I’ve never considered myself someone who had a problem. I can go days, weeks without drinking. I made a decision last year to quit drinking for the New Year and went three months sober until a vacation to The Philippines and $1 beers caused me to convince myself that I couldn’t miss out on a deal that great.
Even still, alcoholic culture has never resonated with me because drinking never destroyed me the way I’d seen it do to those around me I loved. Like my mom. She fell down flights of stairs. She drove her car over state lines with an open bottle of Burnett’s riding shotgun the entire way, the final sip of that last drop coinciding with a collision in to the side of her house at 1PM on a Monday. She hid her habit in the trunk of her cars or on the top shelf of her closet, swapped water for vodka in containers that she kept clutched to her side during holidays and family gatherings, where she would slip outside to sneak sips throughout the course of the day until she became so inebriated and incoherent we would all be left utterly baffled as to how it seemed she could go from zero to sixty without us noticing until it was too late. No, I am not an alcoholic I tell myself. She is the alcoholic.
Conversely, sobriety culture has never resonated with me either. Evangelical communities like that proselytize clean-and-sober living have always felt too dogmatic; too one dimensional. I watched my non-alcoholic father, whom I’d never seen have more than one beer, let alone get drunk ever in my life, turn in to somewhat of a zealot when he entered AA, abusing the program for years and using it as both a respite from the disenchantment he felt as a family man, as well as a platform in which to seek praise and gain a degree of celebrity from those who were at some of the lowest and most vulnerable places in their lives. His perceived sense of “got-it-all-togetherness” paired with his material successes helped him to quickly climb the ranks, each collected coin seeming to bolster his inflated sense of self and superiority.
I am nothing like either of these extremes. I don’t believe in exploiting the suffering of others or the healing journey for personal gain, nor has alcohol ever been something I’ve ever felt powerless over. I am responsible, for the most part. I drink socially, for the most part. I hardly ever black out — maybe just once a year. I don’t get in to physical altercations, just arguments with my boyfriend when he triggers me with a perceived slight of his words. And, I can’t remember the last time I got to a point that required being babysat like I did nine days ago when I woke up bloody and bruised on the couch in my friend’s apartment, not quite sure how I’d gotten there or what had happened. This was okay and normal, right?
I’ve found myself over the years noticing my tendency to drink in order to escape. To let loose. To turn my brain off. To avoid facing myself for fear of what I might discover is simmering below the surface. I drink, often times, because in the moment it is the easiest way to take the edge off. But, I’ve never been too out of control. I’ve never been approached by loved ones concerned for my wellbeing or lost friendships because of drinking. I can often and easily justify my level of drinking as socially acceptable which, I’ve come to find that as long as the culture that surrounds us tells us what we are doing is okay, it’s easier to abandon any intuition that might suggest otherwise. I’ve also never thought of my tendency to drink as a disease, but rather a bandaid for which to cover up what is broken so it can appear fixed for the time being. These gray areas have created a perpetual sense of limbo; a question in where my experience belongs.
If I’m not an alcoholic, then what am I?