All my life I had been an enthusiastic and drinker. I loved drinking. A couple of double Jack Daniels on ice before dinner in wintertime, gin and tonics and a chilled bottle of rose on the terrace in the summer, a bottle of red with dinner and a nightcap or two before bed! What could be better? I lived and worked in Russia on several occations and prided myself on my ability to keep up with the Russians in downing vodka. Given my size, I could often even drink them under the table. When visiting with old friends I could drink seemingly unlimited quantities of alcohol and I held it pretty well. I was not a violent or destructive drunk. I and never been arrested, crashed my car or gotten into a fight. I was a typical professional-class suburban WASP drunk of the variety that one reads about in the stories of Cheever and Updike. As a child I had seen my parents, neighbors and relatives drink this way. It seemed perfectly normal.
From time to time I wondered if I wasn’t drinking too much. Alcohollism runs in my mother’s side of the family and I was made aware of this at a very young age. Once I quit drinking altogether for two years while I dived into meditation, vegetarianism and generally trying to relax the natural way. Eventually I have up all three practices and my drinking renewed with vigor. Yet I always led an active, athletic life and thought that this kept the drinking in its proper place.
A number of years ago an extremely difficult work situation developed over a six month period and I leaned heavily on drinking every evening to relax and decompress after each stressful day. Amazingly a daily 500 ml bottle of vodka with grapefruit juice and ice seemed to help. I got through that situation and my drinking tapered off. At about the same time, my conflict laden marriage went from bad to worse and eventually to divorce. I was married to someone with borderline personallity disorder and there was clearly some unhealthy co-dependence thing going on, so the divorce was very stressful and painful. This led to debilitating back pain cused by a herniated disc and I suffered with this for over six months before a successful surgery to restore me to health.
Throughout this period I drank heavily on a daily basis to ease the mental pain of the divorce and the physical pain in my back. I switched from drinking bourbon to red wine thinking that somehow it was more healthful. I was not working full-time during this period, but I never drank during the day. It had to wait until 5-6 o’clock to begin. Half a bottle of wine a day became a bottle. Soon I was regularly drinking two bottles every evening as I lay on my back in pain. By the time the surgery releived my back pain the drinking had become a well engrained habit.
I had a vague and nagging notition that my drinking was excessive. I was especially aware of this during my regular trips to the recycling bins when I carried a large blue Ikea bag of empty bottles. I worried what my neighbors would think seeing me regularly with my noisy load of clinking glass. I stopped buying wine daily as I felt self-concious in front of the checkout ladies at the grocery store. Now I went to France and bought by the case, so there was no running out. Sometimes I could pass the two bottle mark and drink three. Mostly I was drinking alone.
I took a new job running a company with international operations. I commuted to another city every week for a year and a half with travel to the US and Africa. The drinking continued apace, but the drive to succeed at my job combined with caffeine and nicotine kept me going. This was a highly stressful lifestyle. Eventually, I had a disagreement with my board about how to solve the company’s significant financial difficulties and I left the job. In retrospect I can see that my drinking contributedsignificantly to this outcome.
A few months before that I met an absolutely wonderful woman with whom I fell deeply in love. Unencumbered by work, we launched into a full blown romance, ate and drank our way around Italy and eventually made a home together with her son in my city. Life was good and I was ever the generous host, pouring prosecco and wine for my lady, her visiting family and guests. Gatherings were fun, but alcohol fueled affairs and it was only when I got sober that I realised to what extent I was driving the drinking train for everybody who shared a glass or a table with me. What nobody seemed to understand was that for every glass I was pouring for them, I was drinking two myself.
Hangovers went from bad to worse and a nagging sense of fear began to invade my heart. The gentle tug of fear had become a trigger to drink more, not to relax, but to kill that gnawing sense of unease. Where did this feeling come from? I didn’t know, but I knew I wanted to drown it, to anesthetize it. Hangovers had been a regular part of my life for several years now, but now they were getting worse. I woke up mornings with dreadful headches and feelings of shame and regret. My shame led me to keep my worries from the beautiful woman who slept next to me and whom I loved deeply. The shame would lead me to promise not to drink that day, but five o’clock would roll around and I’d be opening a bottle of wine. By then I’d fogotten about my promise, or just say to hell with it, but the next morning the fear and shame was with me again.
Then one morning I woke up and was gripped by dread and terror. It was a certainty that if I kept drinking like this I would loose everything, my beloved, my sense of self respect and probably even my ability to support myself. This time was different. I looked up the nearest AA meeting on the Internet and committed to go. God had finally intervened.