Philadelphia, PA – 2018
I quit smoking cigarettes years ago. I was no longer addicted to nicotine and it had just become an expensive toxic habit I no longer enjoyed.
Tobacco Road – 1977-1996 and 2008-2018
I could write a whole blog regarding this subject, but I’ll keep it focused on this forum.
I had my first taste of beer when I was a kid. My dad let me try it. It was so bitter I spit it out on the kitchen floor. I agree that you should let children try things they’re curious about. It demystifies those things. People always want the forbidden and the taboo. If you just let them try it and show them that it’s not bad it removes the desire.
Everybody reacts differently to drugs and alcohol. It’s not black and white. Nothing in life is. As my daughter says about sexuality and mental health, it’s a spectrum. I’ve always agreed with her. No one is either crazy or sane. No one is either sober or an alcoholic.
It’s a range. A long winding, grey area.
I know I’m going to piss a few people off here but that’s not the purpose of my words. I’m writing this because I want to tell you all about my experience with alcohol.
I’m going to open with this. Alcoholism isn’t a disease.
Disease: A disease is a particular abnormal condition that negatively affects the structure or function of part or all of an organism, and that is not due to any external injury. Diseases are often construed as medical conditions that are associated with specific symptoms and signs.
When I think of diseases I think of the big ones.
- Autoimmune Diseases.
- Allergies & Asthma.
- Celiac Disease.
- Crohn’s & Colitis.
- Heart Disease.
- Infectious Diseases.
- Liver Disease.
Stuff like that. They happen. But alcoholism isn’t a disease. It’s called that because so many “normal” folks are afflicted with it. It destroys lives indiscriminately. Yale to jail. Top to bottom.
It’s a disease you have to BUY.
You don’t just catch it. You have to willfully do it. You have to go to the bar or a store and pick up a bottle and decide to drink it.
That’s not a disease. That’s your mind and body vs. alcohol. Everybody’s different.
But this piece isn’t about that. That’s for another blog. Not mine.
This is my brief story. I’m going to keep this as short as possible because it could eat up my whole blog if I go on too long about this subject.
I’ve always suffered from anxiety and depression. That coupled with low self-esteem and being an overachiever is a perfect cocktail for alcohol consumption.
I remember the first time I caught my first buzz from alcohol. I was out on the fishing pier one night in Wildwood, NJ with my friend and bandmate, Wolfie. We had a 6-pack of Molson Golden Ale and I had maybe 3 of them. I was 17 years old.
I walked back out onto the boardwalk when my very first buzz from alcohol hit me.
It was beautiful.
I felt exhilarated, euphoric, and indestructibly confident.
I couldn’t believe the power of this bitter elixer. It made the weak strong, the tired energized. The sad, happy. The loser, confident.
I went home and told my mother about my experience. She had also suffered from anxiety and probably some depression her whole life. I explained to her how good it made me feel and it also made my anxiety, (Which was really bad back then) simply vanish.
“That’s great, but don’t ever let it become a crutch.”
“What do you mean, Mom?”
“Don’t rely on a drink to carry you through something.”
Those words stuck with me my whole life.
I love to drink. It’s fun. It feels good. It’s a wonderful social lubricant.
I’ve had my ups and downs with booze. Many of us have. The fights. The drunken misunderstandings. The brilliant hilarious nights. The random hook-ups. The crazy sex. The bad decisions. The great ones. The bed spins. The vomiting in inappropriate venues.
I’ve experienced all of that stuff.
I drank beer and wine. When I got to California I started getting into sipping Jack Daniels.
I enjoyed beer and cocktails in the ’80s in my 20s. I went into banking. Having a few drinks after work was just something everybody did.
Happy Hour. What a lovely name for something that involves people, booze, and lasts two hours instead of one.
I think during my very unhappy marriage is when my drinking escalated. My wife wasn’t much of a drinker and certainly didn’t like my drinking.
I would sneak nips from a half-pint of Smirnoff’s Vodka hidden in my garage.
I can see it all very clearly now. My social drinking had now become a band-aid over the pain of my domestic life.
My drinking didn’t end my marriage. Turns out we were simply incompatible as people on so many levels. I should have never gotten married. I know now it’s not an institution I can belong to. This shark needs to be free to swim and roam the oceans.
With my wife gone, I was now free to drink all I wanted whenever I wanted. I could listen to the stereo, rock out to my music, and drink my Ketel One and tonics.
I was never one to drink in the morning or during the day. As much as I loved to drink, I always had strict rules regarding time. I would only take a drink after 5 pm.
Sure, I’d have the occasional glass of wine at a brunch or something, but no more. The real drinking happened at night. In a bar or behind closed doors and drawn blinds.
I was writing a book back then so I would just disappear from my sad life into writing and booze.
I didn’t even realize what was happening to me or why I was doing it. A former artist and musician, reduced to a branch manager at a bank. My marriage is already over. The only one in my family divorced. And then there’s dividing up all of the assets I had worked so hard to construct. Then the child support begins. $600 a month of your net income vanishes from your account every month. For 15 years! Do the math. It’s a financial nightmare that seems without end. I missed my little daughter. My little family was destroyed. Ruined.
When you begin drinking it’s for fun. It makes you laugh and feel happy. Later, it can be used to extinguish pain. Alcohol numbs you to the point where for that night you no longer care and have no worries about life in general.
But you might as well throw gasoline on a fire to put it out.
The booze kills the pain. But alcohol is a wicked mistress. You love her and she’ll fool you at every turn. She’s a beautiful and sexy girl. Doesn’t cheat on you. Won’t ever disappoint you. Always there for you. Comfort. Forget your problems. “Don’t work through them, honey. Just drink me in. That’s it, dear.”
I drank like that at night for the next 10 years.
I had no problems with my drinking through the 2000s. It’s just something we did after work.
Let’s jump to the Spring of 2018.
I quit cigarettes. My daughter lives with me. She’s happy. I’ve left corporate life. I have a nice little job I like doing. Child support is long over. But I continue to drink as if I’m covering some sort of pain.
But I’m not sad anymore. I have wisdom. I fought through anxiety and depression over the last 50 years without therapy or medicine. I’ve won!
But I continue to drink out of one directive. It’s simply a ritual. Just like smoking became. But one far more deadly.
I think I thought at the time I needed it to fall asleep. I did. Because I could no longer fall asleep without alcohol. My body needed it to shut down. I knew what I was doing was wrong but I never really addressed why I was doing it. It simply became a function of my evening life.
Everything was good in my life. This became a dark secret.
I could be out at the bar having a few drinks but the minute I got home I just kept going on my own. Alone in my room drinking vodka and club soda. One after the other. I never counted. I just did it until I could sleep and off I went.
But my will is strong. I can drink like that and get up for work the next morning with Metallica Metallicano problem. Never call out and I’m never late. Am I doing this to overcompensate for my drinking? Probably.
If my mind wouldn’t race at night maybe I could stop drinking so much in the evening.
Two to three times a week I would go to the liquor store and pick up a 1.75 bottle of Nikolai or Wolfschmidts vodka. I wasn’t quite at the level of drinking as Guns n Roses bassist, Duff McKagen, but I was working on it.
My older sister said I was a functioning alcoholic. Normally that would be correct.
But not in my case.
Was this something I was simply stuck with from my old life, for the rest of my life?
Time would only tell.
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