No Quarter – An Alcoholic’s Recovery: Week 8 – Telling People I’m an Alcoholic

I’m running out of excuses to not hang out with people.  It’s been two months since I’ve hung out with any of my friends outside of work; I haven’t done anything since I started sobriety – outside of hanging out with my family.

Frankly, I don’t know how to hang out with anybody without drinking.  Alcohol was the glue that held all my relationships together.  Without it, what’s left?

I’m wondering how best to tell people about the alcoholism and my choice of sobriety.  It’ll no doubt strike people as odd – especially from me.  I don’t think anybody’s ever seen me without a drink in my hand.  I’ve earned a reputation for being a fun drunk, the life of the party.  For me to suddenly go back on that and say that it was a problem will be confusing for people.

So how does one break it to people that all those good times were actual just the tip of the alcoholic iceberg?

“It was time to quit – I’m a father now.”

Pros: I’m a good dad, and a decent, selfless person who’s leaving the party-animal behind him.

Cons: Makes me sound like a sanctimonious asshole.

This is a decent start I guess, but honestly, it’d sound really out of place coming out of my mouth.  For one thing, I’ve been a father for over three years, so why is it just now a thing?  For another, so what if you’re a father?  My dad drinks… most people’s dads do!  And they’re all just fine.

Also, this has a certain holier than thou tone to it.  It’s like saying I don’t drink because drinking makes you a bad father.  Well isn’t that sort of a tacit condemnation of everybody who does drink and also is a father – which is basically everyone?

This one’s also tough since I’m still young enough that most of my friends don’t have children yet, so they probably won’t “get” it.

“I’m not drinking tonight… I have an early morning tomorrow.”

Pro: Completely sidesteps the issue – for now.

Con: Completely sidesteps the issue.

This could work once or twice to delay my having to tell everybody that I don’t drink anymore.  And it’s also the chicken-shit easy way which is always my preferred method.

Also, it doesn’t sound credible coming from me.  I used to drink until the early morning hours, then get up a few hours later and function just fine.  Early mornings have never bothered me in the past and everybody knows that – so why should they now?

At the end of the day, this is just a punt.  I’ll still have to address it at some point.

“I’m on this stupid diet and I’m not allowed to drink.”

Pro: Sounds plausible.  I could definitely lose some weight.

Con: Lacks credibility when I’m shoving 3000 calories of nachos down my face hole.

People love talking about whatever fad diet they’re on to lose weight.  Why not claim that I’m on some fad diet and that I’m not “allowed” to drink?

This could work, and would be a decent way to save face.  It’s perfectly acceptable for a fat dude to talk about being fat.  Shit, how many comedy legends are fat dudes who make a joke out of being fat?  Why can’t I do it?

The problem is this is also a temporary solution and one that’s doomed to fail because, let’s face it, I’m not going to stop eating Taco Bell and Reese’s Cups anytime soon.  Eventually it’ll become pretty obvious that my diet is a complete joke.

“I’m an alcoholic and I’m in recovery.”

Pro: Unambiguous and… well… it’s the truth.

Con: “Wow, can you believe that about Matt?  I never knew… Hey John, did you hear about Matt?  Yeah, can you believe that?  It’s kind of sad really…”

Yikes.  The truth?  Bold move.  By now you should all know that I’m too much of a coward to go with the truth.

I feel like as soon as I drop this bombshell everybody will think I am weak.  They’ll all just think I wasn’t mature enough to drink like the rest of them and keep my shit together.  They’ll think I’m pathetic.  And I’m not pathetic.

Worse, maybe they’ll walk on eggshells around me.  They’ll be thinking, are we allowed to drink and have fun around Matt?  Or will he feel compelled to start drinking and ruin his life?

“I stopped drinking because it started to become a problem.”

Pro: It’s the truth, and I don’t have to say the phrase “I’m an alcoholic.”

Con: “started to become a problem” is vague and open to interpretation.  Did you hear Matt’s drinking was a problem?  What’d he do, beat his wife?  DUI?

This one also has the benefit of truth to it, but it’s also wide open to interpretation.  And you know people love filling information voids with the absolute worst shit possible.  I can hear it now:

Did you hear Matt beats his kids?

He must have gotten arrested!

I thought he looked weird at work… he must have been drunk!

Fuck. That. Shit.

“I’m not drinking anymore and it’s none of your goddamn business why.”

Pro: Unambiguous and, again, it’s the truth.

Con: Combative and people will still come up with their own reasons.

Really, at the end of the day, it’s nobody’s goddamn business why I stopped drinking.  I have my reasons, and maybe they should just stay my own.  If they’re real friends of mine, they’ll understand.  And if they’re not, then why should I give a shit what they think?

Whatever I decide, it’s probably time to come out from under my rock…

On to week 9. Continue reading “No Quarter – An Alcoholic’s Recovery: Week 8 – Telling People I’m an Alcoholic”

No Quarter – An Alcoholic’s Recovery: Week 7 – No Finish Line

Alcohol always felt like the finish line for me – like my life was a race but there was a place I’d get to stop running and take a breather just around the corner.

I haven’t been able to replace that finish line feeling yet.  Getting home from work, getting the kids to bed, and finally sitting for a minute with a glass of whiskey (and then another, and then another, and then another… on a Tuesday) was one of the greatest pleasures in my life.  I could physically feel the tension release in my body, and the various worries of my day wasted away.  Now I have nothing.

I’m struggling to find that replacement.  I’m blessed to have a wonderful family, and being with them is also a great pleasure, but it doesn’t have the same ability to make me forget about the stresses of my day the way alcohol did.  Being with my family, playing with my children, introduces good feelings, but it does not replace or eliminate the bad ones; alcohol did.

I thought I was over the cravings for alcohol.  I haven’t been going to group therapy because, frankly, I’ve told myself I don’t need it.  I saw a psychiatrist this week who told me would relapse if I didn’t go to group.  I thought that was a pretty bold statement.  Not I might relapse, or I was at increased risk to relapse.  She said I would – definitely.

I thought she was full of it, but the next day I had a terrible day at work, and I won’t lie: all I wanted to do was get hammered.  If there had been any alcohol in the house I absolutely would have.  There was nobody to stop me, my wife was at work, and the kids were in bed.  The cravings returned as strong as they had when I was in the thick of my alcoholism.

I needed my finish line; I needed my relief from the stress of the day.  I realize now that my cravings haven’t gone away, it’s just that the stress in my life has diminished.  Weeks 3 and 4 of sobriety I was on vacation, and during weeks 5 and 6 work has been quiet and my in-laws have been available to help with the children.  This past week has presented me with my first real challenge in a while and my mind immediately went to getting hammered for relief.

It’s clear I need to find a replacement to deal with stress.  I’m not too good for group therapy, and my psychiatrist is absolutely right – if I don’t figure this out, I will relapse.

One good thing to close out the week: I mentioned that alcohol was my way of killing the bad feelings and stress that accompanied my days; while it was extremely effective at this, it also was extremely effective at killing the good feelings that I should have been getting.  Being with my family fills me with way more joy than it did before, and even simple things like writing this post give me a greater sense of accomplishment than it did when I was hammered.

So sobriety doesn’t suck as hard as it did when I started; but I still have a long ways to go.

On to week 8…  Continue reading “No Quarter – An Alcoholic’s Recovery: Week 7 – No Finish Line”

Running Away From God – And Stumbling Back Again

Despite a church-every-Sunday upbringing in an Irish-Catholic household, I am an atheist.

I’m not proud to be an atheist.  In fact, I can probably count how many times I’ve used the phrase “I’m an atheist” on one hand; it’s not something I’m remotely comfortable talking about – not that I’m remotely comfortable talking about anything.

I was born in Buffalo, NY, and lived there until moving to Indianapolis just shy of two years ago.  If you were born in Buffalo, there’s a good chance that your ancestors were either Irish, or Polish; and it’s almost guaranteed that you’re a Catholic.  I was reminded of that fact last year while trick-or-treating with my daughter in an Indianapolis suburb with a Buffalo Bills hat on; we came across two separate native Buffalonians who, recognizing my allegiance to the Bills, each asked us (in this order) – “How ’bout ‘dem Bills?” and then “Have you found the Catholic church yet?”

Also Buffalo:

A drinking town with a sports problem… I’ve never done this…

Table smashing aside, the Catholic faith is a big part of what makes Buffalo, Buffalo – and my lack of faith is just one more thing that makes me different – immoral even; and thus it is cause for shame.

tried to be a good catholic.  I went to church every Sunday (Ok, my parents made me, but still).  I prayed.  I read the bible.  I went to CCD (Catholic Sunday-school).  I was confirmed; all the things a good Catholic should do.  But then I rejected it.

I wrote in the first post of my series, No Quarter – An Alcoholic’s Recovery that I rejected God at the age of 16 after a particularly rough patch of depression.  That’s sort of true, but it’s a bit messier than that.  I didn’t stop believing in God completely at first.  I still believed in Him – it’s just that I started hating Him.

God had always been silent in my darkest moments.  In fact, God had always been silent period – despite my prayers, and my generally being a good person and a good Catholic.  What kind of relationship is it when one side is completely silent?  No relationship at all!  If your significant other never communicated you’d be pretty upset too – especially if you were suffering!

Then there’s the whole everything happens according to His design bullshit.  What the hell kind of plan has to include my depression?  What kind of monster would make such a plan?  And what kind of God would refuse to intervene to help me when He supposedly has infinite power to do so, and infinite compassion to motivate Him to do so?  I certainly don’t have infinite compassion, but I at least would intervene on a friend’s behalf and help if they were suffering and there was something I could do about it.

Help helps.

That was also around the age I started to pay attention to what was going on in the world; I realized that whatever shit I thought I was going through was nothing compared to what other people were going through in the “real” world.  If God was real, and this was all part of a plan, then fuck that plan and fuck whoever made it.  

I also started noticing all the zealots out there offering thoughts and prayers, and whatever other pathetic, useless comforts they had to those who were suffering.  “It’s all part of His plan” I’d hear them say.  What the hell comfort is “this is all part of God’s plan” to someone whose child was just murdered?  What comfort is “this is meant to be” to someone who just lost their job?  Ever notice that the people who are saying that usually have pretty decent lives?  It’s convenient to think some all powerful being is controlling everything when everything happens to be pretty good for you.

I began to hate the zealots as much as I hated God.  Hypocrites who have never faced real adversity I thought.  Damn them!

If this was all part of a plan, then fuck that plan and fuck whoever made it.

My hatred for God simmered for years until I finally realized the simple truth – the reason all these terrible things happen to people, and the reason I’m depressed is because of people; and God doesn’t intervene for one very simple reason – there is no God.  

I was 18 when I made that revelation, and my life took off in the decade afterwards.  I took things into my own hands and started doing better in school.  I met my future wife at college.  I graduated and got a good job.  We bought a home, got married, and had children.  My career took off… hell, the Bills even made the playoffs for the first time in 17 years (I guess I didn’t have anything to do with that last one but whatever).

My life got better after I forsook Catholicism.  But as the circumstances of my life improved, my mental state always seemed stuck in the same pattern of waxing and waning moods which I would eventually come to learn was bipolar disorder.  A nagging dissatisfaction with it all has also lingered – a void which I’ve spent the past ten years trying to fill with alcohol.

Sometimes I wonder had I reached a different conclusion with my faith where things would have turned up.  Would I have done as well as I have?  Would I have turned to alcohol?  If I hadn’t turned to alcohol, would I have even met my wife and eventually had my two daughters?

I was recently reminded by the incomparable Beauty Beyond Bones (BBB) of a different path.  In a must read post for anyone in recovery (whether from alcohol, drugs, mental illness, or as in the case of BBB – anorexia), BBB details her experience in an intensive inpatient care facility for anorexia.  She made it through the experience only through her faith in Jesus.

“[Inpatient care] awakened in me the need for Jesus in my life…” – Beauty Beyond Bones, How I Survived Inpatient Treatment For Anorexia

It’s fascinating that two people can hit bottom and come to two completely different conclusions about something so important.  BBB almost died as a result of her anorexia, and was saved through her faith in Jesus.  I was at the low point of a crippling depression and was saved, at least in part, by renouncing Jesus.

Had I read BBB’s post 2 months ago, I honestly would have rolled my eyes, and probably stopped reading as soon as I saw the word Jesus.  Today, with the help of a newly sober mind I’ve rediscovered a respect for the devoutly religious.  It takes guts to place all your faith in God; and… is it actually right?

Today I am sitting here as a 29-year-old man, and looking back at the past 13 years – from when a 16-year-old boy started hating God, to now.  I can’t help but wonder, was this all part of the plan?

Maybe the past 13 years have been part of some divine lesson.  Had God answered the prayers of a 16-year-old boy in the way he imagined those prayers would been answered… well, I suppose my bipolar depression would have just gone away… and I probably would have gotten a teenage-dream girlfriend too as a cherry on top.

But of course that didn’t happen.  Instead I had to learn to accept that bipolar disorder is a part of my life.  I had to learn that depression is a fact of my existence, but that it too shall pass.  I became strong as a result, and that strength turned into success.

Maybe turning to alcohol to cope was in the plan.  Alcoholism did push me to the party where I met my wife in college, and it gave me the courage to say something to her.  Eventually that relationship would turn into a marriage and two children – and being with my daughters is certainly the closest I’ve ever felt to God.

Maybe God is real.  I wasn’t given a fish when I was 16; instead I was taught how to fish over the past 13 years.  Maybe.

Completely reclaiming my faith remains illusive.  It’s difficult to just go back to believing in something you’ve vehemently denied for over a decade.  I’m not sure what it will take to believe… maybe another 13 years of wandering?  Maybe the Bills winning the Superbowl?

At least for now, trying to find Jesus just feels a bit like this:

 

Leave a like and follow for more!  It really helps!

As always, thanks for reading!  Take care!

No Quarter – An Alcoholic’s Recovery: Week 6 – No More Friends

I still remember the last time I made a real friend.  It was January 20th, 2011; the night I met my wife.

No, this is not a story about how I met my wife and then became a recluse who shunned all social contact outside of my relationship with my significant other.  Really, nothing could be further from the truth; my wife has always encouraged me to go out and enjoy myself and I’ve often taken the opportunity to do so.

No, this is about the realization that I haven’t made a single real friend since… well, since before alcohol.

Anyone I know in “real life” would probably be surprised to read this post because I’m more or less universally well-liked.  I’m gregarious, friendly, helpful, funny, intelligent – just a decent, easy going dude (If a little immodest).  I’m usually one of the more boisterous people in a group, and I’m happiest if I’m making those around me laugh.

But being well-liked by someone is not the same as having a real friendship with that person.  A meaningful friendship requires that you be able to talk about the things that make you uncomfortable.  It requires accepting a certain degree of vulnerability.  Accepting that vulnerability opens you up to the risk that someone will see the “true you” and not like what they see – or even worse, exploit what they see to harm you.  To me, that is simply unacceptable.

My family’s discovery of this blog was one of the most devastating things that’s happened to me recently because of how vulnerable I’ve made myself here.  This blog contains shards of the real me, the part you’re not supposed to see.

My relationships, or at least the ones I’ve formed since I started drinking, are all superficial.  I show exactly what I want to show, and absolutely nothing more.  And what I want to show is carefully curated to protect myself from risk and present myself in the best possible light.  It’s pathetic, but I realize now that the risk I’m protecting myself against is that someone might (gasp) not like me.

Sobriety has helped me realize that being universally well-liked is actually kind of a bad thing – it means I’ve never shown anybody anything except what I think they’ll like.  Nobody dislikes me because I’ve never stood for anything!  There’s nothing there!  I’m completely nebulous – I’ll agree with whatever you tell me!  I’ll like whatever you like… Just so long as you like me!  I become whatever you want me to be.

Alcohol was the one thing that allowed me to become vulnerable at times.  It was the only thing that could pierce my armor and allow me to open up to people.  In a strange way I owe a great debt of gratitude to alcohol – I would never had met my wife without it.  I probably would have been too afraid to say a word to her; or I would have just said the same boring shit that I say to everyone.  And she would have thought, oh he’s nice; and then in a day or two she’d have no memory of me just like everyone else.

Since becoming sober six weeks ago I have not hung out with anyone but my family.  Drinking was the glue that held my relationships with all my “friends” together.  I realize now that there’s nothing there – only the most superficial of relationships that exist solely to facilitate and legitimize the drinking.

I want to get better though.  I want to make real friends because let’s face it – I’m lonely.  I miss talking to my buddies the way I did when I was a kid.  I miss having stupid inside jokes.  I miss saying and doing stupid crap and sharing memories.

I need to find a way to accept vulnerability.  But like everything else with sobriety so far, I have a pretty good idea of what I need to do, and absolutely no idea how to do it.

Well my friends (see what I did there), I’ll see you in week 7…  Continue reading “No Quarter – An Alcoholic’s Recovery: Week 6 – No More Friends”

No Quarter – An Alcoholic’s Recovery: Week 5 – Group Therapy, Me and the Pathetic Ones

I always thought people who went to group therapy were pathetic – right up until the day I found myself there.

I’ve become amazed at how far my delusions of grandeur have gone.  The first pillar of my religion created by me, for me – that I must be better than everyone has led to the delusion that I actually am.  Especially those people.  You know, people who can’t keep their shit together; people who let addiction cause their lives to devolve to the point that they’re no longer able to take care of themselves or their families.  Pathetic people.

My first impressions of the people in my group only served to confirm my superiority.  I walked into the clinic to see a group of perhaps 15 standing in the lobby, waiting for an elevator to take them to the second floor.  Idiots, I thought as I took the stairs.  They aren’t even smart enough to figure out they don’t have to wait.  Or, they’re so lazy they can’t even walk up a flight of stairs. 

I was first into the waiting room of course.  I snuck a glance at the others as they shuffled in minutes later.  What stuck out the most were the ankle bracelets.  Felons… I’m surrounded by felons.  I started to doubt this whole group thing – I can’t believe I let my therapist send me here.

Eventually we were called back into the room – a tiny, cramped space with a single window and one dim light that barely allowed us to see one another (perhaps intentionally?).  There was an old TV-on-a-cart that wouldn’t look out of place from my old middle school classrooms.  A whiteboard had one of those immediately forgettable phrases that’s supposed to uplift the soul or some other nonsense.  All pathetic.

We started with check-in.  What’s your name?  What’s your drug?  When did you last use?  How has sobriety been lately?

“Matt.  Alcohol.  July 16th.  Fine.”

Most of the others were similarly unenthusiastic; the ankle bracelets were no doubt court-mandated to be in the group against their will.

The therapist handed out packets to each of us once we were seated.  The topic of the day was “Basic Problem Solving.”  Really – what are we 3?  The condescension was completed by the childlike pictures that were peppered throughout the material.

She began reading through the packet but was constantly interrupted by interjections from group members.  Occasionally a discussion would spring forth from one of these interruptions.  I checked the clock; the session was scheduled for an hour and a half, but if we booked it through the packet I wagered we’d be out in 45 minutes.  The interruptions pissed me off; why do these people keep interrupting her? – let’s get out of here!  And even worse, Why is she letting them interrupt her?

Eventually, I actually started listening to the side conversations.  Out of respect for the individuals in the group I won’t share any of the specifics.  But I started to realize that shit!  I’m exactly like these people – a revelation that shook me to my core.

Like me, many of them lived perfectly “normal” lives.  Even the ankle-bracelets were mostly guilty of crimes that I myself had committed at some point or another; drunk driving, vandalism, perhaps a physical altercation.  What separated us was luck – I hadn’t been caught; they had.  Had the circumstances been different, I could be wearing the same bracelet.

It’s hard to articulate how humbling the experience was.  My ego returned to Earth with all the subtlety of the Hindenburg.  A crack has started to form in the pillars of my religion.

When we left, the group again paused and waited for the elevator; I immediately continued to the stairs.  At least I still have that on them.  It wasn’t until the next meeting that I discovered the true purpose for the waiting – It was an excuse for members of the group to converse with one another without the social pressures imposed by the larger group.  In truth, I think the real therapy happened in the 3 minutes people stood waiting for the elevator.  Maybe I’m the idiot.

On to week 6...

Continue reading “No Quarter – An Alcoholic’s Recovery: Week 5 – Group Therapy, Me and the Pathetic Ones”

No Quarter – An Alcoholic’s Recovery: Week 4 – Discovering Consequences

Actions have consequences.  They also have emotional consequences.  You know that, your children know that, everybody knows that – but I didn’t.

I’ve always possessed a certain swagger that’s helped me both personally and professionally.  It’s a trait that I always assumed was an inherent part of me, and was also one of the things I liked the most about myself.  Now sobriety has robbed me of this too, replacing swagger with fear.

I always relied on alcohol as a parachute.  If I ever tried something and failed, I didn’t have to actually feel the failure.  Embarrassment, frustration, shame – all gone, replaced by a relieving numbness.  There were no consequences; at least not substantial ones.  Sure, the plane’s gone down before, but I’ve never gone down with it – I’m somewhere else, gently floating down to earth.

Now that I’ve thrown the parachute away, I’m a lot more hesitant to fly.  If the plane goes down, now I’m screwed too.  Forget that, better keep the damn thing on the ground…

Let’s ditch the plane metaphor and talk about boats instead: I recently tried to take my wife and three year old out on a canoe ride.  My family vacations every year in Maine, and canoeing is one of our favorite activities.

My wife and daughter were sitting in the boat, ready to go.  I decided to show off a bit and sort of “skate” the canoe out to the lake.  With one foot in the boat, and the other on the lake bottom, I pushed off as hard as I could to give the canoe a bit of a boost; picture someone skateboarding a canoe (and try not to laugh at how stupid that is).

So obviously, this is a pretty dumb maneuver, and also one that is completely pointless since the boost you get takes you about 5 feet further than you would otherwise go.  But it’s a cool way to get in a canoe.  This is a great example of what I mean by swagger – Showy, confident, and often pointless.  But look at how cool I am.

But of course, this time I fucked it up – the boat capsized almost immediately, dumping my wife and 3 year old unceremoniously into the water.  My daughter was terrified.  My wife was pissed.

I now had to drag the half sunk canoe back to shore while trying to comfort my daughter who was sobbing hysterically.  Her fun boat ride was ruined… and now she’ll probably be too scared to get in the canoe again – at least on this trip.  My father-in-law and my wife’s cousin looked on with expressions hovering between amusement and vicarious embarrassment.

Four weeks ago, I would have excused myself, went up to the cottage, and drank a glass of whiskey.  I would have come back down to the beach, probably made a self-deprecating joke or two about how stupid that was, and life would go on.  The parachute would open, and I’d glide back down to the surface.  The swagger would live on.

Now, sober me has no fucking clue what to do.  I felt embarrassed, ashamed, and angry at myself.  My mind immediately turned to alcohol, and I felt the strongest urge to drink that I’ve felt in weeks.  This was supposed to be fun!  Now I fucked it all up!  I fucking suck!  I need a drink!

I assume a logical, healthy person who experienced this sort of set back would recognize it as just that – a minor set back.  I assume they’d process it in a matter of minutes, and would be on to the next thing.  My wife got over it in less than a minute.  Even my 3-year-old got over it in a couple minutes.  But me?  My response was to go inside, isolate myself, and sulk for over an hour.  Did I mention alcoholism has turned me into a child?

I suffered a trivial defeat and had to face the consequences.  I had to feel negative feelings; and over the past 10 years of alcoholism I’ve completely destroyed my ability to do that.

I’ve started to actually worry about what I’m doing.  You probably take that for granted, but the whole concept of worrying about anything is completely foreign to me.  I suppose this is anxiety – I’m not sure because I don’t think I’ve ever felt it before.

It once took me about 10 seconds to decide I wanted to move out of state when offered a job promotion – If I’d been asked to make the same decision now I don’t think I even could make a decision.  The anxiety would probably kill me.

How do people deal with this?  Do they?  Is this why so many people live such safe, boring lives?  Do they fear the emotional consequences of failure, and so avoid the possibility altogether?

Presumably healthy people have a way of working through this, but I have no idea what that is.  I guess on the surface a little bit of worrying is probably not a bad thing.  I mean, if it stops me from riding a canoe like a skateboard with my wife and 3-year-old in it it can’t be all bad.  But like almost everything else with sobriety so far, right now it just sucks.

On to week 5Continue reading “No Quarter – An Alcoholic’s Recovery: Week 4 – Discovering Consequences”

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