I wish I could say I quit drinking for health reasons. Or because I recognized that I simply was consuming far too much alcohol far too often.
But that’s not how addiction typically works. Most people with a drinking problem might tell themselves they’ll quit “one day.” The big lie we tell ourselves is that we have plenty of time before “one day” comes.
Yet, addiction doesn’t wait patiently, sitting on its hands.
You’ve probably heard the term “rock bottom” before. It’s the wake-up call that shakes someone from the delusion that their drinking is harmless. For some, a DUI will do the trick. Others have told me they attempted suicide, served a jail sentence, crashed a car, or even accidentally killed someone before being ready to quit. And, no, it doesn’t have to get this bad before you can choose to quit. But, like I said, most people don’t choose to quit until it becomes the only choice left.
The beginning of what would become my rock bottom started like any other night. I’d just been dumped and wanted to stay home when friends called. Dinner turned into a few bottles of wine, followed by more wine at the karaoke bar next door.
I remember my friend taking my keys – not because she didn’t want me to drive – but because she lived an hour away and didn’t want to make that trek, and she wanted to stay in my bed with her boyfriend.
I don’t remember why I didn’t leave with them. I don’t remember anything else from that night.
When I wake up, I have no idea where I am. I don’t recognize the guy in bed next to me. I reach down and feel under the covers to find out what I’m wearing – a clue as to what happened last night. My cargo pants, buttoned, cover my thighs. Relief comes instantly.
Yet, a nagging feeling tells me to check again. My underwear is missing.
I asked this guy what happened. I find out his name is Jared, and he now thinks I am his girlfriend because he had sex with me last night. He wants to buy me breakfast. He makes no notice of the fact that I’m tense – scared and panicking.
I’ve had one-night stands before. Two, in fact. Neither was great, but neither was anything like this. On those nights, I had been drinking, but not to the point of blacking out. I remembered the sex – the rushed, awkward, and not-very-satisfying sex. Condoms were involved. Neither night was stellar, but nor was either night horrible.
This was different. Anxiety choked my whole body. I hated having to ask if he had been safe. I also hated hearing the answer – he hadn’t been.
I would say “we” hadn’t been, but I can’t say that I was involved in whatever transpired.
Blackouts are tricky because it’s not always possible to tell when someone is in one. I have no doubt Jared was also drunk when he decided to take me home. I must have said yes or somehow seemed into it – or maybe not, and he didn’t care. It haunts me that I will never know.
For me, that night showed me I was doing everything but living my best life. I knew deep down that I had to quit drinking, but it took 2 more years before I was ready to finally put down the alcohol.
Over the next 2 years, I drank at home, alone. I was terrified of repeating what had happened, and I couldn’t be sure I wouldn’t black out again. I drank to comfort myself after what had happened. I drank because that was the only coping skill I knew.
To fill my nights as I drank alone, I started reading every book about alcoholism and how to quit habits. I read Mary Karr’s Lit and Pete Hamill’s A Drinking Life. The more I read, the more I knew I had to quit.
It just sounded so bleak. So final.
Eventually, I picked up a book called, Unhooked: How to Quit Anything by Dr. Frederick Woolverton and Sue Shapiro. Incidentally, I had been living in New York City a few years back, attending therapy at Dr. Woolverton’s practice. He wasn’t my therapist, but I knew of him.
And so one night, drunk on a work trip, I emailed Dr. Woolverton and told him I needed his help. I told him that I had a drinking problem and that I didn’t know what to do.
He emailed back, and we set up a Skype appointment a few days later. Several sessions in, he suggested I at least consider a 12-step meeting. Of course, I didn’t want to go. I figured that I was paying for therapy, so why did I need anything more?
He didn’t give up the idea, so eventually, I found a meeting far enough away from my house that seemed safe in terms of not running into anyone I knew. The whole meeting, I stared at my Adidas. I don’t remember anything helpful being said, but I also wasn’t listening. As soon as the hour passed, I stood up, ready to bolt – when someone blocked my path.
Sue was short, maybe 5 feet, and had fiery red hair. She asked me one simple question: “How are you, honey?”
Immediately the tears came, and I couldn’t stop them. Sue just pulled me into a hug. I knew she knew I wasn’t doing well, as nobody ends up in a 12-step meeting as the result of life being awesome.
When I was finally willing to separate from the hug, she asked: “Can you come to a meeting tomorrow?”
I said I could.
She told me not to drink until then. She told me I could do it, and I believed her.
There’s a lot more to the story that follows, but the short answer is that I never had another drink after Sue hugged me. It’s been 9 years so far. Although my life isn’t without problems, it’s now filled with much more peace, joy, contentment, and stability than I ever could have imagined.
Today, my life is the complete opposite of what I feared would happen if I got sober. Before I quit, I assumed that giving up alcohol would mean an end to the fun, adventure, and wild times – but this is anything but true. Granted, wild times for me now don’t include clubs and staying out till 4 in the morning, and I’m OK with that.
Instead, my life is filled with things like rafting the Colorado River for a month, scuba diving with hammerhead sharks in Costa Rica, and vacationing in Bali. Ask me now, and I’ll tell you that I couldn’t be more grateful that “one day” finally came.
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