I mentioned the other day that my next assignment for IOP is a three-page essay entitled, “Why Now?” in which I have to write out my reasons for stopping, and what it might look like if I don’t. I woke up feeling good, today, house quiet with sleep, and thought I’d give it a shot, since the urges keep coming and I thought I needed a good dose of reality to combat them. Here’s what I ended up with:
My initial urge is to say, “I don’t know,” and I guess that’s why we’re supposed to write this out, because that’s obviously not three pages worth of work, so I’m going to have to try a little harder than that this time. I thought it was worth mentioning, though. I think I say that I don’t know a lot, when under pressure. People tend not to argue with that. Oh, you’re just an idiot, they think, move along, then. As prideful as I am, I’m fine being categorized with the idiots as long as it means I don’t have to get deep with anyone.
Honestly, though, nothing in my life is different than it was last month, or six months ago, and if anything I drank less than what I did a year ago. So why now, indeed? I don’t have a legal situation. My last physical check-up came and went uneventfully. My closest relationships are intact and healthy. I’m well-medicated for my mental illnesses. So I guess it really boils down to me, and the fact that I wasn’t happy with the places I was finding myself. I hate being the one who has to shut every party down. I hate waking up the next morning and having to deal with the dumb shit I post on social media. I hate feeling like shit while I’m trying to play with or talk to my kids.
I was sober a month ago when my oldest son came over, drink in hand, to hang out with us one night after he got off work. He lives in our garage apartment, and his friends were all busy. He obviously had a little buzz and wanted to talk. He started telling us that he’d started smoking pot, towards the end of his senior year, which we’d already suspected, but that he’d quit this past summer when it became clear that it was making it difficult to find a job and hold down his university classes. He’s a smart kid, taking pre-law, and we told him that we’d suspected, and that we were very proud of him for giving it up.
“If only it were so easy to give up drinking,” he said, then. And then to his little brother, “just stay away from all of that shit, it’s not easy to stop once you’ve started.”
I don’t know how to explain how absolutely gutting that was, to hear him say that. This is the kid who at sixteen would have told you he’d never drink, that it was weak, that he liked being in control of his faculties. “It is difficult,” I said. “But it’s possible, if you want to.”
He shrugged. “Sometimes I think I do. I just get urges,” he said. “Do you ever get urges?”
I had to tell him that, yeah, I did, but that I was getting better at controlling them as I got older. It seemed true, at the time. After all, I wasn’t drinking just then, was I? No, there I was having a difficult conversation stone-cold sober. But then a few days later I did drink. And I drank a lot. Enough to more than make up for the two weeks prior, that I’d remained sober. And then a few days after that I did it again, meeting up for coffee with an old friend. She wanted to grab a beer afterwards, and I stayed at the bar long after she went home to her husband, chatting up strangers and buying round after round after round, closing it down like I was still some kid in my twenties, a little pathetic at my age.
I felt like shit, to put it mildly, the next morning. And as I lie in bed I thought back to that conversation I’d had with my son. I couldn’t help but feel guilty for his turning to alcohol. When I thought about talking to him about it further I just felt like a massive hypocrite. What could I say? All he’s ever seen are the fun party nights: loud music playing on the front porch, friends dancing in the driveway, food and champagne bubbling over. They don’t know about the dark nights I spent alone, drinking myself into oblivion when they were gone. They never saw the fights or the tears or the regrets. I realized that by shielding them from my darkest moments, thinking that I was protecting them, I’d really only made alcohol look more appealing than it actually is.
I started looking at local outpatient treatment centers that afternoon, and when those didn’t pan out I reached out to Lionrock. I was in a group meeting within the week. Not because something big happened, but because it hadn’t, yet, and I really don’t want it to. I know that if I continue drinking then my luck will eventually run out. I’ll get in my car and drive, or I’ll succumb to the darkness and hurt myself, or I’ll irreparably damage a relationship with someone I love.
It might not happen within six months, but it will eventually happen. I’ll fuck off a big opportunity, or lose my temper at a bad time, fail to be available to one of the kids. If I continue on like I was then one of these days I’m going to wake up with bigger regrets than an errant text message and a headache. Why wait for that? Two of my siblings have gotten DUI’s in the past two years, and it’s probably only by luck that I haven’t, because as much as I like to think I’d never, I know that there have been times I probably shouldn’t have driven myself home. How could I tell the teenagers who hang around my house not to drink and drive then? It would be an emotional and financial burden that I just can’t afford, and I’d lose all self-respect, all credibility, all pride in myself.
My mental health will suffer, if I keep on. When I drink for long enough at a time I end up in a really dark place in my head. A few years ago I got so drunk and down on myself that I went to the kitchen, got a knife, and stabbed myself near a major artery in my hand. I have no memory of this, only the despair leading up to it, and I almost bled out before I was found. I said it was an accident, that I was trying to cut a piece of paper, but I don’t think that it was. No one knows about this except my wife, and for months afterwards she’d hide the knives every time I drank. If I keep drinking then eventually I’ll hate myself enough to really do the job.
If I keep drinking like I was then my younger kids are going to look back on their childhoods as an unstable time. It may not matter that I love them, that I always put the bottle down long enough to play with them or tuck them into bed. They’ll remember the tensions, the silly arguments, the days spent in bed with a pillow over my head. My older kids will drink because that’s what we do, when life gets hard. Or when we want to have fun. Or when we’re alone. Or when we’re going to be around people. They’re all already at a greater risk of substance abuse, due to the family history, and my unhealthy drinking only exacerbates that. I’ll lose their respect, and maybe their love. I could end up alone, drinking to cure the loneliness a self-fulfilling prophecy.
My work will suffer. That’s not a hard leap to make. My publication record has already slowed down, the further I’ve gotten into the bottle. Where I used to drink a little to take the edge off of a new project, more and more lately I’ve found myself reaching oblivion without a single word written for the night.
I’ll embarrass myself, at some point. I’m surprised it hasn’t happened already. Little stuff, sure, but eventually I’ll piss myself in front of the crowd at some ceremony or another and have to become a shut-in, because how do you deal with ever looking someone in the eye, after that? Though they’ll initially tell me not to worry about it, I’ll lose my friends, because no one likes to always be the one to reach out, and also because no one really likes to hang out with that guy who pisses himself in public, anyway.
I’ll lose my health, eventually. I’ll get fat and then too skinny. I’ll have a stroke at 48, or a heart attack at 53. I’ll lose my taste buds and sense of smell. I’ll eat shitty food in the car on the way home from the liquor store and then forget to eat for two days afterwards. I’ll stop taking my meds, and stop seeing my doctor. My teeth will rot out of my head, and I’ll never have enough money for dentures, because every last bit will go to booze. I’ll be puffy, swollen, and miserable, constantly. My sleep will suffer, only coming as a drunken stupor in the early hours of the day.
My biggest fear has always been that I’ll turn out like my dad, and being 37 hasn’t eased that much. He was never a big drinker, but he is a drug addict, and my childhood was unpredictable at best. He’s angry, hate-fueled, and bitter. He doesn’t deal with his mental illnesses. He blames the world for the disappointment that his life has been. As much as I hate it, late-stage alcoholism could very well find me in a similar position. I’ll bet it wouldn’t be the first time drinking has changed someone’s personality for the worse. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time someone has turned into their father.
I think that you lose the small pleasures in life, first, when the drinking gets too bad. If I keep drinking like I was then I’ll probably lose that first, gloriously silent, cup of coffee to a morning swig of cheap whiskey. I’ll lose every beautiful day to curtains pulled tight to keep the sun out of my eyes. I’ll lose my ability to smile back at a stranger, to sit and concentrate on a good book, to stand back and survey a job well-done. By the time the bigger things start to come due I probably won’t even care, because I’ll have my best friend there by my side, the bottle. If I keep drinking like I was then eventually I’ll either have to stop or let it kill me. Why now? I’m thinking why wait for that? If I stop now, then maybe I can enjoy what life I have left to live