Yes, I’m an alcoholic. But don’t throw dirt on my grave just yet.
I turned 40 a couple of months ago. Forty is definitely a milestone birthday. However, as my birthday approached this year, I didn’t freak out because I didn’t have my life in perfect order. In fact, it’s far from it. As February 22nd came and went a few weeks back, I was just grateful to be here to see it. “Why’s that?” you ask. Because I’m an alcoholic. And it’s a miracle I’m still around.
I don’t remember the first time I got drunk. It was probably around my sophomore year of high school, having one too many Natural Lights and eventually getting sick. Everyone has that same story, just a different brand. I was no different than anyone else back in the day. There were no red flags or warning signs to indicate I was destined to become an alcoholic. I went to keg parties on the weekend and drank down at the river in the summertime. When I graduated high school, I packed up and went to Florida for a week and partied like a rock star. But so did everyone else. Again, there was no indication that trouble was on the horizon.
My problems began that fall when everyone went off to college. In high school, I’d been a badass baseball player and the opportunity to go play somewhere on a full ride was almost a given. But sometime during my senior year I got burned out. And with that came a loss of purpose and direction. I had no freaking idea what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go, etc. All my friends had split for one of our state universities. To avoid getting completely left behind, I enrolled in a community college where I could get some coursework out of the way. I muddled my way through my freshman year, maintaining a good enough GPA for my parents to agree it was time to go to State.
I was in no way mature enough to be on my own. I was at a place of higher learning with the opportunity of a lifetime in front of me. But at 19, I didn’t know any better. All I knew was that I was living on my own and Mom & Dad were three hours away. I rejoined my buddies from high school (who already had a year of college life under their belts) along with making some new friends along the way.
I had the luxury, or the misfortune depending on how you look at things, to be living on a floor of a dorm where the RA was never there. The guy literally lived two doors down from me yet I never saw him. So I basically set up a bar and lounge in my dorm room. I had access to a fake ID and all the beer and liquor my friends and I could want. We’d hang out in my dorm room (which had beds on lofts to allow for a couch, loveseat, coffee table, ashtrays, etc) and we’d party and play cards and get our drink on before ever going out. It started out harmless enough, but then it became a hot spot and I was having friends over three or four nights a week. It was a nonstop party. Two semesters later, the school showed me the door.
Upon returning to my hometown, things progressively got worse. I still had no direction and now I couldn’t go to school anywhere for the time being. My parents were at a loss, just trying to keep me alive and somewhat focused. I fell into a funk and a depression that spiraled into heavier drinking. What was once recreational fun was turning into a way to forget the pain, hide the embarrassment, and just stay numb to it all.
In the summer of ’97, things took a drastic turn with a car wreck that almost killed me. I was out on the second night of a weekend party with some friends from high school. We were driving down a back road and went into a dogleg curve way too fast. All four of us, none of whom were wearing seatbelts, got thrown out the window nearest where we were sitting. The Tahoe flipped seven times. The paramedics arrived, found three of us, and were about to take off to the nearest hospital. Fortunately one of my friends was still conscious and coherent enough to know what was going on and told them I was still out there somewhere. I’d been the first one thrown from the SUV; they found me 100 yards up the road from where the Tahoe came to a stop. I was lying on the shoulder, bloodied and battered and unconscious. Had it not been for that one guy having the wherewithal to remember I was with them, I would have been left for dead.
By the grace of God not only was I not killed in the wreck, but all-in-all there wasn’t that much wrong with me. I spent the remainder of that summer recovering. I had stitches in several places and had to rehab my knee but by late August I was back to normal. The wreck had put a scare in me and for the first time I realized I had a problem. I began seeing an alcohol and addiction specialist at the hospital where my mother worked. Over the next few weeks I went through the motions. But despite nearly getting killed, I wasn’t ready to quit. Sure, I had admitted I had a problem, but I could deal with it. I didn’t need help and I wasn’t going to AA or anything else. I would cut back, drink quality vs. quantity, avoid liquor, etc. At 21, I first met denial. Read more “the fix”…