as a guide, like it is supposed to. If I fear it, I know there is something there I need to face. Something I don’t want to look at – so I look at it. I see what is holding me back. Fear is now like the seeing-eye dog through the darkness of my soul. It takes me to the places I wouldn’t see otherwise.
I know that sometimes it is essential to deal with the symptom first, but I would encourage you not to stop there. Look for the cause. Find what darkness you are hiding from and bring it light. It is hard. It is scary and you may think it will kill you, but I promise, it is worth it. It is worth it to feel alive. To be contented. To be present. It is worth it.