I have an alcohol problem.
Some of you might be surprised to hear this while some of you respond with a resounding “duh”. The thing is, no one talks about having an alcohol problem. It’s only a discussion if you’re a full-on alcoholic. But I want to tell my story because a relationship with alcohol isn’t always black and white.
So what’s the difference between an alcoholic and a just an alcohol problem?
An alcoholic needs alcohol, can’t function with out it and makes it a priority in one’s life. An alcohol problem is somewhere in the grey area between that kind of dependency and normal drinking habits. (At least this is what I tell myself).
Here’s my story.
High School: There’s really not much to put here. I went to a few parties and got drunk a couple times but honestly, I was just too busy with school, sports and work. I didn’t have much interest in it beyond a good ol’ Jack and Coke (we’ll come back to Jack).
College: Yeah, this is where it all starts. Like a lot of college freshmen girls I went to frat parties every weekend and got drunker than anyone should know. I was fresh off the death of my brother and struggling through an emotionally abusive relationship – getting drunk with a bunch of boys I didn’t know was my remedy. I’d like to say it slowed down once I was a little older but not a chance. I could throw back whiskey better than the boys (something I was proud of at the time). Not kidding, I played Circle of Death with moonshine one night and that went about as well as you’d expect. I could drink Jack Daniels like it was water. Once I turned 21 I’m pretty sure I spent more time at my favorite bars than I did in a classroom.
Then it happened.
My parents spent their 25th wedding anniversary by my bedside in the Intensive Care Unit at the hospital. I had been taken into the ER the night before by a friend who was convinced I had been given a date-rape drug since my usual alcohol tolerance was significantly higher than what I was experiencing that night. Fast forward to the next afternoon and I’m back in the ER due to excruciating pain. I was admitted to the ICU for pancreatitis. The doctor explained to me that my pancreatitis was alcohol induced and it was a condition that he usually saw in 40-year-old male alcoholics. Yeah, that’s how much I had been drinking. Basically, if I didn’t slow down I was looking at several failing organs by the time I was 40.
That was the first time someone called me an alcoholic and it hit me like a ton of bricks. I was an alcoholic? There was no way. I was a good student, worked at a local news station, had been a leader in my sorority, was a part of several organizations. I was not an alcoholic. Or was I?
When I got home from the hospital my dad pointed out the bottle of whiskey on my nightstand that I regularly “sipped on” while I studied at night or got ready to go out. At that moment there was nothing that could convince anyone that I wasn’t an alcoholic. So I promised my parents that I wouldn’t have another sip of alcohol the entire summer. 3 months. I hadn’t gone 3 days without at least a Bud Light for the last 2 years. A buzz had become my normal and I didn’t even realize it. Those 3 months were some of the longest months of my life.
Come fall and my 5th year of college I knew things had to change. And they did. Instead of reaching for a bottle every time I was stressed out I hit the gym. I basically cut out drinking Sunday-Wednesday and was getting black out drunk (a little) less. Honestly, not as much changed as it should have. I would hit the bar with friends for a drink or two and then would go lift weights on my buzz. Sounds healthy right?
Post-College: Y’all, people in their early 20’s in Jax Beach party like there’s no tomorrow. It didn’t matter if it was Tuesday night, we were going to Trivia at the bar (which then turned into a full night of shots at the Irish bar). I was sucked back in like a moth to a light and there was nothing slowing me down. That was until I had racked up more morning regrets than I care to admit – even to myself.
The summer of 2017 I decided to go 30 days without a sip of alcohol. And conveniently I started the month with a 4-day trip to New Orleans. Thankfully I was there for a fitness conference, but still. It took all of my will power to recommend a whiskey to a friend and not order a glass for myself. Getting through that weekend without touching any alcohol proved to myself that I was better and stronger than my craving for it. After that month things got a lot better.
Today: Some people might think I still drink a lot, but if you ask around to my close friends they’ll all tell you how huge the improvement has been. I still drink a least one drink every week but now I can have a few beers during a football game without turning it into a full-blown party. I can have 2 glasses of wine on a Tuesday without finishing the bottle. I can even sip on a glass of whiskey after a long day without getting a second glass.
It’s still my first thought when I’m upset or really stressed. A lot of times I’ll call my mom and vent when I’m really wanting a drink. I still feel my emotional dependency on alcohol when I’m emotional and would rather get a buzz than feel my emotions. Every few months I still get really drunk (and sick) because I go into autopilot and throw back drinks without paying any attention to it. Shout out to all of my friends who have ordered me water when they see me going down this road. (Whitney will hand me a glass of water, tell me it’s a vodka soda & challenge me to a chugging contest. No joke, it works every time because really drunk Hal is even more competitive than sober Hal.)
My relationship with alcohol is 100x better now that it was 3 years ago. But it’s still a problem. I hate that I still crave the numbness whiskey brings. I hate that my struggles with alcohol is the reason why some of my relationships end. I hate that it’s something I’ll probably have to keep in check for the rest of my life.
Everyone has problems. This one is mine.