Well... I let the cat out of the bag on my last blog (Hitchhiking 14) that I don't drink at all. It has to be that way. I learned my lesson well (but said the famous line thousands of times) and by 23 I decided to never drink again. The famous line that anyone who has drank too much and regretted it, of course, is "I am never drinking again." We always seem to mean it when we say it... and then change our minds the next time a bottle gets opened.
I was a University beer chugging champion. I organized drink establishment dry events. I was the go to guy for a 'friend' any night of the week. If you wanted to drink on a Tuesday and couldn't find anyone... you didn't ask me. I achieved a rockstar status in my dorm for being the champion alcoholic. For a Canadian kid who knows no better... this is a source of pride.
Externally I was confident and couldn't be stopped. Internally was another story. The amount of days I spent in bed with pounding headaches... the amount of days I could not stomach food... the conversations in the mirror with a sickly skin and bones kid with bloodshot eyes... nobody really knew. They just knew the kid they saw at Dukes diner drinking out of his custom mug that the bar gifted me for putting their family through college. They would ask me "how I did it." I would always make some confident joke to deflect the question... I knew how I did it.
I built up a reputation that I enjoyed having and then I had to work very hard to maintain it. I also enjoyed who I was, or, more accurately, who they saw me as. I was confident, hilarious and always the life of the party. Who wouldn't want to be that? That is a stacked question... because there is another life that needs to be lived. There is 'public' life... where you put on your cape and show your drunken superhero off... and then there is the 'other' life.
The alcoholic superhero has an alter-ego. In my case... it was a hungover, unhealthy, struggling to get to class mess. If I wasn't blessed with smarts, there is no way I would have made it through school. Most people that I rolled with did not make it through. We took pride in the length of our benders and the amount of class we did not attend. These are not the traits of an honour roller.
I remember one day... well, not really... Let me start that again... I remember the day after a day that I don't remember, waking up with a doctor looking over me. I had an I.V in my arm. I was in a hospital bed in emergency. The last thing I remember was a friend of mine taking bets from all comers that I could win chugging contests. It was, in his mind, a perfect get rich quick scheme. Nobody in a bar room settles on their bets... and after 12 hours of drinking, the last thing I needed to do was chug 15 more beers. I won a bunch of contests... my friend made no money and I ended up in the hospital with alcohol poisoning. So... that was how I ended my first semester of University.
That was one of the first times I flirted with that famous line. It took me another 5 years of hard knocks, broken bones, stitches, regrets, failures, setbacks, money problems, debt problems, lost friends etc... to actually contemplate the meaning of that famous line.
I am never drinking again.
I made it through school with a degree in Political Science and philosophy and had a "real job" working in a callcenter (which you can read all about in Hitchhiking Part 2). I had toned down the drinking but still had my friends and my weekends and a 6 pack here and there. I had pain and problems even from drinking a little bit. It wasn't fun the next day --AT ALL! I was monitoring my liquor consumption pretty close because I had these really bad hangovers without drinking much at all.
I was getting tired of the cycle. One beer that night... hmmm I feel ok... 2 beers the next night... not bad... then 3, 5... 17. OUCH! Famous line!!! Repeat. I was onto myself. The gig was almost up.
On my 23rd birthday it hit me really hard. My friends had thrown a surprise party for me. It was thoughtful and awesome... and since I was out of school, having a bunch of people come and celebrate me was pretty cool. How they celebrated me shocked me. I got through the door... and they sat me in a recliner chair and fed me booze.
"Here, get this in you," they would say. I did.
Eventually a bong came around and I got that in me too. This really got my mind wandering on how I was being celebrated. Is THIS how my friends see me? Is this what they think I am... some booze monster who, if he had his way, would sit on a recliner with a steady stream of liquor coming my way uninterrupted? This really got to me.
From that birthday, it only took me 3 more months before I had my last drink. That was the beginning of the end... I was already done with booze at that point, I just didn't know how to break up with it. I had a whole life built around it. My friends drank as their pass time. My whole lifestyle was a booze motivated and booze driven, absolutely booze infused lifestyle.
By early 2004 I had worked up the courage, which is hard when it is not booze motivated, to quit drinking and to let my friends know that I had quit. Disbelief was the most common theme among my friends. "Fuck off Donnie... lets go for a beer and work this out," they would say. I did have some close friends who knew me well and knew that this was likely for the best who totally supported me from the get go... but they were few and far between. Most people were afraid for themselves and their addictions, as the drinking kingpin just kicked the habit... could the whole operation be next?
Socializing was wierd for the next few months. All of the gatherings I went to with my friends included booze. I had to swim through a sea of liquor any time I wanted some company, turning down drinks left right and center. I needed to continuously deal with my friends who still thought that me quitting was 'just a phase.' They were constantly checking if today was the day they would win me back. They did not.
Soon enough I had met some people who did other things. The real friends I had found other activities we could get into that wasn't so booze-centric... and most of my so called friends just stopped calling. They realized that they lost me to sobriety and kept on without me.
The first 6 months were really tough because the whole life needs to be turned around. Nothing is the same because the force that drove your life is now absent. Those first 6 months were an exercise in finding new driving forces and using them to develop new patterns and habits. It was turbulent because my past and my future were having a battle over me. My old friends, my old habits... my old life were competing with my dreams, aspirations and goals. The future me, where I saw myself, and where I wanted to be, knew that I had to leave booze behind. All of my past decisions, friends and habits left me in the place that I was in... and I had to escape it unscathed. That is what quitting drinking felt like. It was a battle.
I feel for all of the addicts that need to change and have a hard time with it. It is hard to exit your old life and build a new one. I have offered advice and help to many and I stress the importance of making a tough choice and sticking to it. The hardest part about quitting anything (or starting anything) is to make the decision not just to do it... but to be serious about that decision.
I thought about quitting drinking. Am I ready for this? What does it mean to quit drinking? What will my life look like? What will I have to go through with my friends? Will I have any friends if I quit? I examined these questions and prepared to face them... I felt ready. At that point... I proclaimed to myself that I was never going to drink another drop of alcohol again. I just wasn't... and it stuck.
I was so strong with my conviction that I quit cold turkey. My friends that stuck with me were few and far between... but more important than that... I learned who my friends actually were. Most of those people that disappeared were just common interest associates and partners in crime. This was a revelation that I did not contemplate before quitting. I found out who my real friends were, and that is a beautiful thing.
That was in 2004. I am just over a month away from my 14 year mark and it is quite interesting to be at this point. I was only drinking for 5 years... mind you it was hard drinking... sometimes heavy 7 days a week... but it still only feels liek a tiny blip in my life story. Drinking, at this point, was just a phase. I remember announcing my 10 year anniversary like this:
"I just realized that I have not drank a drop of alcohol for 10 years. As far as milestones go... This one seems pretty inadequate... But if you asked me 12 years ago... I would have laughed so hard that I would spit beer all over you. So, it is a milestone to a me somewhere in time."
I faced a little bit of heat for addressing it this way. People were telling me not to downplay something like that. It was not my intention to downplay being sober for 10 years... It just isn't a challenge any more. The first year was tough... but by then I was so healthy, happy and had all sorts of money that it was a no brainer to keep it up. I had built the life separate from booze and starting up again would be as difficult as quitting was a year ago.
I had to take that first few months a day at a time... and those days were hard. By the ten year sober mark I don't pay it a second thought. I am way better without liquor.
I hope that this may inspire you to take a look at yourself the next time you say that famous line and know that there is help and it is possible... and life is beautiful on the other side. Thanks for reading!!
(I get my stock photos from pixabay.com)