Hello, my name is Mommy, and I’m an alcoholic.
I don’t look like the type. I’m a middle-class, church-going, educated 36-year-old — a far cry from the hiccuping, red-nosed drunk pictured in old-timey Western films. Nevertheless, I’ve come to realize that I’ve inherited the alcoholism gene.
I come from a long line of boozers. My dad was an alcoholic who quit drinking when I was a baby. I have never been ashamed of my dad’s alcoholism because I recognized it not as a moral failure, but rather a genetic disorder that rendered him incapable of “switching off” his drinking once he started.
As it turns out, my brain is wired with that same faulty “off” switch.
My relationship with alcohol has always been complicated. Hooch was like a loser boyfriend I couldn’t dump. For many years, I was stuck in a vicious cycle where I’d get trashed, then break up with him for a trial separation, then use him in moderation for a few months until I’d eventually drink myself sick.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
When I inevitably found myself puking into the porcelain god, I’d set strict ground rules for future consumption in order to manage the problem.
From now on, I‘ll only drink on the weekends. This is a frequency issue.
From now on, I‘ll stay away from hard liquor. This is a proof percentage issue.
From now on, I‘ll stick with beer. This is a type-of-brew issue.
Of course, my ground rules never worked because the issue was not external at all — it was my brain. It turns out, when you inherit a dysfunctional “off” switch, self-imposed precepts are no match for the drinking goblin that rules your noggin. You are basically allergic to alcohol.
Normal individuals can get a light buzz and stop themselves. Not me. When I have a drop of alcohol, my brain says, “This feels great. I’d better have a gallon of gin so I can keep these endorphins pumping. Also, wouldn’t it be funny if I picked a dance battle with that random hipster since “Can’t Touch This” just came on?” (Note: I totally won. But I digress.)
It took me a while to admit I had the alcohol allergy because sometimes I’d succeed and drink in moderation, which lulled me into a false sense of security. But the truth was, I never knew who was showing up to the barstool. Would it be “One-Drink Crystal”? Or would it be everyone’s favorite trainwreck “Drink-the-Entire-Damn-Bottle Crystal”?
I was never alcohol dependent. I never let drinking interfere with my job or my relationships. I never got in trouble with the law. But as the Big Book of AA book reminds us, we can’t play mind games by using the ol’ never-have-I-ever argument. Alcoholism is a progressive disease. The body craves homeostasis, and so what starts as heavy drinking will eventually degenerate to a point of substance dependence. If you have the alcohol allergy, just insert the word “yet” when you feel like justifying yourself based on worst-case scenarios.
For example: I don’t have a drinking problem because…
I’ve never had a DUI — yet.
I’ve never been unfaithful to my spouse — yet.
I’ve never robbed a 711 with a Nerf gun — yet.
I’ve never streaked across the Super Bowl football field at half-time — yet.
I’ve never shit my pants at a work function just before telling my boss he’s killing us all slowly with his chimichanga breath — yet.
I never hit rock bottom, but I could see it in the distance, and by the grace of God, I decided to break up with alcohol before I arrived there.
I won’t lie to you and say sobriety has been easy. Booze is everywhere in this day in age — it’s at football games, brunches — heck, it’s even at children’s birthday parties. And when you decline a hard drink people assume you’re either pregnant or holier than thou which is just freaking awkward, and let’s face it, makes you want to drink.
Besides that, the world is a scary and confusing place. Personally, since I can no longer consume liquid courage, I’m trying prayer and meditation and eating all the carbs in the house. Stress eating is the new blackout drunk, y’all.
Perhaps you’ve wrestled with the fermented demon juice yourself. If so, I want you to know a few things:
You are not a loser.
You are not a failure.
You are not alone.
Maybe today’s the day you admit that you, too, have a faulty “off” switch. Be brave. And when that fails, you can come sit by me at the football game/brunch/birthday party. We’ll eat all the snacks and take turns reassuring people we’re not pregnant. It’ll be a hoot.