No Quarter – An Alcoholic’s Recovery: Week 1 – Sobriety Lets Me See Me… And It’s Ugly

I’ve been sober for one week today; I absolutely hate it.

Fair warning: this post is not going to be pleasant.  There will be no sage advice or words of encouragement.  This is not a story of triumph.  There is no inspiration to be found within – just the words of an alcoholic recently deprived of his relief… a man who recently killed his best friend.  Read on at your own risk.

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure why I’m writing this.  It’s like some monster is raging inside me and I have to get it out.  I don’t care how ugly it is, I don’t care how offensive, how embarrassing, how dishonorable, whatever other words you can throw at it, I just want it out.

For over ten years I’ve been making every excuse imaginable to deny that I’m an alcoholic.  I recently wrote a post for The Bipolar Writer Blog on that subject.  I don’t know exactly why, but I finally decided to do something about it; one week later I feel like I’ve made a terrible mistake.

Quitting alcohol has forced me to reflect on myself in a way I haven’t in a very long time.  I’ve very quickly discovered a great seething darkness within.  It’s as if I’ve kicked over a rock, and now I’m recoiling from the squirming mass of grotesquerie that was always lurking just underneath.

Alcoholism bestowed upon me wonderful adjectives – funny, outgoing, personable, friendly, powerful, ambitious, successful.  Now that that’s been stripped away, I’ve discovered my real adjectives – my monster:

Jealous:

I am a disgustingly jealous man.  Like most things, it started young.

I had a father for which nothing I did was ever good enough.  I never attempted a task that wasn’t criticized (often harshly), and I never uttered a sentence that wasn’t corrected.  At a very young age I learned to tread carefully lest I invoke the dissatisfaction of my father.  This seems a laughably trivial offense to an adult, but it is a crushing devastation to a child.

This seed of timidity continued to grow through childhood. I was afraid of failure and humiliation and as a consequence I did nothing, I accomplished nothing, and I was proud of nothing.

I hated who I was in middle school – a meek little kid who got picked on.  I hated who I was in high school even more. I was kind, smarter than most, and funny; but I was painfully introverted, and terrified of making mistakes.

I surrounded myself with friends who outperformed me in every aspect.  They had jobs, they did well in school, their parents got them cars, they vacationed in Europe, they had girlfriends, they starred in the high school shows, they were well liked – adored even.   I was a hanger-on; always in the wings, never on stage.

I was a good friend, at least on the surface; but I harbored a disgusting secret.  Inside me squirmed a disgusting emotion – jealousy.  I hated my friends, even as I loved them.

A moment from my childhood remains emblazoned in my mind.  I was home alone, lying on my parent’s bed.  It must have been early June; it was a beautiful, crisp, clear day – perfect except for the wind that ravaged the monstrous pine trees that framed our neighborhood.  I might have been 16.

I don’t recall what the trigger was, but I remember the reaction.  I remember when the jealousy that I always harbored within boiled over.  I broke down and cried as I have never cried before.  It was a transformative, shameful moment.  It was in that moment that despite a devout religious upbringing, I rejected God and formed a new religion dedicated to the worship and betterment of myself.  God had been silent my whole life so it was now time to take the universe into my own hands.

My mind crystallized into a single thought which has never since been broken – the first pillar of my new religion:

I must be better than them.  I will be.

A pathetic, selfish, mission statement that has helped guide my life’s actions ever since.

Pathetic

What other word do you use to describe someone who needs constant validation and flattery?  Pathetic.

I am very successful for my age.  I’m not yet 30, but I might be your boss.

Ask me what the keys to success are and I will tell you some bullshit version of how I’ve realized the american dream through a combination of hard work and intelligence.  Good old fashion bootstrapping!

In reality, I have an overwhelming, pathetic urge to please as many people as possible.  Couple that with my jealousy-fueled mission to be better than them and you get someone who chases success, a home, cars, a wife, the next big promotion, you name it, with absolute ruthlessness; my life depends on getting the next thing – on getting that validation.  Without it, this whole charade starts to crumble.  Without it, I’m just that stupid fucking kid who stood in the wings waiting for his life to happen, too afraid to make it happen.

I recall another moment from my teenage years. I couldn’t buy a date, which was cause for an increasing amount of frustration for my hormonal, teenage self.  Eventually my frustration boiled over.

I remember it was New Year’s Eve.  My parents were out at a party, and I had decided to stay home by myself.  I stole a bottle of Bacardi out of the liquor cabinet and got hammered.  I may have been 15.

I needed to escape, I needed like hell to get out of that fucking house, so I put on a coat and stumbled out into the freezing night.  I grabbed a 6-pack on the way out the door.

I proceeded to get progressively drunker, stumbling through my home town and screaming at nobody in particular.  The wind was ferocious that night but it couldn’t match my own ferocity – at least not at first.

I eventually threw up in the street as I was overcome by the booze.  I threw the remaining bottles of the 6 pack as hard as I could into the night, screaming in rage.  How dare nature oppose me?

At last I found myself depleted, and finally winter began to consume me.  I lay myself down in a snowbank to rest.  I probably would have died there had I not called the then-object-of-my-desire on my phone.  I have no recollection of the conversation that followed, but I was found, picked up by her parents, and returned safely home.

The episode was the subject of hot discussion among people who knew of it, but not of much concern.  On the contrary, it was an amusement – a worthy topic for jokes.  It was in the aftermath of this episode that the second pillar of my religion formed.

Nobody cares what you think.  Nobody cares how you feel.  People only care about themselves.

Perhaps my need for validation is a pathetic attempt to try to refute that.  Perhaps I’m hoping that if enough people think highly enough of me that they’ll care what I think; they’ll care how I feel.  But deep down I know that’s not true.

After this episode I was taken to therapy and (mis)diagnosed with and treated for depression for the first time.

Selfish

My selfishness is a frequent complaint of my wife’s, and I don’t blame her.  I can barely lift a hand to take care of myself, let alone my family.

My wife handles everything.  The bills, the babysitting, the planning, the mail, you name it.  I help with some chores, I keep the house clean, and I take care of our kids’ basic needs, but that’s it; I do the minimum.

I excuse this by pointing out that I make a ton of money at my job – therefore I deserve to be treated well.  This was accepted in the house I grew up in because my mother unfortunately didn’t have much of a choice.  She depended on my dad financially.  This is not acceptable in an age when my wife can do just fine on her own, and it never should have been acceptable in the first place.  It’s a pathetic excuse made by pathetic, fearful men.

I had an easy early childhood.  I was the younger brother, and I was babied.  My brother did the heavy lifting while I was left alone for the most part to watch the TV until my mom’s home-cooked meal hit the table.  This slowly changed as I got older, but for most of my childhood this was the case.

I grew up into an adult who is still waiting for mom to make dinner.  Did I mention I might be your boss?  That should make you feel better if you fucking hate your job; if you’ve made it this far at least you got something out of it.  Your boss might be as pathetic as the guy writing this post; cheer up!

This personality trait is the foundation for the next pillar in my religion:

I deserve better.

Selfish.

Cowardly

When you cut through it all – the bravado, the job, the family, the house, all of it… I am first and foremost a terrible coward.

There’s never been a problem I couldn’t run away from.  When the going gets tough, I get going – straight out the door.  Figuratively and also frequently literally.

Job too hard?  Get a new one.

College challenges you?  Transfer.

Don’t like the party?  Leave.

Don’t want to hang-out?  Make a bullshit excuse.

The last moment I’d like to reflect on is still fresh in my memory as it happened less than 24 hours ago.  My wife called me out on being a selfish prick.  I couldn’t take it, so I literally got in the car and just drove.  For hours.  I planned on going to Walmart and getting basic toiletries so I could stay the night somewhere until the situation just blew over.  Then I’d just reappear when it was convenient for me and pretend nothing happened.  When my wife challenged me I’d make it her fault.

This is cowardice at its worse.

Cowardice forms the last great pillar of my religion:

Never let them see you bleed, and always have an escape plan.

I guess lack of originality is another trait of mine since I stole that from The World Is Not Enough but I digress…

In Conclusion, Why I drink:

Finally, I understand why I drink.

Yesterday, I told my wife that she is the reason I drink.  That her expectations are unreasonable and that she pushes me over the edge.  That was a cruelty she does not deserve.

In reality I drink because I was a jealous, pathetic, selfish, coward of a kid who became a jealous, pathetic, selfish, coward of a man.  A man has more tools than a child though; When the reality of those weaknesses would creep up in the back of my head I had alcohol to smash them back into oblivion.

Alcohol keeps me safe from what I fear the most – my own weakness.  That kid that I hate so much.  I formed a religion to protect myself from myself; Drinking is the most necessary, sacred rite.

Without a doubt this week has driven me to my breaking point.  I’ve come face to face with the darkness within me and I feel powerless again – powerless like I did as a child.  Powerless like I did before my religion delivered me to salvation.

It’s also become clear this week that not only do I have bipolar disorder, but I am also a narcissist and an alcoholic.  Charming.

I honestly wish I could go back.  It was simpler when I could just get hammered.  I didn’t have to deal with this.  I loved me.  Now I hate me.

But now there’s no putting the monster back – it’s out.  And if I can’t hide it anymore, there’s only one option left.

I have to kill it.  No quarter.

On to week 2