Growing up I had many alcoholics in my family. They were literally falling down drunks. Vomiting after dinner parties, prone to violence, getting DUI’s, losing their jobs, homes and children. So when it came time to evaluate my drinking it always came in at a solid — ‘well, I’m not that bad!’. What I was comparing myself to was absolute destruction.
Since parts of my life were functioning perfectly fine while others were crashing and burning, I was having trouble defining my relationship with alcohol and determining if it was even a problem. Was I a ‘high functioning alcoholic’?, ‘a heavy drinker’? Or just someone who liked to have a few drinks after work? Which is normal, right? This can be the difficulty with labels — they create stereotypes, and when we don’t fit the accepted characteristics, we are exiled to ‘other’-ness.
I started drinking like most other people — a glass of wine to relax turned into 2 or 3 glasses or a bottle. However, during my heaviest drinking I was achieving highs in my career that I hadn’t even considered possible. I was building and running my own successful company, managing dozens of employees and working 14-hour days. Ah, but those pesky 10 unscheduled hours were my downfall. As my free time dwindled I was forced to shove my drinking into the 2–3 hours per night from when I got home until I went to bed.
Then life gave me the most wonderful gift — I sold my company. Suddenly I had more free time — both mentally and physically. I knew that if I did not get my drinking under control it would soon swell to take up all of this new free time as well. So I did. It was the hardest thing I have ever done and yet in some ways the easiest — waking up feeling good, alive and full of energy was the most magical feeling I had ever encountered. That feeling was enough to get me through each evening when my witching hour approached (that and an obscene amount of mediocrely executed crafting and home improvement projects).
However, once I had a solid grip on my sobriety, I was nagged by the question of why I hadn’t stopped earlier. Why did the 2 separate mental health professionals I told that I thought I might have a drinking problem not believe that my drinking was problematic? Why didn’t I listen to the voice in my head that knew this would have to stop at some point before something irreversible happened?
Realistically, what was my alternative? In order to stop I would have had to to replace drinking with something else — actual interests, hobbies, possibly exercise and a good amount of introspection which at any other point I did not have the emotional or physical bandwidth to do. I was trying my best to get through the day the only way I knew how — like a piece of construction equipment. During the day, I was bulldozing my way through work, I was capable, relentless and focused. Then, at night, I was using a sledge hammer to relax and sleep. No balance. No moderation.
I now know that judging myself for not stopping my destructive behaviors earlier does not serve me. My decision to stop drinking came at the exact time that I could handle it. When I was ready to face some uncomfortable truths about myself and those around me that I would not have been able to any earlier. I had to be ready to make big, permanent changes and flip the page that would set the course for the next chapter of my life. I am happy to say that the chapter that has followed has been better than I ever imagined.