I want to be able to fucking drink again.
Why? Because I want to relax. I want to escape and to be free of social anxiety. I want my mind to be calm. And I want it now. I also want it to be easy. I don’t want to work to get there. Praying, meditating, being of service—does anyone want to do that stuff? Does anyone find it enjoyable? Really? Is it less work than puking for 18 hours straight as the drugs leave my body? Or easier than having a damaged septum, liver and life?
But never mind about that for a moment. Vodka soda. Yes. That will do.
It started a little after I got a year. Social anxiety flooded me the second I sat down in a folding chair. Meetings stopped feeling welcoming. I kept going, but to fewer and fewer. I stopped sharing. I stopped relating. And I started thinking about drinking.
Step one is admitting powerlessness: surrendering the bottle and slowly raising my hands above my head. I’ve admitted my life was unmanageable many times. I’ve said I’m an alcoholic more than I can count. Exclaimed, without reservation, that I’m powerless over this substance and admit defeat. But still, occasionally, I wonder. Was that really my last drink? Could I have gotten in one more round? What if I was just a heavy drinker? I’m so much more mature. Surely I could control it now.
I get curious. Curious enough to want to test out my new theories. I dutifully ignore the swath of evidence to the contrary and lay out the reasons why I’m not an alcoholic. And even if I am, even if this obsession to drink like a normal person really is the characteristic of a real alcoholic, isn’t it better to know? The Big Book does say to go out and try to enjoy controlled drinking. I run that by a friend and she responds, “True, but what are the risks? How far do you want to dig?”
Did I quit digging too soon? When I first got sober, I would have said no. My life was an objective disaster. But now I’m not sure it was bad enough. Years have passed without me waking up in a pool of vomit. I have many of the same friends, live in the same city, and even had the same job for almost two years. All of these things were unheard of when I was using. I’m a different person. Aren’t I? Doesn’t all this time without humiliating, dangerous behavior prove that I am?
So the logical next step is to drink. Right?
Life is looking good and therapy is working, so I figure I must have healed all the stuff that had caused me to drink in the first place. I’d suffered trauma—the kind you don’t talk about—so no wonder I self-medicated! Wouldn’t you? But I’ve processed that shit. I’ve filled notebooks with inventories, completed grief workbooks and even tried psychodrama (once). That was it, baby! I’m cured! What else could there be left to work on?
I’ve always envied the people that never doubt their condition. Constantly wondering makes me feel defective and ashamed. Yes, there are medical definitions, but there are also personal ones. That’s what makes defining alcoholism so tricky. I can argue that daily consumption, blackouts, an inability to stop and hospitalizations don’t necessarily make me an alcoholic. It could have been the trauma. Immaturity. Bad luck.
Then, one day, I make the decision to drink again. I tell my boyfriend I no longer think I am an alcoholic and I’ll probably be experimenting with social drinking. I go to work and make a plan. “I’ll have a glass of wine with dinner. Or, no, I’ll go to a bar and order a cocktail.” But before I do anything, I call a friend. I tell her my plan, expecting to hear the usual lines about denial, blah blah, go to a meeting. But she says something entirely unexpected.
“Go for it.”
“Go for it. It’s the only way you’ll really know.”
“But before you do,” she continues, “Just do me a favor.”
She goes on to describe how her boyfriend, who has over a decade of sobriety, went through the same thing. She tells me she did, too. She relapsed, her boyfriend didn’t.
“Why didn’t he drink?” I ask.
“He did one of those online questionnaires. Am I an alcoholic? In 20 questions.”
I agree to look at one and call her back before taking a drink. I do a Google search on my phone and complete the first quiz. Then the next. And the next. An hour later, I’ve completed every online quiz about alcohol use. Every single one. Each confirms what I was trying to avoid, in that most condescending combination of words: Consider quitting or cutting back. Your alcohol use is problematic.
I honestly tried to fail the test. I used the most narrow of definitions for each question. And yet, there it is. I laugh. Suddenly, my anxiety lifts. I look around with a clear head I haven’t felt in a while. The obsession is gone. I don’t want to drink, not even remotely. On my way home, someone calls from an unknown number. It’s a newcomer. A woman who’s been trying to get sober for years, but can’t. I’d given her my number a while back and she decided to use it at this moment. I listen as she shares her struggle, her desperation and her willingness.
I go to bed sober and remember something my sponsor likes to say. If on my deathbed someone tells me that I was cured, that I could have been drinking this whole time, what would I think? Would I regret the years spent sober? I know the answer as I close my eyes. Nope. I’ve never woken up wishing I’d gotten drunk the night before, though I’ve wanted the opposite countless times.