The first time I got drunk, I was 14 year old freshman in high school. From that point on, nearly every aspect of my social life revolved around ingesting massive quantities of alcohol.
There was never such a thing as moderate drinking. Not in high school. Not in college. Not in my 20s, and not in my 30s. The goal was to get drunk; moderate drinking was a fools errand. There was no differentiation between drinking and binge drinking; they were one and the same. Every group I ended up in did the same thing, so I never thought it was anything other than that was what we were supposed to do.
I lived from 14 until 33 years old drinking massively, multiple times a week. After that, I was sober for nearly 2 years. Then I struggled between those extremes for another 4.
The idea of ‘responsible drinking’ is a ridiculous proposition for people such as myself. Alcohol depresses the behavioral inhibitory centers in the cerebral cortex, the part of the brain where thought processing and consciousness are centered. In other words, it puts the part of your brain that makes good decisions to sleep. It's literally impossible for anyone to drink responsibly past a certain point.
So binge drinking is a roll of the dice: When you drink until blackout, you’re putting to sleep the part of your brain that you have spent your entire life programming acceptable public behavior, and you’re instead giving the keys to the part that you have locked in the crawl space of your mind. Now for some people, that person is sweet and affectionate and goes around telling people that they love them. Others, they just like to sing a lot.
Not me. I kept a dark, dark version of myself back there. Lots of pain. Lots of anger. Lots of hate. And every time I drank, he would come out more and more.
A strange thing occurs when you show that side of yourself enough times. The line begins to blur, and you begin to lose touch with which one of you is the real one. It would happen in relationships often. The first time someone sees it, I could apologize and explain it away...’I’m sorry I was so drunk I didn’t mean that, it won’t happen again.’ And I would be forgiven. But the next time, it would take a little more explaining...and forgiving. But then I knew they knew something was up...so I would lose a little bit myself...become a little more insecure, like ‘they know I’m no good’ ... which of course would lead to more anxiety, and inevitably led to more excessive drinking the next time...and down the rabbit hole we go. Drunk behavior leads to embarrassment, which leads to regret and shame, which leads to decreased self-esteem and increased feelings of worthlessness, which leads to increased anxiety in social situations which inevitably leads to, you guessed it, increased alcohol consumption. And the whole cycle feeds itself. Eating away at your soul.
The crazy thing is that until 2012, being sober was never something I even considered. It just wasn’t a thought in my mind, Which is both insane and completely true. But I know why. Because I’m not the only one who drank. We all did. We all drank excessively. We all drank to blackout. To slurring. To doing dumb shit. It was just the norm. It was a Friday nite. It was a birthday party. It was a happy hour. It was a Giants game. It just was what it was. So when I would pull crazy shit, it wasn’t the alcohol...because everyone else drank but didn’t act as bad as me...it was just ME . So all I needed to do was ‘drink less’ and ‘control my shit.’
See, if you’re entire social construct revolves around alcohol, chances are it does for your entire peer group too. So none of you are actually alcoholics. It’s funny that way. Sure there’s always an outlier (wow so and so might have a problem) but that person is never you.
The way the peer group justifies poor behavior is by making it about the person, and not the substance. Deflection and denial, made possible with a distraction. Let me explain:
An interesting thing to consider regarding peer groups are the roles played by the participants. See, we all play a particular role in our social circles. You play one with your family, another with your co-workers, and yet another with your friends. They may be relatively similar or completely different, but make no mistake, the role is there, and it’s defined. Whether you or the people around you are conscious of them is another story; most are not. But that doesn’t make it any less true.
I came to realize that the role I played in my peer group was that of the jester or fool, archetypically speaking. After all, every group needs a fool. My role, unconscious but nonetheless real, was to be the asshole...the sloppy drunk, the nasty drunk, the violent drunk. And I played it well. But why is the fool necessary, you ask? Consider that a bunch of people getting drunk is nothing more than a bunch of people doing dumb shit. The worst is when you wakes up the next day and everyone starts telling everyone else what they did. We’ve all had that hangover anxiety. It’s like ‘I don’t want to knooow.’ The fucking worst. It’s race to the bottom. Well, I played the role of the bottom. It was pretty much guaranteed that no matter what dumb shit anyone did, I did dumber. Or meaner. Or angrier. Whenever I was there the nite before, the story the next day was more likely to be about me than anyone else. By being worse, I made everyone else a little better.
In no way am I saying I was consciously chosen for this role. That’s not how it works. It’s just the one I fell into. The people I hung out with weren’t bad people; by and large they were kind, funny, nice people; however, in order to function as a group whose entire social structure revolves completely around alcohol, You have to blind yourself to certain truths and exaggerate others. Bend reality to fit into what you choose it to be. Create your universe. And that’s what happened.
When I initially got sober in 2012, I sat down and wrote a list of disastrous nights that were a direct result of my alcohol consumption. I’m not talking about an argument with a friend or losing my wallet. I’m talking about the shit hitting the fan.
I came up with 40.
40 horrible situations that I could recall. The first when I was 16 years old. The last when I was 32.
Putting cigarettes out all over my arm while I was fighting with my high school girlfriend. I still have the scars. 17 years old.
Beating up my cousin who was also my best friend on New Years Eve. To this day neither of us remember exactly what was said that led to the fight. Our friendship was never the same. 24 years old.
Driving my car into the back of a delivery truck at 3am. 29 years old.
Those are 3. There are 37 more.
40 times I made a huge scene. 40 times I hurt myself or someone else. 40 times I lost friends or family. 40 times I lived with the resulting shame and anxiety...the regret and remorse...the pain and self-hate...the feelings of worthlessness.
It’s hard to recover from that. Hell, it’s almost impossible. It’s so hard, that most people would rather stay on that path of self-destruction...because the alternative means getting sober and having to face every one of those demons you’ve created over time. And that can just be too much.
When I initially got sober in June 2012, I was a complete and total mess for months. A live wire. Emotions were all over the place. I had to literally learn who I was for the first time. Like emotionally learning to walk. Every single aspect of my persona was created in a drunken environment beginning at 14 years old. I knew nothing else. I was the party guy. That was my role. I had no idea who exactly I was as a sober human being.
In addition to that, I was looking back at who I had been for the past 18 years, and it was horrifying. I entered into psychotherapy multiple times a week to try and process the information, and try to get to the underlying causes for my proclivity towards substance abuse. I would spend many sleepless nights trying to figure out where it had all gone awry, and how I could possibly right so many wrongs. When I could sleep, i would have nightmares. They would almost always be some weird dream where I was reliving a version of some shit I had pulled when I was drunk. I would wake up drenched in sweat, change my clothes, put a towel down on the bed where the sweat had soaked the sheets, and go back to sleep. They lasted for months, but they weren’t even the worst nites. The worst nights would be the occasional dream I would have with someone (usually an ex) who would forgive me, tell me everything was okay...and then I would wake up. And that feeling of forgiveness being ripped away...well that was devastating. Because I knew it would not be coming back.
Those types of dreams and nightmares went on for 6 straight weeks. There was no escaping the reality. Over time, with reflection and introspection, therapy and brutal honesty, I began to make changes. I began to see things differently.
One fascinating thing I realized relatively early on was that I am actually a pretty shy guy in unfamiliar environments. I mean I’ll talk, but it’s usually out of nerves. I talk when I’m nervous. Extroverted introvert would be the proper term. Now as a drunk, I was a loud, crazy maniac...but sober, I started to understand that I like to keep a low-profile until I feel comfortable in a surrounding. That is a complete and total shift from the standard I had set for myself.
I guess what I’m getting at is that if you’re always using alcohol as a social lubricant, you really have no clue who you actually are in those settings. You can think you do, and that’s fine...but it’s also a lie.
Another fascinating thing you realize once you remove yourself from the social dynamic is that massive amounts of alcohol consumption is not the norm. It’s not even close. The majority of people in the world have never blacked out from alcohol consumption once...and we did it every weekend! We had insulated ourselves so much that it became our normal...but it’s far from normal for the overwhelming majority of the population. That’s a min-blowing observation to make the first time...but then once you do, you can’t believe you didn’t see it before.
Nothing changes, except your entire perspective. You just have to get out in order to see the truth.
Another truth is the familiarity that comes from partying is easy to romanticize...especially if you stay in contact with the same people you were with during those times. Time goes by, and the bad memories begin to fade, and no one has been mad for years, so maybe a drink is all good...and so it was. The demons never go away; they just lie dormant, waiting for the right time to awake. So after 21 months,I started to drink again. With a whole new list of justifications for why it was okay, the main ones being:
-I was, generally speaking, a much happier person, having figured a bunch of shit out in therapy and through sobriety.
-I wouldn’t be drinking anything other than Coors Lights or Bud Lights, so it would keep my drunkenness within an acceptable range.
In addition to the above, I also started doing cocaine when I drank, because what better habit to pick up in your mid 30s? I had done it occasionally in times past, but this became a regular occurrence, whenever I drank. It was a supplement to alcohol. I never did it when I didn’t drink, but I basically didn’t drink without it. It helped keep me hyper and happy. Never blacked out when I had blow; always a fun time...although I’m sure others might disagree with that characterization. When you’re justifying blow because it allows you to drink without any trouble, you know you’re head is completely fucked up.
It’s remarkable the lengths one can go to in order to justify certain behaviors.
There is something oddly satisfying about staying in a familiar hell as opposed to entering into an unknown. It’s the same reason people stay in shit relationships. Or shit jobs. At least the misery is a known. And the devil you know…
When you are a drunk, you are operating in a field void of self-respect. Why? People who have self-respect don’t go around acting like fools. Or destroying their bodies. For starters. In addition, the people around you don’t respect you either. Why would they have respect for someone who doesn’t respect themselves? They may like you, but like and respect are 2 completely different words, and 2 completely different worlds.
The flip side of that is, when you get sober, you are immediately showing yourself an increased level of respect, which then resonates with the other people in your life. As discussed earlier, this can shake the foundation of long established roles in your social circle...when you start treating yourself better, people bug out...’well if that’s what he’s doing, what the fuck am I doing??’ ....and it creates a kind of vortex where all parties involved (including your dormant, dark side) would feel more comfortable if things were to just return to the status quo. So maintaining the same friends when you get sober is a dangerous proposition.
Einstein said ‘You can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.’ Well I’ve come to realize that we also can’t solve our problems by surrounding ourselves with the same kind of people we were with when we created them either. It’s just not how it works. If you want to evolve your consciousness, you have to evolve every aspect of your life. And that involves finding people that will see you not for what you were, but for what you are becoming.
This isn’t done with animus; that would be foolish. No harboring ill will or resentment; that just creates more pain. Now the break may not be clean; long-term relationships rarely end in a smooth manner without hurt feelings or misunderstandings...but don’t hold on to that pain. Let it go. Many of the people who were in my life were good people who were kind and supportive, and I was lucky to have them when I did. They were just themselves; no more or less. No point trying to change people...you just become who you want to be, and surround yourself with others who see that vision too.
I am finally at a place in my life where I believe with all of my being that I will never take another sip of alcohol. I’ve found some sort of peaceful equilibrium in a combination of Yoga, meditation, and exercise. It happened in stages. My 2012 sobriety was the first step. That led to years of therapy, which I would not have considered without having first gotten sober. Then I started a regular meditation practice in 2014, which I would have never even considered before the insights I had garnered through therapy. Even through my struggles with sobriety since, the meditation was key to helping me maintain some level of balance and self-control. Of course, exercise was important too...but I always felt the best when I was practicing Yoga. It’s like a part of me knew that Yoga was the one thing that could bring all the pieces together...the mind, the body, and the connection between the two. Teaching it was the natural evolution. And now, I finally feel like I have found my path.
I guess what I’m saying is, my journey has been anything but smooth. I’ve made it up hills just to fall off cliffs more times than I can count. And with each fall, I lost a little of myself, but I learned a little too. In the end, I kept getting up...and I think that’s all that really matters. Just keep getting up.
One of the hardest things for anyone to do in life is to see themselves for who they really are. It’s nearly impossible. That’s why most people don’t change...because change only comes when you are truly honest with yourself....when you look into your darkness, your shadow, your demon…and see who you really are.
Who you REALLY are.
So who am I?
I’m someone who’s untreated anxiety ended up manifesting into severe anger and substance abuse issues.
I’m someone who lived in a self-imposed hell brought on by booze along with other drugs for most of my life.
I’m someone who is an alcoholic, and always one drink away from being a cokehead.
I’m someone who has had to learn the lesson that some loneliness is necessary, because the past holds you down if you don’t let it go.
I’m someone who knows that with constant vigilance, along with the help of meditation and yoga, I have the tools necessary to keep those demons at bay.
I’m someone who’s a bit broken…but I know I’m a bit broken. And that self-awareness is what makes the difference.