• Fri, Jun 29 2012

I Can Finally Admit That I Have A Drinking Problem

"Hey look, everyone! I'm drunk in Prospect Park in the middle of the day and I just fell over!"

I was late to the party when it came to drinking. While other kids were getting wasted in high school, my fear of being out of control led me to slowly sipping one drink at a party then convincing myself I was drunk. I wasn’t faking it, I just didn’t know what it felt like. I was more of a pot smoker those days, because as a naturally high-strung person, pot seemed to fit with my personality far better than doing shots of vodka at someone’s house while their parents were away.

In college, I also wasn’t big into drinking either. I’d attend parties at off-campus apartments, would drink to fit in, but didn’t get the type of drunk that I would eventually become all too familiar with when I got older. I can count on one hand the amount of times I was really drunk in college and I can point to the scars on my body as a result of these few incidents. Yes, I have a scar on my ass from when I couldn’t wait in line to use the bathroom, when outside to pee in the woods, leaned against a tree, and fell over but not before ripping a huge cut on my right bum cheek thanks to the bark. Classy.

When I moved to New York City my drinking still wasn’t anything crazy mostly because I couldn’t afford to drink at a rate that would make me intoxicated. Although within my first week of living here I did get so plastered that I somehow wandered from the East Village to Soho because I had yet to understand my surroundings, I eventually found my way home, threw up in my bed and slept in it; it had yet to become a regular thing.

Having come from a very long line of drinkers, I’ve always been aware that the gene is there inside me. My father in his wilder days loved to have more than a few cold ones with his buddies, my grandfather (his dad) had such an alcohol addiction that my father, as young as 10 years old, would have to go to the local bar to drag him home. But as both my parents explained it, it was a different time, and my father wasn’t the only 10-year-old dragging his dad home from the bar. My grandfather was a very successful and respected engineer, but that didn’t stop him from over-indulging in the sauce. The first and only time I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, I pictured Francie Nolan’s dad who, like my grandfather, was also a raging alcoholic, to look just like my grandfather in his younger days. My grandfather died when I was five years old, so all I had were pictures to support this image.

But it wasn’t just my grandfather. My cousins on my father’s side also have had their bouts with alcoholism. My aunt, the one who disowned me, has a daughter who’s not only an alcoholic, but a drug addict who’s also been arrested for prostitution; another son who’s also a huge drinker and whose wife actually drank herself to death — she was in her 40′s. My father’s other sister has a son who’s in jail, probably for the rest of his life, because he’s been been arrested for DUI so many times. Basically, there’s a shit ton of alcohol issues on the French side of my family; for some reason the Irish and Swedish side (my mom’s) has managed to keep their shit together.

It wasn’t until I met Swede that I realized, after it had been pointed out to me by everyone who truly loves me, that I indeed had a problem. In case you didn’t know, Swedes can drink like it’s nobody’s business and since it was he and I against the world before he decided he needed to drop me to hang out with repulsive hipster people, both our weekend and weekday behavior was one night after another of binge drinking. Starting on Thursdays, we drank 24 hours a day until Monday rolled around. We got up early and immediately started and went all day and into the night until one of us passed out first.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stood on the corner of Bedford Ave throwing up, just so I could go back into the bar and drink more. Or how many times in a fury, because although I’m relatively a loving drunk unless I’m fighting with Swede, I’ve hurled a beer bottle across a bar, tried to smack a girl who was hitting on him and have been 86′d from bars. It’s not that I can’t hold my liquor because four years with Swede taught me otherwise, but if you’ve been drinking martinis, champagne, whisky and then beers in between all the hard stuff since 9am, at some point you are going to fall apart. You are going to start arguments with strangers, you are going to talk back to cops when you’re spotted walking a desolate Bushwick street drinking a beer, and you will get a disorderly conduct ticket when you tell that cop he should go to the closest donught shop and fuck himself. For years, this was how we lived.

By the time Monday rolled around and our bodies suffered the torture of what we had to it over the weekend, we were both sweating profusely, shaking as we tried to work, swearing we’d never drink again, but by the time work was over we’d meet for a drink to “even” ourselves out. Swede and I don’t know moderation when it comes to drinking. “Evening” out just meant doing it all again.

With my favorite drinking buddy now gone, favorite in that he’s the only one of my friends who can drink like me, (fuck, the good times we had), I still drink way too much. As New Yorkers, we all drink too much. Alcohol is included with every brunch, sometimes offering an all you can drink deal for a mere $25 bucks, and almost everyone I know drinks every night to some degree. Although I try not to drink every night, when I do, I will drink until I black out. Even if I’m home alone, listening to Neutral Milk Hotel on repeat, missing the days when Swede and I would be trashed by 11am and singing along to Belle & Sebastian every Sunday, as that was our tradition.

I’m not blaming Swede for my issues with alcohol. He brought out the best in me more times than I can count, but he almost brought out the worst in me more often than not– we were, and are, too similar for it not have been a tumultuous relationship. We never thought twice about dropping $20 on a martini after martini at Freemans or drunkenly hopping in a cab at 3am and paying $400 dollar for him to drive us to Atlantic City where the weekend was a total blur. We had days after days of incidents that I can’t even remember, and night after night where he was passed on on the sidewalk and I begged a cab to pick us up promising he wouldn’t throw up once we were in the car.

When I do go out with my friends now in my sans Swede life, I always drink more than them. My tolerance is so high that what two drinks does to my friends, will take me four or five to get there. When the night has supposed come to an end and I should be heading home, as my friend is about to do, I know that with the alcohol swimming in my blood, I will not be going straight home. I will go to some bar in my neighborhood and I will drink more. I’ll drink to the point where I can barely stand. If I’m short on funds, I’ll go home and drink whatever I have on hand which is always Grey Goose, Jameson and beer. I drink when I’m sad. I drink when I’m stressed. I drink when I’m happy. I drink when I’m angry and since not everyone can drink like me, I’ve convinced myself that drinking alone is OK, when everyone knows it’s not the healthiest option.

My family has suggested AA on several occasions, but since I was able to go a whole 24 days without alcohol on my own, I figured I don’t need AA. My drinking problem has forced me to say things I would never say and there have been too many days that I’ve called in sick to work because I was so hungover and vomiting, that it was easier to dismiss it as a “stomach bug.”

I can finally admit I have a drinking problem. I know that I’m incapable of controlling it, because after a couple drinks, it controls me. Even as I sit here at 10 am, I want to dive into the Sam Summer beers in my fridge, but considering how much work I have to do today, I’ll wait until 4pm.

So there you have it. I finally admitted it, and from what I’ve gathered that’s the first step in recovery. I just don’t think you’ll see me at an AA meeting anytime soon. To be frank, I’m not about to give up drinking. I plan to work on it, but I don’t plan to give it up entirely. It’s my vice, it’s my crutch; if you take away my crutch, I will fall on my face. Although I guess there have been more occasions than not that thanks to too much of Jameson, I’ve fallen down anyway. But when you’re that intoxicated, you don’t feel anything, and you don’t remember it either. Sometimes I just don’t want to remember.

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  • lucygoosey74

    This is not meant to sound condescending in the slightest bit, I only wnt to say that reading your post reminded me of EXACTLY who I used to be.
    I finally submitted to in-patient treatment, followed by a year of out-patient, and yes, AA and NA.
    I celebrate 4 years clean and sober on July 12th.
    The lifestyle made me completely lose who I really was, along with everything else in my life..I’m still figuring out who I am without the drugs and alcohol and I’m 37 years old.
    I wish you only the best, and when you feel low, remember that someone (who you don’t even know) is out there, sending you good vibes.

  • endn

    wow, good luck, I really hope things get better for you. ain’t nothin wrong with a crutch… though a dangerous one can be replaced with a slightly healthier one i think, I replaced drinking and sex for zoloft and therapy, though to be honest it took GI bleeding and horrible flashbacks to get me there. drinking is so easy, i completely understand why it doesn’t seem worthwhile to give it up 100%.

  • Beverly

    Your story sounds very similar to mine – but I have had a drinking problem since I was a teenager but always just brushed it off as being young and that my twenties was my time to enjoy myself because I wouldn’t get the chance to when I wanted to settle down. But by “enjoy myself” I’d rack up hundreds of dollars a week on drinking, drugs, promescuity, losing friends, career suffering, low-self esteem, weight gain, and ultimately, my health suffered (both mental and physical). my breaking point hit when my health was seriously compromised for a year and I had to give up drinking completely for a few months. that was SUPER tough and I had a few set-backs along the way but now, I’m okay. I know my limitations and since I have hard time stopping after two, that’s all I’ll drink otherwise….downhill. My friends support me. My mom is relieved but my dad is in denial (not sure why?!). Anyways, my point is…do what works for you. You’ll get there. Take it moment by moment. Big hugs!!! It ain’t easy but congrats on facing it. Wishing you nothing but success on your new found journey! Keep us updated :)

  • Phil

    I stopped drinking around 5 years ago; I never like the taste of it, so I did not require AA , or any kind of mental gymnastics too stop, but, it did take around a year to get out of my system.

    The only reason why I drank was to socialize.

  • Erica

    I teach a Drugs and Behavior course at a university here and can read a lot in your story that is similar to many of my students experiences. If you need to get formal help, you’ll know it in your gut, and you’ll act on it when the time is right for you. Awareness and unbiased assessment of your current relationship with alcohol is the best start.
    http://www.EricaDHouse.com

  • Somnilee

    I’m not judging you, but speaking for your health: actively giving up drink because you can (“I went 28 days without alcohol, without AA”) is one of the biggest signs of alcoholism. I’m sure there are reasons why you don’t want to go to a meeting, but there’s no harm in trying.

  • rachael

    About a year and a half ago I was struggling to accept my own drinking problem. If I’d read this, written by someone that I’ve found–through reading your articles–to be both respectable and relatable, it might have been easier. I think it’s very likely you will make someone else’s journey easier with this article.

  • Amy

    Thank you for sharing your experience Amanda. I sincerely hope you find the balance you are looking for.

    Good luck. :)

  • MimiR

    So, you are a trainwreck, your life is revolting to any stable person looking in from the outside, but you don’t “need” help because you like your trainwreck so much.

    Yuck.

    I’m not going to be nice to you because you’re doing it to yourself. In fact, you knew the risk and you STILL got into drinking. How stupid are you? You’re a disaster, and I pity your remaining relatives and friends because they’re just in for heartbreak. You’re going to die from drink, on way or another, and they’re all going to sigh and say, “It was just a matter of time.”

    • Elwar

      Wow! So not the thing to say to someone in this situation. No, you don’t have to be nice, but that doesn’t mean you have to be a jerk either.

      Amanda: I don’t know much about addiction but Sarah Hepola wrote a series of essays on quitting drinking that might be helpful, not in an advice-giving way, but in a human-not-feeling-alone kind of way.

      http://www.salon.com/2010/12/31/lush_for_life/

    • Sam

      “Revolting?” I hardly think drinking a lot constitutes having a “revolting” life. Plus, she makes a living doing something she loves and lives in one of the best areas in one of the best cities in the world. Are you sure that can be considered the life of a “trainwreck?”

      I desperately hope you never have a relative, friend, or significant other with a dependency problem (whether it’s on alcohol, drugs, food, love, sex, whatever) because they have no chance at success if you’re the person they have to lean on.

    • Amanda Chatel

      I normally don’t respond to trolling commenters in such a way, but you’re an asshole.

      I pity anyone who has to know an asshole like you… at least I don’t judge people who take a risk in sharing something about themselves so others who may be in the same boat feel less alone. I don’t need you to be nice to me, because you’re clearly an asshole and incapable of being nice.

    • Sabrina

      I feel very sorry for all of your family and friends.

    • Amanda Chatel

      @ Sabrina

      You must be friends with MimiR, huh? It must be super to be so perfect.

    • Tobi

      And I’m sure people pity you and those around you because you’ll probably remain an asshole for life. Seriously.

    • Amanda Chatel

      @ Sabrina

      I’m sorry if your comment was meant for Asshole Magee up there, and not me. As I stated above it’s hard to follow this damn thread…

    • Kacie

      I rather be a family member or a friend of the “train wreck” with humor, honesty, and compassion than know you, the asshole who spews venom from the anonymity of a computer screen. Amanda, I appreciate your strength in sharing this with so many people, and I wish you nothing but the best.

  • porkchop

    Alcoholism sucks. It really, really sucks and I’m sorry, because you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t, right? I mean, is a no-drinking life something that’s even attractive to you? Did you read The Shining?

    Johnny Nolan! How can you not love him?

    • Amanda Chatel

      I fucking love Johnny Nolan!
      I also love Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Sexton… I love people who work hard, drink hard and party hard. A no-drinking life doesn’t seem appealing at all, and honestly, with Swede gone it’s been a HUGE difference, but if I could just get to being able to walk away after a couple drinks instead of raging into the night, that would be great. I am working on it…

      And I have not read The Shining yet! How pathetic am I? Saw the movie… but that was it.

    • porkchop

      I just remember in the book, Jack Torrance chewing Excedrin, which was a habit he had while drinking, and the way he made drinking and sobriety sound equally shitty.

      I love Johnny, too. The women in the book are always dumping on him for being weak, but where would Francie be without him?

  • Sammie Son

    I’m sure I’ve told you about my own dependency issues as well as the debacle of last week that was, albeit indirectly, the result of drinking. When I get back to the city, if you want to go to a meeting or something, let me know. I’ve tried it multiple times so there’s no way I’m particularly optimistic this time, but I would like to try again. I’ll text ya when I get back to the city. :)

    • Amanda Chatel

      Yeah, we should do that! Also, do you think I used the word “asshole” too many times in my response to that asshole?

  • Alice

    You’re being really brave for writing this. One of the hardest things about alcoholism is the silence around it. Good lcuk. Don’t be afraid to go to AA or another support group (there are even ones geared towards atheists) if you need it.

  • Sarah

    Thank you for this post, Amanda. Best of luck in finding what works for you in gaining control over alcohol! I’m looking forward to hearing more about it if you’re brave enough to keep writing about it.

    I can relate coming from a family with a big alcoholism/drug addiction history. Though I do drink, I try to be super careful and conscientious about it, and make up all kinds of rules for myself to keep it in check. It’s not so much the fear of becoming an alcoholic that compels me, but the recovery aspect. AA (in my opinion) is a crock of shit. I’ve been to a couple Al-Anon meetings to support my loved ones, and the God/higher power crap makes my skin crawl. And this is really the only option?! This is supposed to be the only way anyone can ever stay in control? And that you can NEVER EVER drink again!? The cure may be worse than the disease; I think the only thing I’d hate more than being a drunk is being a sober preachy Christian.

    Ok. This comment is not meant to be offensive to anyone, and I’m sure AA really works for some people, but personally…no. To be less depressing, I have heard some good stuff about SMART Recovery. http://www.smartrecovery.org/

    • Sam

      I totally agree regarding the AA higher power stuff–I think i takes a lot of responsibility off of the actual drinker and makes it seem as though they aren’t in control of their lives once they give up drinking (when really, it should be the other way around). On the other hand, the never ever drinking again thing–most of the people I met in AA were lifetime drinkers who had tried time and time again to cut back (myself included) but realized that even if nothing terrible happened 49 times out of 50, there was always 1 sudden, unpredictable time when horrible things occurred and it was impossible to tell when that circumstance might arise, so to be safe and maintain solidarity/consistency regarding AA’s stance on drinking, the “just don’t do it, guys” approach is frequently the only way to encourage people to stop all together and not just let them fall back down the slip ‘n’ slide of booze.

    • Amanda Chatel

      Yeah, it’s the Christian thing that has kept me from checking it out. But as Alice pointed out, apparently there are ones geared toward us heathens, too.

      Right now, since I need a break from both the humidity and the drama of NYC, I’m heading to Colorado for the month of July to stay with my sister and her family. I know that will make a world of difference to be far, faraway from drunk brunches and endless social events where open bars are standard.

  • Aj

    Thanks for writing this! I kind of feel/felt the same way. I was late to the drinking bandwagon as well and now a lot of my friends who were sloppier than I ever was are all “I’m getting too old to party”. How is 23 too old to party? Lol, but anyway I just wanted to thank you for being honest and putting yourself out there like this. And, of course, fuck the haters!

    P.S. You replied to a comment by Sabrina, and I’m not sure, but I think she may have been referring to the asshole commenter, not you.

    • Amanda Chatel

      You know, with this fucking line up of comments and the way the thread works, I’m never sure who’s responding to who… and I’m so used to haters, I just assume it’s HATE HATE HATE. Unless it’s a regular commenter whose tone I get because they’re always popping up, I get confused.

      So my apologies to Sabrina. Perhaps, going forward I should just assume people are being kind so I don’t have to put my foot in my mouth and apologize later.

      Thanks for the support, AJ!
      xo.

  • Lisette

    @Sarah, AA never intimates that it is the only option. There are numerous times in the AA literature where they say, “This is not the only way. It worked for us, and we think it might work for you, too.”

    As far as the spirituality aspect: it’s not Christian at all. I practice yoga, meditation and Buddhism and I have been in AA 11 years. Nobody has ever hit me over the head with a bible.

    I have seen many people come in to AA and stay sober, I have seen many people come in to AA, leave, and stay sober, I have seen many people come in to AA, decide it is not for them, and go on to drink normally, and I have seen many people come in to AA, leave, and die.

    Alcoholism is not a joke, and you should not flippantly decry something that has helped millions of people, especially since you indicated that you’d only been to a few Al-Anon meetings.

    Amanda, I truly hope you find something that works for you — I know how terribly lonely it can be and I know that recognizing you have a problem but not being ready to do anything is a frustrating place to be.

  • SusanP

    Please keep us updated. I can so relate to almost everything you wrote, and thank you SO much for your courage and sharing yourself. I have struggled with my own drinking problem for decades and it isn’t getting any better, but while I’ve tried almost everything out there and I haven’t completely given up yet, I am still struggling. I am not in denial; nor am I dishonest, both of which the big book (“Alcoholics Anonymous”) says will stand in a recovering person’s way, but I am still stuck in hell.
    Enjoy while you can. It doesn’t get better. Let me know if you find something that works for you that I can try.

  • Jen

    Amanda, your post made me cry. I just want to hug you.

    • Amanda Chatel

      I’m always open for hugs… name the time and place and I’ll be there waiting for it!

  • Lastango

    I have a good friend in AA. She has been on the wagon for 10 years, ever since she picked up her chip. The first time I went to a meeting with her I saw a whole church-basement-full of very sociable people who were glad to be together with each other. Even though she doesn’t really need to go to meetings anymore, she still does because of the companionship. It’s a nice evening together with people she feels close to even though she knows only a few by name.

    She still has the cravings, though, and always will. Needless to say, I never order a drink when we’re out together, and I never mention any form of alcohol.

    I’ve got the AA book “Al-Anon’s Twelve Steps & Twelve Traditions” on my shelf. It’s well worth a read, whether someone has an addiction or not. It offers a lot of very hard-won wisdom about life. Here’s a bit:

    “I continue to go to al-Anon to seek relief from pain and to find a new way of life as a part of a greater whole. All this can best be achieved where there is free and tolerant exchange of views and where all members understand how the Traditions serve to keep us united in purpose. I can identify with those who wrote: ‘Unity of Al-Anon the world over, and the unity of our group, provides us with a core of stability we can depend on. when we are confused and upset, it is a good feeling toknnow we can rely on our group to give us comfort and reassurnace. Later on, we share the responsibility of safe-guarding the grup’s welfare so it well be there when others need it.’”

  • holleeta

    I had a problem with certain drugs when i was a senior in high school. Nearly destroyed my life – went from being an all honors, straight As student to barely graduating. I blame it on my curiosity, wanting to escape a deep depression, and the need to experience everything at that time in my life. I overcame the problem when I saw myself on the edge, looking down at my friends who had fallen. I had a brief drinking problem when I was 15 but since then I’ve been okay except for one incident which reminded me to slow down…

    When I was 24, after my Scientologist boyfriend of four years broke up with me and kicked me out of our place, I had to stay with my parents for a month while I picked up the pieces. In this time, I went out with old high school friends and drank waaaaay too much Goose and topped off the night with a double shot of cheap tequila. I don’t remember much after that. I remember wandering to the bathroom of the house we were partying in, my friend coming to get me, me falling backwards on the driveway, and then waking up in the hospital with an IV in my arm.

    My mom said she found me on the bathroom floor, I had shit myself (classy) and I was foaming at the mouth and barely breathing. My mom is a nurse and called an ambulance because she could tell I needed oxygen. My BAC was over .30. I had a pleasant night in the hospital. It took me three days to recover. From then on, I’ve watched what I drink. As soon as I start to slur my words, I slow down. (I still don’t drink tequila, but Goose? Any day of the week)

    I wish you the best of luck. I do think it is possible to do without AA, especially if you don’t want to completely quit but merely want to cut down. I believe in you and I’m always a DM away if you need to phone chat or whatever. <3

    • Amanda Chatel

      Thank you, Holleeta love. xo.

  • JenniWren

    This was a really interesting read, thank you for being so open. I have some problems moderating my alcohol consumption myself; I come from a long line of hedonists and drinking and “enjoying yourself” (because apparently you can’t do one without the other) is something that’s all too normalized in my family. And, of course, I’m from the UK, where there is a truly problematic drinking culture. I think that’s something that bears further examination, too- just how hard it is to be the “sober one” at birthdays and (gulp) weddings.

    I’m a high-functioning drunk, so I can be ripped out of my skull without anyone noticing, so no-one ever thought it was a problem. But recently I just decided I didn’t want to be the girl who blacks out all the time any more, that I was making stupid decisions and endangering myself while drunk. So over the last year or so I’ve drastically cut down on my consumption. It helped that I had to go on a six-month long course of meds that meant I couldn’t drink at all, but since then I’ve only been drunk twice, in the company of very close friends and family. I never drink without eating, and never in strange company, and don’t drink more than two glasses of anything at once. I think moderation is hard if it doesn’t come naturally, and it certainly isn’t encouraged in our society, but it can be done. Ultimately, it’s easier to turn down that third drink than regret it later. It’s hell cheap, too!

  • Vicky

    Omg! I’m drunk now. Everyone is mad at me! I feel a little better after reading ur post! Im not alone!