Hi, my name is Gretchen, and I am an alcoholic.
I really shouldn’t have so much to bitch about.
Born an only child, and growing up as something of a “military brat,” I have always been an introvert who learned to play the role of an extrovert. Moving across the States (and the world) frequently as a younger person, I learned early on how to “fake it to make it.”
Ironically, decades after learning myriad techniques for getting by, it all came crashing down around me and I lost my ability to cope, my house, my job, my car, and most of the people who I always suspected – who I knew deep-down inside, in the dark of night where my tears were the only sound to drown out those nagging voices of doubt, fear, and self-loathing inside my head – I was sure they would abandon me once they figured out the faker underneath it all. Whoever the hell that faker had become.
I started drinking at a fairly young age by American standards. Of course, people have commented that I looked and behaved as though as I was older than my chronological age for all of my life. That used to feel like a compliment – I was quite the “popular” teenager, although strangely most of my so-called friends turned into hoodlum Houdini’s once I doled out the booze I had acquired with my fake ID and deep voice.
As a teenager I was curious, and was often told how smart I was. One day a friend and I decided that smart+curious=trip to a parent’s basement to scope out anything of interest. Among the treasures we found was The Bartender’s Guide to Mixology. Not just any guide, nor just for any bartender, but THE Bartender’s Guide to Mixology! Naturally the bookshelf it was in had very few other books, but the bottles in the shelves combined with this book of magic potions was all we needed.
So there we were, two curious, allegedly smart nerds, about to have our first drink. The choice was made – something called “a Manhattan.” The first one was wonderful. So was the second. Shortly thereafter we were the two nerdiest 14-year-old drunks in town. And so began my career as a professional alcoholic.
Throughout most of my adult life I lived a “traditional” life in public and a rather different one in my own head. I thought of myself as a social drinker, never having more than two drinks in public. As tears went by and life got more complex, I continued to use wine as a “social lubricant.” What could be the harm in that? It was just wine. I never consumed more than two glasses of wine in public. And I was the belle of the ball, the person whose table people rotated around so they could share in witty bon mots about the shallowness of others, refreshing small talk wholly reflective of the total nothingness that is suburbia, mindless chitter chatter for we, the upper-middle-class masses, to pass the time in between PTA meetings, mowing the lawn, polishing our nails, and otherwise giving the Brits a damned good run for use of the title “Lives of Quiet Desperation.”
As the mundane drone of life went on, I began to find that two glasses of wine was not enough to get me through the various social outings that I felt obliged to go for fear that the other attendees would all talk about me in my absence. So I learned the delicate art of “pre-drinking” – consuming as much wine as possible as quickly as possible in the alloted time when no-one else was home.
Even while engaging in pre-drinking, I rigidly maintained my two glasses in public rule. Not once did I break that limit. After all, I told myself, I had the “post-drinking” to look forward to. And of course, it was still just wine. once I was home, safely ensconced in my private chamber of alcoholism, I could and did drink until I passed out. I even started adding in an occasional nostalgic Manhattan.
Eventually the blackouts started arriving, along with the mornings of discovering new bumps, bruises, and scrapes (always accidentally self-inflicted, to the best of my knowledge). Hangovers were a thing of the past. If I woke up with a headache, or shaking hands, or just thinking I could use a drink, that would mark the start of that day’s pre-drinking.
Days become weeks, weeks became months, and months became years. Over time, the few people I had not totally isolated myself would periodically try their best to help. Some asked if I was trying to kill myself. My answer to them was always “No, of course not.” But inside I knew I was choosing a very slow, very painful, and very selfish form of suicide.
At times I even thought of taking a quicker way out.
At other times, the best of intentions from some people actually made things worse. But today, looking back, I am grateful. I walked the line and got a chance to start over.
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