and I’m an alcoholic.
I don’t belong to Alcoholics Anonymous. I’ve been to meetings and where some find comfort in the rituals, I get impatient. However, I believe in the program and the 12 steps, but I’m more of a one-on-one kind of gal. I went my own way to deal with my addiction.
I quit drinking in 1988-89. For me, smoking and drinking went together, and I had already quit smoking. I did have one Red Stripe beer in Jamaica in the late 90s, mostly to distract myself from the awful trip. After the beer, I danced around the room like a crazy person and flopped face-first onto the bed. I sprang back up just as quickly because of a foul smell. I pulled the case off the pillow to discover it was covered in black mold spots. Did I mention that it was a horrible trip?
How it Started
Even though I quit when I was relatively young, I’d already had enough booze to pickle my organs. My “rock bottom” memories still bring up feelings of humiliation. I started drinking around age 14. It was a different time then. I could get into a certain hotel bar by showing up with my cousin, and flashing her ID to the doorman, who was a high school classmate of hers!
It was easy for an underage drinker to find a place where no one cared. We didn’t have the Internet, but word spread about who would look the other way and serve you until – in some cases – you drove yourself home. It’s nothing to be proud of and some people in every part of the machine were complicit. Kids like me, bar owners, servers, even cops in some cases. “Are you close to home young lady? Well, then you go straight there and sleep it off.”
When I was in high school, an older man on a country road had a side business. He’d pick up cases of beer and then resell them to underage drinkers at a 100% markup. It was supply and demand. We didn’t care what it cost. You could simply drive up, knock on the door, and he’d sell you a case or two. This came second only to the couple in town who offered their home as a “safe place to drink”. I look back now and wonder why this married couple in their thirties let high school kids hang out in their house. We thought they were cool. Now, it makes me shudder.
When I struck out on my own, booze was perfect for covering up how lonely and insecure I felt. I’d moved from Ontario to Alberta and then BC. Drinking brought me friends, courage, terribly awkward moments, and exceptionally bad decisions. I thought a social drinker was an amateur. Blackouts and uncertainty about how I’d behaved became my normal, even after coming back to Ontario. Drinking made me feel like I fit in.
I moved to Toronto when I was still in the throes of withdrawal. Did I mention that I was also trying to maintain an unrealistic weight? I recall Dan Williamson at CKFM asking me whether I had jaundice. My skin had turned yellow from eating so many carrot sticks, my substitute for cigarettes. I accepted that I was not a rabbit and eased up on the crunchy vegetables.
So, why am I telling you this?
Over the years, I’ve had strong cravings for cigarettes. Dreams that I smoked that were so vivid, I was sure they were real. Cigarette smoke disgusts me and prompts a mild allergic reaction, but in my dream life, I can’t wait to light up again.
But I hadn’t craved booze until last weekend. Sometimes, I miss the taste of a nice, cold beer so I’ll have an O’Doul’s or whatever 0% beer is available. But this time, in my grief over Miss Sugar, I wanted to DRINK. I wanted that feeling of being drunk, silly, and sloppy. It was a physical feeling. Almost a need. Relief from the pain in my heart.
There’s no alcohol in this house and even if there were, I wouldn’t have gone for it. The losses would be too great. Years of sobriety. Dignity. Derek. I know for sure that I can’t stop until I’m stopped – by sleep or by running out of booze. So I won’t do it. But it was a revelation to find that the desire could return so strongly after being dormant for so long.
This is why alcoholics don’t say, I used to be an alcoholic. Because the tendencies never go away. Getting sober is a process of recovery, and it never ends. It begins with one day, one moment of being fed up with the way life is going and deciding to make a change. And then making that same decision every day that follows. No matter what life throws your way. And no matter how much easier, in the moment, it might seem if you could drink again.