I’m an alcoholic. That revelation isn’t new. But alcoholics, I’ve learned, are masters at considering themselves the exceptions—the special snowflakes who’ll find a path toward sobriety that doesn’t actually involve giving up booze.
At least I did.
A year ago, after 67 days of not drinking, of going to meetings and taking it one day at a time and introducing myself and raising my hand and taking people’s phone numbers, I slipped. And once I slipped, I started strategizing. I didn’t want to be an alcoholic. I also wanted to drink. And, like countless other people before me, I thought I’d find an easier way—or eight. These were a few of my attempts.
1. The “Sober in the States, Alcoholic Abroad” Strategy. A few months after my first meeting—day 67, to be exact—I went to Spain for a week of solo traveling. On my first night in San Sebastian, I discovered that glasses of red were one or two euros each—cheaper than coffee, cheaper than water! It’s part of the culture. It’s an experience, I thought, shifting on the cobblestoned street as I glanced up at a tiny café. It doesn’t really count. But it did, a realization made all the more evident when I came back to the States and—jet-lagged, exhausted, and still headache-y hungover—immediately hit a bar, not a meeting.
My goal was just to get through the holiday season without embarrassing myself.
2. But I’d Only Order Beer. Post-vacation, this was my new compromise. After all, it was summer. There were barbeques and rooftop parties and all-day drinking sessions in the park. Beer had never gotten me as hammered as hard alcohol or wine, so it seemed like a safe choice. Until, of course, after pint four or five, when I’d be the first to suggest shots.
3. Finding a Semi-Sober Sister. Around that time, my friend Kelly was also trying to cut back. So we decided to help each other. We’d only have two drinks. Three if it was a weekend. And four if someone else was buying.
4. Making Up Cutesy Reminder Mantras. JOG, I’d whisper under my breath as I headed into a fancy cocktail bar. It was an acronym for Just Order Gin. It was already fall, and the sobriety of early summer was a distant memory. So were my early attempts at cutting back. Now, I decided that I’d order anything I wanted—as long as it had gin in it (a liquor I’d never liked). I knew from the meetings I had attended that this was a pretty ineffective strategy, but mine would be different. After all, other people didn’t have acronyms.
5. Self-Shaming. The thing about already having admitted you’re an alcoholic is that you aren’t waiting for that light bulb “this isn’t normal” moment. Even though I wasn’t going to AA anymore, I wasn’t in denial that I had a capital P Problem. I just didn’t want to deal with it. So instead, my goal was just to get through the holiday season without embarrassing myself. Before any party—where I’d notoriously drink too much and end up throwing up or passing out on the host’s bed—I’d go through photos from previous soirees. I’d make myself look at images of myself—hair mussed, lipstick a mess, eyes red and wild, with a drink in my hand. Don’t be that girl, I’d sternly remind myself. Alone, in front of my laptop, it was an easy resolution. But as soon as my wineglass was refilled, it was forgotten in favor of my old party resolution, which was to drink as much as absolutely, humanly possible.
6. Training for a Half Marathon. Quite honestly, this method was the most effective of my not-effective strategies. In the winter, I signed up for a running class that met at 7AM every Saturday morning. Not only would I not drink on Friday nights, but I also found surprising moments of clarity in the early AM cold. I liked feeling as if I were doing something positive for myself. And I began making friends who weren’t into late night bar hopping. But occasionally, I wouldn’t be able to resist temptation and would hit up an after-work happy hour on a Friday. I’d wake up sad and sick on Saturday mornings, knowing that I wasn’t in any condition to run—and I’d feel like a failure as I drifted back to sleep. Because if I couldn’t even make it to a workout, how could I ever take control of my drinking?
7. Pill popping. As winter slid into spring, I saw a psychiatrist with the goal of getting an Adderall prescription. I was overwhelmed. Work, freelance projects, running, and dating were all taking up too much time, and I found myself constantly panicked about being able to get everything done. When I confessed this to a friend, she recommended I try Adderall—and gave me the name of her own prescribing doctor. After a seven-minute consultation, I walked away with a prescription and immediately began taking them the way my friend recommended: As many as possible, whenever I was out. Adderall wasn’t coke, but it did remind me of it, a bit. I was buzzy, chatty, licked my lips a million times a minute and could be out all night and be productive at work the next morning—until I’d crash and turn into a crying, bitchy mess.
8. Lying. This is the one I’m most ashamed of, and what eventually led me back to AA in May of 2012, a year after my first meeting. The Adderall had pushed me over the edge, and friends—including a guy I’d just begun to date—were concerned. I’m actually taking a break from drinking, I told him one day, a couple of days before a Kentucky Derby Day party he was hosting. I’d gotten too drunk on a recent date that culminated in me crying on his shoulder in a cab. That sounds like a good idea, he said. Relief flickered in his eyes. On the day of the party, I filled a water bottle with vodka. I finished it within the first hour. Afterwards, I took perverse pleasure in waiting until his back was turned, then rushing to the makeshift bar where I’d refill with whatever clear alcohol I could find. I’d head to the bathroom and take Adderall. And then, when all the guests were gone, we had sex, but it was hard and fast and I didn’t remember any of it. Which, unfortunately, was all too familiar. I was back to where I’d been in the worst days of my drinking. I guess it was my bottom, but to me, it didn’t feel like that so much as the norm. And there it was: if I kept doing this, these things would keep happening. It was time to try the simple solution. Stop.
And for the past 80 days, I have. I want this time to stick. I hope it will. Sometimes, I get angry with myself that I didn’t just stay with it the first time. I wonder what it would be like if I had a year of sobriety, instead of being at the stage of counting days and collecting phone numbers just like I was last spring. But there’s also a relief in the certainty that while some people can just cut back, I’m not one of them. Plus, after so much time feeling so alone in my struggle to maintain sobriety, it’s a relief to be surrounded by other special snowflakes…who are, of course, just like me.
JL Scott is the pseudonym for a writer living in New York City.