Updated: Dec 31, 2019
If you think you have a problem, it is likely that you do
Be yourself; Everyone else is already taken.
— Oscar Wilde.
For many years I suspected that I had a drinking problem. I would lay awake countless mornings at 2:00 a.m. wondering if I was an alcoholic. Then one day I read somewhere that people who aren’t alcoholics don’t lay awake wondering if they are. It was then that the realization clicked, but I set out to deny it for many years to come.
Even in my denial years, I took a plethora of quizzes to determine if I drank too much. These included online quizzes, those found in books about moderation, and I answered questions in pamphlets about alcoholism. All scores received indicated I had a troubled relationship with alcohol, even when I lied on some of the questions (yes, it’s been known for those with addiction to lie from time to time).
Then, in 2014, my therapist at the time (I told him about the quizzes — among other things) convinced me to try AA. With a few meetings under my belt and a sponsor, I was setting a personal best with my sobriety longevity and was proud of myself, until I started telling my friends.
Back then I subscribed to the notion that having a drinking problem was very isolating and socially unacceptable. I certainly didn’t want to be different from everyone else, plus, I had a lot of trouble trusting my own gut. Factor in that alcohol addiction is extremely hard to overcome and you have the perfect recipe for margaritas!
Once I let my secret out, doubt crept in even stronger. The friends that I shared my newfound sobriety with were convinced that I didn’t have a drinking problem. It wasn’t just other heavy drinkers who enabled and even encouraged me to start drinking again, it was even friends who didn’t drink much but knew I had heavy drinking habits. Looking back, I find that to be shocking and wonder what they had to gain from derailing my efforts. I am not saying that all of the friends I told were intentionally trying to get me to return to drinking nor do I blame them for my decision. What I do feel is that I did not receive the support and validation that I needed in order to maintain my sobriety. Instead, the addicted part of my brain that fought with the reasonable side and didn’t want to quit was validated right back into drinking.
So, with a little help from my friends, I kicked sobriety to the curb and went back to problematic drinking for five more years. During those years I managed to have several periods of abstinence. 30-day challenges. 60-day challenges. Dry January and Sober October and Dry July and random Parched March. And every time I shared with a friend that I was taking a break that just might turn into forever, I would be told things like, “Well, you can have just one, right?” No stupid, I can’t have just one! I don’t want just one. That greatly defies the logic of drinking in the first place. What in the hell is the point of just one??
Or, “I have never thought of you as an alcoholic.” What I didn’t realize at the time was that the person who uttered this phrase was picturing the stereotypical skid row alcoholic bum. You know, the one clutching a paper bag containing a pint of the cheapest rot gut whiskey? The person who lost his job, his house, his wife, his dog, etc. The epitome of a sad country song.
I can now see why no one would equate my drinking with that of the true “alcoholic.” I always had a good job, a house to live in, had never been in trouble with the law, and didn’t have DUIs or financial difficulties. On top of that, I was in great shape and took good care of myself. I ate very healthy food, exercised furiously and maintained my health and a good outward appearance.
However, what I did have was three failed marriages, high cholesterol, chronic migraines, depression and anxiety, and a penchant for knowing which restaurants served the strongest drinks and the largest glasses of wine. What they didn’t know about was my binge drinking on the weekends and my glasses of wine during the week and my love of martinis. Not because martinis tasted especially good, but because they got the job done fast and were considered classy. (Once my brother said they were just big shots in fancy glasses and he was right). But I was fooling everybody else by drinking them, wasn’t I?
As I tried to take breaks from drinking, my friends continued to try to derail them, however, I knew deep down that I had a problem and I started to trust that instinct. One evening I was at a friend’s house for dinner when I announced I was on a break from drinking. Instead of respecting my decision, he went so far as to pour a little glass of beer and set it in front of me saying, “Oh c’mon, you can have a little drink, can’t you?”
At that time, I was into reading Holly Whitaker’s blog, Hip Sobriety, and I used her analogy of comparing quitting drinking to stopping a bad cocaine habit. I told my friend, “if I came over for dinner and told you that I had a bad cocaine addiction but that I was finally able to quit, you would congratulate me. But I tell you I quit drinking and you encourage me to have a drink. Why can’t the congratulations be the same for alcohol?” After that he got the message but it was frustrating that I had to use that analogy at all.
So why aren’t many of your friends supportive when you quit drinking? Mainly because alcohol is a big part of our society. People picture sobriety as being left out of the happy hours, beer runs, wine and painting, tailgate parties and pretty much all social activities. People with drinking problems are viewed as sad sacks that can’t partake anymore and must have a super boring life. No one wants to be a sad sack and no one wants to hang around one.Could it be that sharing concerns related to your own drinking may force your friends into taking inventory of their alcohol consumption? Once the 2:00 a.m. thinking starts, the fun ends.
You can’t avoid your drinking problem if you’re actively drinking.
I tried to fit in so I wouldn’t be classified as a sad sack. I tried to moderate so that I wouldn’t have to have uncomfortable conversations and could still be accepted by my peers. However, attempts at moderation were useless and painful and finally I said the hell with it, I don’t care what anyone else thinks, I’m quitting for good. I was finally ready to face the naysayers and trust my gut.
I have now been sober for nearly five months. I have only told five people that I quit drinking (until this hit the Internet). I told my husband, who also quit, my therapist, my Rolfing therapist, my brother, and my long-time best friend. None of them tried to talk me out of it, but then three of them don’t drink either.
Recently, I attended a happy hour with three friends. I decided ahead of time not to tell them about my sobriety. Not because I thought that they would tell me I didn’t have a problem and again I would be talked out of quitting drinking, but because I didn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable. At this point, I had my mind made up, I trusted my intuition that I have a drinking problem, and I knew I wasn’t going to start drinking again. When I arrived at the brewery they chose, I ordered a water and something to eat. No one questioned me as to why I wasn’t drinking, but I had lines prepared. “Going for a long run tomorrow, drinking gives me headaches, lots to do tomorrow, or I don’t drink and drive and I’m driving,” (which has been mostly true for some time prior to quitting. I would only drive if I had just one drink). Now that there are so many ride options, it floors me that people still drink and drive.
Times have definitely changed, even just over the last five years. The friends I went to happy hour with were all Millennials, a generation known for not embracing drinking as much as Gen Xers or Baby Boomers. There are more sobriety blogs and memoirs being cranked out than ever before. Sober happy hours are popping up in big cities. Mocktail recipes are becoming mainstream. Even though alcohol is tightly woven into our society, threads are becoming bare and broken with the advancement of the sobriety movement.
The sixth person I told that I quit drinking, actually told me. It was my friend Jessica, also a Millennial, who suggested we go to happy hour and have a glass of wine. I’m not sure if I paused after she spoke or what happened but suddenly, she asked, “Or did you tell me something about that you’re not drinking?”
I responded, “No, I’m not drinking, I quit months ago, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t tell you,” my confusion coming through in my voice.
She replied nonchalantly, “Oh well somehow I had a feeling or something. Any reason why you quit?”
“Many reasons, but mainly I didn’t like my relationship with alcohol. I found it hard to stop drinking once I started (actually I didn’t really want to stop) and when I managed to drink just a couple of drinks, I still felt like crap the next day. Getting older means worse hangovers.”
“Oh, I know, tell me about it.”
I laughed, “You’re still young, wait until you are my age. Anyway, I can still go to happy hour. I’m okay going places that serve alcohol, I just don’t partake anymore.”
Jessica said, “Okay, we will pick a place with good food and I will have a glass of wine and you can have a soda water or something.” We both laughed.
“Sounds great,” I said. And it did. It really did. Finally, acceptance and understanding. I’m looking forward to that soda water and some great conversation with a very perceptive and kind friend.
When you know deep down that you have a problem and decide to quit, or if you’ve quit already, stay the course. Spend time with the friends who like you for who you are. Listen to your intuition. It’s okay to trust your gut and know what is best for you.