Week two of sobriety is in the books.
I still hate it.
I got very close to a relapse this week. I was blindsided by members of my family who discovered this blog and then told the rest of my family about it. I was not ready for anybody to know about this part of my life, and that disclosure sent me into a three day tailspin that caused me to miss work, and compromised my ability to continue on this path. It is clear to me that my family does not think of me as an adult worthy of respect and privacy, but rather as the child they remember from years past.
My family’s lack of discretion has caused me to question whether or not I should continue posting on this blog. How can I possibly speak honestly and openly when this is a source of gossip for them? Could you do that? Could anyone?
But I need to keep going. Writing here has been one of the precious few countermeasures against my urge to drink. To stop now would jeopardize my ability to keep walking this path. And I must walk this path.
Why Do I Have To Quit?
Drinking is an important part of my culture. Alcohol is present at nearly every gathering of family or friends. It would be more unusual if there wasn’t alcohol present. Very rarely is drinking perceived as being an issue. Sure we drink a lot, but we can keep it on the rails; well, except for me.
Drinking is not an obvious problem. If you go to a party, chances are pretty good that everybody’s drinking. It’s perfectly legal and accepted. In fact, it’s usually considered weird if you aren’t drinking. But if I went to a party and started snorting lines of cocaine, it’d be pretty obvious that I had an issue.
So what distinguishes my drinking from normal drinking? Why do I call myself an alcoholic? Where’s that line and how did I cross it?
This will take a little while to explain so bear with me:
During this second week of sobriety I’ve uncovered a truly crippling weakness: My ability to naturally handle stress has been completely blunted as a result of abusing alcohol for over a decade.
For years I’ve taken the easy way out. If I was ever pushed to feel something I didn’t want to, I simply drank until the feeling went away. If I had a stressful day at work, or a stressful day of parenting, I’d just get hammered. Easy!
The crazy thing is that this actually worked for a very long time. I’ve been able to maintain a high level of functionality by balancing my mental health and stress issues with alcoholism. So what’s the problem?
The problem is that this balance is destined to break down at some point. Life’s stresses have a tendency to grow as work and family responsibilities increase, and your body becomes increasingly efficient at processing alcohol. As a result you need to drink larger quantities with increasing frequency just to achieve the same effect. Eventually you cannot possibly drink enough, frequently enough, to manage your stress level. This is when the scheme of the alcoholic collapses, and life begins to fall apart.
In the past three years I have been promoted three times, had two children, and moved to another state. My responsibility has increased 10-fold, but my ability to handle it has lagged behind. My alcoholism has intensified in the past couple years to bridge the gap, but despite my best efforts the gap keeps widening.
In the past month or two I began joking with my wife that I needed better drugs. Maybe I needed to score some cocaine to maintain the false sense of superiority and confidence that has helped fuel my professional rise. Maybe I could supplement alcohol’s stress relief benefits with some narcotic pain killers.
The thing is, I wasn’t joking. I was realizing that I was at the point of collapse and I was desperate for relief. I was no longer able to maintain all my responsibilities, my mental health, and my stress level with alcohol alone. Either something would have to give, or I’d simply have to find more and better drugs.
For me, giving anything up was simply not an option. The most realistic move would have been quitting my job, and finding one with lighter duties that more closely match the particular strengths and weaknesses of someone struggling with bipolar disorder. But my pride couldn’t handle this, and I couldn’t bring myself to tell my wife that I was no longer capable of providing our family with the standard of living we had come to enjoy.
So that left better drugs as the only option.
I couldn’t really ask anybody in my personal life how to acquire these drugs – that would be a pretty obvious crack in the facade of greatness I’ve crafted. Perhaps I could buy drugs online. I mean, why not? You can buy anything online, can’t you?
I began researching how to access the dark web, and how to conceal your internet activities and purchases from authorities. I had the money, and I certainly had the motivation, I just needed to acquire the means, and I was getting closer. Soon I’d have my relief.
Thankfully, I realized the ridiculousness of this scheme well before I acted. I was already married to alcoholism, and I would be embarking on a path that would almost certainly lead to the destruction of my family, and probably end with me in prison.
I abandoned my ill-advised quest to get a better high and quickly fell into despair. I couldn’t handle my job and the responsibilities of my family. I wasn’t getting the relief I needed anymore. The ultimate solution started creeping into my mind.
During the performance of my normal work duties there is cause for me to go up to the roof from time to time. When I’d go up there I’d start feeling that familiar, eerie pull into oblivion. The feeling came more and more often, eventually striking me when I wasn’t even on the roof. Then I’d start finding reasons to go up there when really there were none. I couldn’t stop the thoughts – I didn’t want to. They became a strange source of comfort for me. If all else failed I always had that one, ultimate, source of relief.
A lot of things prevented me from jumping off that building: my wife, my mom, my dad, my brother – but ultimately nothing was more compelling than the image of my 3 year old daughter asking her mom, “Where’d Dada go?”
That’s why I have to quit drinking. I need to discover a sustainable way to cope because my life is on the line.
What’s Sobriety Like So Far?
Well, if there is one positive thing that’s come from these first two weeks of sobriety it’s the disappearance of the suicide imagery. Mercifully, that seems to be gone.
But the rest has been very negative. In fact, it’s been so negative that I often find myself asking why I’m even doing this. Surely, it can’t be worth all this.
I find myself in an extremely precarious position. I hold a job that I don’t think I’m capable of doing anymore now that I can’t go home and get hammered afterwards. I have no idea what I’m going to do with all this stress, and I can barely get myself out of bed to go to work anymore.
I’m struggling at home with the kids. When I have support, I don’t have an issue. But when my wife is working and I’m alone with the two kids I go to pieces.
Just before finishing this post, I couldn’t get the baby to stop crying for almost 2 hours. I’m ashamed to admit it, but two weeks ago I would have gone downstairs, drank a glass of whiskey, then returned upstairs to take care of my child; no problem! Now, deprived of that source of relief, I simply break down.
I had to put the baby down and go downstairs to have what I can only characterize as an adult temper tantrum – throwing things, screaming into a pillow, crying, ripping my hair. This is pathetic, weak behavior that is not unlike the reactions of my three year old when deprived of some toy. But this is what I’ve become.
Alcohol has left me stunted in an infantile state wherein I’m incapable of processing the frustration and helplessness that comes from being unable to soothe an infant. My ability to father our children has been compromised, and I am deeply ashamed of that.
Logically, I know I need to push through this. I need to develop the ability to cope with life’s stresses without resorting to alcohol; but I can’t help but think, maybe I should just keep drinking until the baby has grown up a little bit. Maybe I should keep drinking until things are a little less stressful. But is that really for the best? Is there ever going to be a good time to quit? What better time than now?
Alcohol allowed me to run away from my emotions, while maintaining a “normal” life. Now, bereft of that relief, I find myself daydreaming about literally running away. I catch myself thinking about quitting my job, and driving to Arizona to just disappear for a while… or maybe forever.
But my children deserve a father. My wife deserves a husband. My parents deserve a son. And I deserve peace. So really, all that’s left is to become stronger. Become stronger, or become consumed by frustration, anger, and regret. There is no other choice.
This is Part 2 of a series describing my efforts to quit drinking. The previous post can be found here.