Hi, my name is Mark, and I’m an alcoholic. I’ve been sober for ten years. Prior to that I drank for probably thirty-five years. When people ask if I was always an alcoholic, I used to say yes. It’s not easy to defend my former drinking habits. But while we’re on the subject, let’s take a look at them.
I started drinking when I was fifteen or sixteen years old. A beer here, a sip of whiskey there. The legal drinking age back then was eighteen. I went to high school in Montana in the 1970’s, when the legal age was more of a suggestion than a law. Things were very different then.
I joined the Army after high school. The Vietnam War was winding down, and I was stationed in Oklahoma. There was no chance I would fight in ‘Nam. And there were no more Indians to fight in Oklahoma, so me and the boys sat around the barracks drinking beer and smoking joints, and talked about what we’d do if there was ever another Indian uprising, or if the Vietcong decided to invade Oklahoma.
And for the record, there was never a successful Vietnamese invasion of Oklahoma while I was stationed there. You could look it up if you like…
I discovered the Wide World of Drugs while I was in the Army. Weed, pills, powders, liquids. I never met a drug or drink I didn’t like, except tequila. Yeah, that was a night to remember, if only I could remember it. I’ve heard stories though…
I liked to drink back then. It was fun. Lots of good times. Was I an alcoholic then? No, and yes. I say no only because I need to have a end game, but I had all the hallmarks of someone who would become an addict. I drank, I smoked, I took pills. I was the embodiment of the sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll lifestyle. It was the 70’s, man! All the cool kids were doing it.
When I got out of the Army, I quit popping pills. I no longer had access to the pipeline of drugs that were so readily available on base or in an Army town.
One down, two to go.
I think I liked smoking pot more than I liked drinking at this stage in my life. I seriously loved weed. I’m still not sure why I stopped smoking it. I woke up one morning and I didn’t feel like getting high. I’ve never actually quit smoking pot, I’ve simply never lit up again. Oddly enough, given my affinity for it, not smoking weed again was probably the easiest thing I’ve ever done in my life.
Two down, one to go.
I discovered microbrews and craft beer. Oh. My. God. Grey Goose vodka and the Famous Grouse scotch. And I discovered that my nursing career enabled me to purchase mass quantities of all of the above. I didn’t hang out in bars. When I drank alone, I preferred to be by myself.
You have to be especially inspired to engage in a behavior this destructive against your better judgment. Almost all alcoholics have some major traumatic issues they’re avoiding. I’m no exception to this. I have some serious demons.
Mark Twain’s saying (illustration above) is no doubt true, but when you’re an addict, there’s also a B side to that record that is equally true. I embarrassed my wife. I embarrassed my daughters. If I hadn’t been so out of it, I would’ve realized I was embarrassing myself as well.
I have very few regrets from this stage in my life that are related to the things I didn’t say or do.
Drinking was still fun, most of the time, I think. I certainly told myself it was, but it was also starting to become less and less so. And then I turned forty. I don’t know what it was about forty, but the brakes on the bus started to fade. When I turned forty-five, the brakes failed altogether. Looking back, I’d say I wasted at least half of my life getting wasted. I can’t change that, but I don’t have to perpetuate that behavior any more.
And that brings us back to the beginning and the answer to the question, Were you always an alcoholic? Here’s my vague differentiation regarding my early and late drinking habits.
Early: Was it fun to drink? Yes. Did I drink a lots? Yes. Was I drunk all the time? No.
Late: Was it fun to drink? No. Did I drink a lots? Yes. Was I drunk all the time? Oh hell yes.
That’s where the whole alcoholic thing set in as I see it now. Any time you have to get drunk to feel ‘normal,’ you have a serious problem. For ten years I persisted in a behavior I really didn’t enjoy all that much, but getting drunk was the only thing that mattered to me. It makes no sense, but logic and rational thought don’t apply when it comes to addiction.
The end to my drinking career came in late 2005. I went on an epic binge drunk and almost killed myself to death. When I came to, I knew I had to do something, or I might not survive the next one. I talked to my lovely wife, and she helped me decide what to do. She told me she would support me, and added if I didn’t quit drinking, I had to leave our home. She had had enough.
I reluctantly started going to AA. As I was driving to my first meeting, which just happened to be held at Fairview Medical Center, the hospital that saved my wife, I was praying for the road to open up and swallow me before I got there. I think I cried tears of relief all the way home afterwards. To the members of Squad 46, the bestest squad in all the land, you all contributed to saving my life, and I want to take this time to say,
I had one relapse about one year into my first year of sobriety–in September of 2006–picked up right where I left off. I don’t need to go down that road again to find where it might lead. That was ten years, one month and eight days ago. It took me a long time to come to this realization, but sobriety is the coolest drug I’ve ever tried. If I’d only been willing to try it sooner…