IT HAPPENED TO ME: A 70-Year-Old Man’s Story Made Me Realize I Was An Alcoholic

I’d clearly misread the meeting description online when I thought it said “young, hip meetup for folks just going through a phase.”
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Publish date:
June 5, 2015
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Tags:
alcoholism, recovery, AA, Sobering Up, Musician, Alcoholic

I instantly regretted showing up.

I stood in the entrance of a church basement, looking out into a sea of empty folding chairs and children’s books. It was just me and a little old black man well into his 70s. I’d clearly misread the meeting description online when I thought it said “young, hip meetup for folks just going through a phase.”

I was two days sober.

I got drunk for the first time at 15. Someone passed me a Zima at a friend’s party and before I knew it, everything was hilarious and I had to pee a lot. I was usually shy and awkward around guys, but that night I got two phone numbers. When I got home, I made it past my mom undetected, and collapsed onto my bed feeling like I’d just struck gold.

I loved drinking. I was pretty good at it. Nobody knew when I was drunk, and that made me feel mature and in control. It was a point of pride that I could drink like “a grown up.” Which to me meant I could do it. A lot.

I started with wine coolers and quickly upgraded to tall shots of the gin hidden behind my parent’s bar, refilling the liquor bottles with water so they wouldn’t notice. I was a tragic angry 16-year-old reading Valley of The Dolls alone in my room and the whole thing felt really romantic.

By the time I hit my 20s, a shitstorm of depression, anxiety, and family tragedies had me self-medicating. I discovered that when you mix pills with alcohol, they work faster. The faster they worked, the less I felt.

I became a full-time musician, and while doing what I loved was amazing, it also made drinking daily incredibly convenient. I spent six days a week in a bar and was almost always paid in drink tickets.

Most of the time my drinking seemed pretty innocuous. A couple beers jamming with my buddies. Wine at networking events. We were all doing it. The problem was, I was doing it just about everywhere, and everyday.

My drinking problem went undetected, mostly because I wanted it that way. With booze, I became an actress. Nobody asked questions.

I knew I had a problem, but brushed off dealing with it because I didn’t look like an alcoholic. I saw an alcoholic as a slimy middle-aged dude in a wife-beater passed out on the couch. But me? I was moving and shaking! I was young and attractive and no one would ever accuse me of being an alcoholic. Mostly because I surrounded myself with people who drank just like I did.

We drank to celebrate and commiserate, magnify our feelings or totally obliterate them. I drank to numb the parts of myself that still felt like an awkward 15-year-old loser.

I was married to the romantic idea of being the tortured writer who drank whiskey to make art. In reality, I was spending all day in my pajamas, taking frequent “writing sabbaticals” and not writing a Goddamn thing.

I was trying so hard to make it seem like I had it all together. Until one night, on tour, I finally hit my breaking point.

I was in Georgia playing my first sold-out show. Before the show I’d promised myself I wouldn’t drink, but by soundcheck I was on my second glass of wine. Afterward, I went to my friend’s place and holed up, closing the blinds and sinking into a depressed stupor. I watched TV all night, drank, ate basically everything he’d left in the cabinets, and then threw it all up. I woke up the next morning feeling like I wanted to die.

I got on my laptop, googled “Alcoholics Anonymous Georgia” and found a meeting a few blocks away.

And so there I sat, staring blankly at an old man in a church basement, wondering if I belonged there at all. But as soon as he started talking about struggling to control his drinking, I heard my story. He shared about staying clean for years, and it gave me some hope.

Finally, he looked straight at me and said,

“Honey, taking that first drink is like walking to the center of town in the dead of winter without a coat on and pissing yourself. It feels reeeeal good at first….”

And I finally got it: My very first drink was a relief, like I’d finally found myself. Everything that came after that just drifted me further away from the woman I wanted to be.

It’s been two years since I stepped foot in that church basement -- and I still haven’t picked up a drink. I'm sharing this now, on my anniversary, because other people's stories are a big part of the reason I got here at all. If it weren’t for them, I probably never would have gotten past my shame and gotten help.

It hasn’t all been a party. My brain still whines when I order club soda instead of a rum and coke. It tells me that AA is culty and weird and what I really need is to meditate more. It singles out people I admire and says “Sheee drinks cabernet! She makes 100k a year. Wine is good for you!” It points out studies claiming that people who drink 2-3 glasses of wine a day live longer and says “SEE!!!”

When that happens, I go to a meeting, or reach out to friend who gently reminds me to stop comparing my insides to somebody else’s outsides. If I can’t do that, I bring it back down to the simplest equation: Just don't drink today. Worry about tomorrow, tomorrow.

Quitting drinking didn’t make all my problems go away, but I’m better equipped to handle my problems when I’m not drinking. Even when I've screwed up and made a hundred mistakes, I know I’ve kept one tiny but profound promise to myself: I didn’t drink.

I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been. I’m writing again. Every day, I’m showing up for myself.

And for that, I have zero regrets.