I am a 19-year-old college junior with good grades and intelligent, thoughtful friends, a respectable internship, and no tuition payments owed to my school. And if you had told me three months ago that I was going to develop an alcohol abuse problem, I would have laughed in your face.
I didn’t drink in high school. When my freshman year of college rolled around, I probably drank twice a week at most, but when I learned that two of my best friends had been raped on campus, I scaled back on even that.
My vice of choice had always been bulimia. It began when I was 15 and it continued throughout the years, until vomiting just became a part of life, like sleeping or school. The funny thing is, though, that I was 10 times more functional and healthy when I was bingeing and purging three times a day than when I was throwing back shots six nights a week (Sunday was my day of rest).
Sure, when I was bulimic I’d faint occasionally or have difficulty breathing from the high carbon dioxide levels in my lungs, but that was much better than the cigarette burns, sprained ankles, bruises, and slap marks that drinking left me with.
It all started because my friend convinced me to go drinking downtown with her. This wouldn’t have been a problem except I had to be on campus for my shift at 5AM and two days earlier my Prozac dosage had been upped to 60 milligrams. I was dumb and chose to drink anyway; she promised me we would be back before 5.
She kept her word and I did make it to my shift on time, though it would have been better if I had just skipped. I was ridiculously drunk, to the point that I could barely keep my eyes open or sit up. Makeup was smeared all over my face. At some point, I left work an hour early and stumbled back to my dorm.
The fallout was bad. I cried as my boss cut my hours to 10 hours of work a week.
Lack of work left me with a lot of free time, which gave me ample opportunities to mope. I thought about all the relationships I’d screwed up, all the unforgivable things I’d ever said. I remember the first night I began drinking heavily: it was a Tuesday evening and I had a fifth of Skyy vodka in my possession and nothing to do. I went outside, bummed a cigarette from a freshman, and just sat and drank straight from my flask.
Wednesday came and I did the same thing.
And then Friday and Saturday saw me drinking and smoking like nobody’s business, and soon one week of this turned into two weeks, and then three, and before I knew it, I was an alcoholic.
At some point in all of that, I started to get violent. I’d see a boy I knew and would either slap him or have him slap me. I started to hit my friends. I began waking up with cigarette burns or scratch marks that my own nails had given me. I once woke up with a cut on my arm from where a boy had sliced me with an X-Acto knife. Though I grew concerned, I couldn’t quit drinking. Not only did alcohol give me an escape from my banal existence, it also helped me lose weight.
See, bulimia messes up your metabolism so much so that once you start eating normally again –- like 1,200 calories a day normal -– you gain weight like crazy. Especially if you drink lots of fluids. Alcohol, as a diuretic, helped me get around that problem. I could eat 1,200 calories a day, drink all the Diet Coke I wanted, not binge and purge once, and just drink half a handle in the evening and get up the next morning weighing two pounds fewer. It was a cycle I couldn’t break.
Even though I was a size 0 to begin with, I ended up losing five pounds in a week just from drinking. The inner bulimic in me was ecstatic.
My roommates grew concerned. If I woke up in my own bed, I’d find myself wearing other people’s clothes or covered in cat hair or with texts on my phone from classmates asking why I had punched them in the face. Sometimes I woke up in other people’s beds, in other towns, with very little recollection of the past 12 hours.
One of my friends urged me to speak to a counselor, implying that she would tell the area director of our dorm if I didn’t. The last thing I wanted was for the university to know about my alcoholism. Begrudgingly, I met with someone, lying to her that I had gone to AA and was working on my problem, not mentioning that while I had gone to the AA meeting, I didn’t actually attend it because I got lost on the way. I abstained from drinking for the entire weekend and my friends seemed to get off my case about it.
Then another almost-relationship fell apart, mostly because of the stupid, belligerent drunk-texting I would partake in after a few shots of vodka. This was guy #3 in a span of two months who had suddenly and awkwardly stopped talking to me after I drunk-texted him too much. I chugged Crown Russe to soothe the pain. I promised myself I’d stop drinking, or, in the very least, stop texting under the influence.
Around Halloween, I met and befriended a bartender at a local dive. He was cute (what is it with boys with gauged ears?), funny, and best of all, gave me all the free drinks I wanted. Sex on the Beaches, rum and Cokes, shots of Fireball. I bummed his cigarettes.
At first he thought my inability to hold my liquor was cute. He’d bring me to his house after too many cocktails and let me sleep there, no strings attached, or would drive me to my dorm and make sure I got in all right. That’s when the drunk-texting began. I’d get drunk every night and text him things that got progressively more insane-sounding. He stopped texting first, then stopped texting altogether, and finally I got the hint and backed off. When a bartender thinks you drink too much, you probably drink too much.
My parents grew worried, I think. I would see them from time to time, almost always hungover, and they would give me sad, knowing looks. I played it off that I was just tired and threw my 3.5 GPA in their face as proof that I was fiine. They had already spent so much money and time getting me help for my Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and bulimia that it would have broken their hearts to have known I was also an alcoholic.
Throughout the two or so months that my alcoholism raged, I knew I needed to quit. At the back of my mind, I kept promising myself that I’d stop drinking, stop smoking, stop getting into fights with people. But I always found a way to justify or neutralize the severity of my issues -– I wasn’t an alcoholic, I told myself, just a college student.
My turning point –- when I realized I really needed to stop –- was when I literally was dragged off the stage at a strip club. It was a Monday night, no less, and I had just gotten out of one of never-ending my night classes. All my roommates were at the library. I had planned to do laundry and homework, but then my friend Reese* asked me to go see a local band with her. I couldn’t refuse.
Reese and I made our way to a bar downtown. Like a couple of broke college students, we were hoping to find someone to buy us drinks; I had only one dollar in my wallet and she owed $500 on her card. I sat at a stool near the bar, watching the band while I waited for some naïve soul to approach me. Eventually, Robert* wandered up, asked if Reese and I wanted drinks, and then offered to pay for us to go to a strip club. We said yes, of course.
My memory is hazy after that. Robert gave us each stacks of one-dollar bills to throw at the strippers, an offer I happily obliged. All the men in the bar watched as I made it rain. I was a 5’2”, 110 pound girl in jeans and a turtleneck and I was having more fun than anyone else in the club, throwing back drinks and flirting with the girls. Robert commented that it “looked like I knew what I was doing,” so I guess I should include superb strip club patron on future resumes.
One of the dancers thought I was cute. She was little and smelled like baby lotion, and when I woke up on Tuesday I still smelled like her. I don’t remember what happened following that, but I was later told that a security guard dragged me off stage after the stripper dragged me on, I lost consciousness in my friend’s car, and finally went to bed with vomit on my shirt. On a Monday.
I woke up the next morning, sad with the realization that I was “that drunk person.” The one who hits and scratches people; the one who calls people “dumb c*%ts” for no reason; the drunk asshole who stumbles into her dorm plastered every morning. I had alienated so many friends and so many romantic interests. I had scars all over my body, some of them accidental and some of them not. My body hurt. My room was a mess. The hole in my leg from a month-old skin biopsy wasn’t healing.
So I made the conscious decision to get better.
Sobriety is hard. I have to deal with my problems now; I can’t rely on gin or whiskey to make them go away. I have to apologize to all the guys I’ve hurt, all the girls I’ve betrayed, all the people who tried to look out for me. I’m looking for a job to keep me busy. Hobbies, too.
I’m trying. Addiction is common in my parents’ families; my paternal grandfather loves his booze and my mother’s cousins can’t kick methamphetamine. However, that’s not an excuse. I am a rational, whole person who just needed to make the decision to stop.
I can’t let my inner demons define who I am as a person. I am more than a bottle of vodka.