My first experience with booze was pretty miserable. I was probably about 13 years old or so when a friend came over to my house while my parents were not home. Never one to miss an opportunity to misbehave, he suggested that we should get drunk. We locked my brother out of the house and proceeded to raid my parents liquor stash. In order to assure that they wouldn’t notice, my friend suggested that we take a little from each bottle and combine them all into a tumbler. Then we took shots.
Imagine, if you will, a concoction that included (minimally) the following: vodka, bourbon, creme de mint, liquor 43, peach schnapps and possible tequila. It is a wonder I didn’t hurl on the first drink.
We got good and drunk. I probably had 8 shots. And then panic ensued. I was really drunk and knew my parents would be home soon. A cold shower. Some questions. Dinner with the family and early bed.
I don’t know if my parents ever suspected anything, but I didn’t get in trouble. They did ask why my friend was asleep in the field next to the house. They must have known what was up — how could I have possibly hidden it?
I didn’t touch the stuff again until I was in my junior year of high school, and then it was pretty casual. A beer here or there, but I wasn’t a drinker in high school. When I was 16 I had two seizures and that pretty much ended any experimentation with alcohol for the time being.
Then I got to college. Penn State. Everything changed.
I started school in the summer of 1990 and had something like 7 credits, an 8:00 Logic class followed by a 10ish Philosophy class and a gym class – Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Nothing on Wednesday. I was done by noon every day. Most of the summer was spent at the outdoor pool which was conveniently located next to chicken coops. We smoked cigarettes to cover the smell of chicken shit. In the evenings we went to parties at various fraternities.
I was a novice when it came to booze in those days. I was a real “two can Sam” to be sure. Despite the fact that my first experience with liquor was from my parent’s stash, I’d grown up in a house where alcohol was relatively taboo. Mom and Dad didn’t drink with any regularity. I’d never seen my Mom drunk and had only seen my Dad tipsy a few times.
However, I quickly got my wings. Within a few months, I was a champion drinker and was hanging tough with the rest of my then pledge brothers. At 17 and a half you really do believe yourself to be invincible. We were all smoking, drinking and eating like pigs. I packed on the weight quickly and surpassed the freshmen 10 moving straight on to the freshman 20. If you consume most of your calories in the form of beer and fast food, this will happen.
And so it goes, college was largely a party. Sure I studied, and got pretty good grades (after my abysmal 2nd semester showing of a 2.8 in Freshman year), but by and large we partied at least 3 nights a week. At the fraternity we had a keg on tap 24/7. We marked our beers off on a sheet and paid 25 cents per beer and 5 cents for a plastic cup. This actually was a source of revenue for the fraternity, believe it or not.
When I turned 21 in the fall of my Senior year, I was on top of the world. I had a light load of credits in the spring and was able to go to the bars nearly every night. In fact, I think that in the spring semester of 1994 I may have been sober a total of 6 nights.
After graduation, I settled into working life and pretty much mellowed out in my 20s. There were plenty of weekend drinking fests, to be sure, but by the time I was 24 I was not drinking on week nights with regularity. By my early thirties, I was not drinking on weekends that much either. There were many Friday nights when I finished the work week and simply got a sub from Quiznos and watch TV. Ironically, I met my wife in a bar when I was 31 — I say ironically because neither of us were really drinking that heavily at that point in our lives.
And so, my thirties went. I would occasionally get out of hand on a weekend night, but that was largely a thing of the past. I had become a “social drinker” and was perfectly content to go to a friends barbecue and have 2 beers over a few hours and drive home.
I always had rules. Drinking and driving was always out of the question. As was drinking before 5 — unless it was a “special occasion” like a Penn State Football game or a fishing trip on the Chesapeake Bay. But those were few and far between.
My son was born in December of 2007. I don’t know what it was to trigger an escalation in my drinking but within 8 months of his birth I was starting to go off the rails. I distinctly remember being in Lewes, DE and finishing a bottle of bourbon in 3 or 4 nights. Now, that doesn’t sound all that bad (considering where I ended up), but it was only the beginning.
Soon, I found that I was no longer buying just beer but I was actively looking for beers that were 8, 9 or 10 percent alcohol. No longer was the Dogfish 60 Minute IPA my go to, but the Dogfish 90 Minute (9%) was my go to beer. And then there were the 10+ percent beers. Eventually, I found that I was buying these big beers as well as bourbon. At some point, I was buying bourbon more than I was buying beer. And then, I was alternating liquor stores so that they wouldn’t notice that I was buying a bottle every two days. (In the end, I didn’t even bother to alternate). This progression was not instant, but occurred over a period of approximately 7 years. In the end, I was drinking at least a half of a 750 ml bottle of bourbon a day and several high octane beers.
As I mentioned, I had rules. And these rules kept me out of trouble. I never got a DUI. I never got into a bar fight. I never had any trouble with the law. I was able to get up and do my job every day. I never missed an appointment. I lied to myself. I told myself that I didn’t have a problem because of these miracles. But, deep in my heart, I knew that was not the truth.
Increasingly, I was having trouble remembering what I’d cooked for dinner the night before. Increasingly, I didn’t remember conversations that I’d had with my wife. Increasingly, I was blacking out.
I was also having problems with sleep. I’d drink until I passed out around 9 PM (conveniently I would put my son to bed every night) and then wake up around 2 or 3 in the morning. And my mind would race. I would not be able to go back to sleep. Most nights I’d move to the guest room, so I wouldn’t disturb my wife.
And yet, I told myself that I didn’t have a problem.
Over the spring and summer of 2015, I found myself in a place that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. I found that I was drinking against my will. I would actually think “I really shouldn’t do this,” as I poured my first drink. Not only that, but my tolerance had increased so dramatically that I couldn’t drink enough to pass out before the intense feelings of self loathing crept in. Many nights, despite my best efforts to numb the world out and pass out, I had to give up that goal and simply go to bed because I was too depressed.
I didn’t have a dramatic event that caused me to stop. It was purely my conscious. I woke up on 9/21/15 and knew that I couldn’t keep doing it. I knew it was time to call it quits. And so I began to slowly surrender.
It took me another 3 days to actually get there. My sobriety date is 23 September 2015, that was the first day that I didn’t have anything to drink. It was also the first time I went to a meeting with the full intention of staying sober. On the 24th of September, I finally admitted that I was an alcoholic and asked for help. Since then, I haven’t had a drink and my life has improved dramatically.
It’s not always easy, but it isn’t hard. There are times when I miss having a beer with friends, but I’d miss not having friends more. I am fortunate that I was able arrest the progression before I started to lose the things that are most important life — my health, my friends, and my family.