Consuming alcohol is like a sexual experience for me. My heartbeat rises, my face flushes, my inhibitions melt. They are one and the same, and they often go hand in hand. Each provides something I need, usually during my lowest moments. My love of the bottle is a satisfying self-destructive behavior that gives me a sense of pleasure like nothing else. It is an affair I cannot quit.
My attitude toward alcohol began to form as a child, and from an early age I was eager to have my first sip. I had an alcoholic father and four brothers closely following in his footsteps. Every holiday, every celebration, and most evenings centered on alcohol. My father was rarely seen without a beer in his hand. One after another, I would hear the ka-shoosh of the beers opening, and each one made him smile more, made him more fun, more accessible. When he was drunk, he was silly and lighthearted, and I began to associate alcohol with happiness.
The idea of happiness is something my brothers also saw in a relationship with alcohol, and when my parents were gone, I would watch as they raided the liquor cabinet. Their carefree, drunken craziness made me envious, and I was always trying to sneak a sip. Seeing my father and brothers drink made me feel left out, and I wanted to be a part of it. My mother never drank, which made the idea seem even more exclusive, like a boys’ club where I wasn’t allowed. I was enticed by the whole idea of it. I felt seduced by its warm embrace like a firm hand on my thigh. There was a part of me that knew I should turn and run, but the wrongness of it made me want it even more.
As I got older the desire for alcohol grew stronger, like a hormonal urge, and I coaxed others into walking the path with me. In middle school, we would have sleepovers and sneak anything we could get our hands on. Six girls in the basement would share a beer, giggling with excitement, or gulp the cold, fruity liquid of a stolen wine cooler, letting it lift the burden of middle school stresses. It made everything more fun, it made me feel more interesting, and it awakened my sexuality. When I was drunk, I felt beautiful, I felt fearless, and I could approach anyone without feeling self-conscious. Alcohol became my escape and my courage. I wasn’t me without it.
When I was 14 my father committed suicide, and suddenly, my relationship with alcohol became more of a dependency. I yearned to escape the pain I was feeling, and I did the only thing I knew would make me happy. I drank, and I drank a lot. I couldn’t function at social interactions without it, and the moment I felt stressed my brain screamed for it. Yet, those feelings of happiness and ease were getting harder to achieve, and I had to drink more and more. The more I drank, the more out of control my experiences became. What I had thought was an antidote to my emotional problems became a disastrous mix with embarrassing consequences. Instead of being sexy and interesting, I was stumbling and babbling. There were evenings spent throwing up, and arguments no one could remember that wrecked relationships. My drinking became an abusive relationship, and I would wake up battered by the alcohol I had consumed, wearing bruises and the dried remnants of a bloody nose from an incident I couldn’t recall. As I laid in bed trying to soothe my throbbing headache, I would have small flashbacks of the night and cringe at the embarrassing details.
For as unhealthy as the relationship became, I couldn’t let go. I tried harder and harder to replicate that carefree ease I had felt when I first started drinking. I could feel it for a fleeting moment during my first few drinks, lying underneath the surface of reality, and I would frantically try to reach it. I was desperate to get to it, but instead of hitting that perfect level of drunken happiness, I would drown myself. Every drinking experience turned into an abyss where all that remained were forgotten evenings, lost relationships, and humiliating moments. And I still couldn’t say “no.”
This abusive relationship with alcohol continued until well after college, but something had changed. I didn’t have the community of fellow binge drinkers to keep me company during the long nights I spent draining a fifth of cheap vodka. My drinking officially became a symbol of loneliness in my life, and there I saw the reflection of a budding alcoholic. I felt the heavy weight my father must have felt as he began his descent toward suicide, and I recognized the same exhausted and battered faces on my brothers. We had all reached for what we thought was happiness, but it had been an illusion. It was like looking for lost treasure that never existed, and the deeper we dug the more we hoped and prayed and needed it to be there.
Eventually I came to understand the relationship I had with alcohol and its abusive nature. I saw the destruction it created in my life, but I couldn’t just stop. Alcohol had a grip on me, a dependency that was comforting in its dark, deceptive power. I felt I deserved the painful loneliness and self-deprecating it enhanced within me. I deserved to be a drunken slob ruining my worthless life, but my family history was an obvious foreshadowing that warned me of my fate. I had always seen my father’s death as a selfish abandonment, a waste of a life. When I began to sympathize with those feelings, I knew I had gone too far. I finally saw the correlation between drinking and eventual demise. My life was in my hands, and I wasn’t going to waste it like my father. I had a lot of life to live, and only I could change it.
Struggling with concrete feelings of suicide at just 22, I knew I needed something to help bring me out of it. I had tried medication and therapy countless times, but the biggest issue was my drinking. I needed to find a way to get away from it. In the days following a bender, I would be so incredibly depressed I sometimes felt I was on the brink of a nervous breakdown. My hangover would zap any energy or motivation, and I would fall behind with everything. Then the feelings of worthlessness and self-doubt would take over, and it would take days for me to get back on track. Once the clouds began to lift on my mood, I would begin to forget all the bad, and I would want to drink, again searching for carefree happiness. The process would start all over. I would get out of control and spend days trying to overcome whatever offense I had committed in my blinding drunkenness. Then, as I began to feel better I would run back to the bottle as if it were an abusive lover apologizing for the hurt it had caused.
On a whim, I decided to start running as I desperately looked for something to distract me from my desire to drink. I wanted something I could be proud of and show people I had accomplished, and something that would inspire me to stay sober. It had been years since I had run my first marathon, and it had been the only time in my life that I could turn down a drink, knowing I had to stay sober to train. I thought this would be the perfect motivation to get sober.
My running started off slowly. It took a few months to get back to a functional level where I could actually train. During those months, I found a small point of clarity in my world. It felt great to feel good when I got up in the morning. I felt more productive when I came home and spent my evenings running instead of drinking. The urge to drink was still there, but I was starting to focus and realign my goals. I had cut back to only one drink per night, and I saw a light at the end of my dark tunnel. I kept running toward it.
When I finally felt ready to start actually training, I committed to an 18-week program and signed up and paid for a marathon exactly 18 weeks away. I wanted more than anything to hit that goal, and I gave it all I had. I worked out six days a week, keeping my mind busy and my hands away from the bottle. Never had I felt so incredible and in control. I completely stopped drinking about eight weeks in. Not a beer, or a glass of wine. I quit buying it, and I put all my energy into my goal, getting up at 4:00 a.m. most days to fit in my workouts before work so I could run when I came home. I felt unstoppable.
When the marathon finally arrived, I managed to run it in under five hours, which was a great time for me. I was ecstatic, and I felt so proud of myself. The high was short-lived. Of course, to celebrate my victory it only seemed right to buy a fifth of vodka and drink. After the marathon was over, my purpose was gone, my reason to stop drinking was gone, and I was right back where I started. It was the first time I realized it was an issue I would struggle with the rest of my life.
It has been about five years, and my drinking is still an up and down battle. I have learned a lot about myself and why I drink, but it isn’t something that is just cured. The associations and feelings I have with drinking are there forever, but I have learned to keep them at bay. I make goals for myself and distract those urges with family and work. Still, it is always in the back of my mind. It is there when I feel bad about myself, it is there when I am happy or sad. The only difference now is I can say “no.” I don’t have to drink, I don’t need it to function, but I cannot imagine my life without alcohol. It is a lover that has done awful things to me, but it remains a relationship I cannot completely purge from my life. It is an affair I indulge in during times of weakness. I run to it, only to fight my way back to reality, where I remind myself of the painful past we share. During my years of fighting with this relationship, my tolerance has dropped, and my benders aren’t as destructive or lengthy. To be honest, I am too busy to be a drunk any more. By the time I have a moment to myself in the evenings, the only thing I want to do is go to bed.
I have come a long way in my relationship with alcohol. For a while I feared I was becoming an alcoholic, but I don’t think I can say that now. There isn’t the same dependency I had when I was younger. It is more like a comfort. I don’t have to have it, but it is nice to know that it is there when I need it. I still chase those feelings of happiness in the first few moments of a glass of wine. Even after all we’ve been through, I still love it.
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