*** Submitted by Gwen Ordell
I finish other people’s drinks. I have a drink while getting ready to go out. Sometimes two. Recently, that drink was powdered Gatorade mixed with water and gin because that’s all we had in the house. I change when I get drunk. I get mean. Like my dad. More often than not, I drink to excess. I forget things. Entire conversations. How I got home. Things I said. I find myself apologizing. And agonizing.
My hangovers are mentally destabilizing. I want to stay in bed all day, and even though I am currently unemployed and could technically lie around all day doing not much of anything, my day-after anxiety is so bad that most days I leap out of bed and eat a little Adderall to get going. The drug probably only exacerbates the anxiety, but when I am in a bad state, I believe I need it to function, to get out the door for a run or to the store or before an interview. The physical accompaniments are nothing in comparison to the mental anguish I experience the day after a night of heavy drinking. A few people I know feel the intense mental debilitations that I do; we call it rotting. I’d assumed we’d just accepted it as an unfortunate addendum to the fun, but perhaps there was more to it.
I am a marathon runner. I take good care of my boyfriend and our dog. I have close friendships and lots of hobbies. I am smart. I clean the house, cook dinner, read The New Yorker, practice yoga, visit art galleries and museums, have lunch regularly with a woman my grandmother’s age.
And I drink. A lot. I don’t know when to hit the Stop switch. I don’t think I have one. Sometimes I only have a single beer or a glass of wine. My boyfriend, B, and I can go out to dinner, and I don’t need to get drunk. I don’t need to drink at all, but usually I do. If I am out with friends or at a party, I have a hard time stopping because I always think I need more. I’m never drunk enough. I want to keep the party going. I will say that I don’t feel anything, and I will order a fifth or sixth drink. The next day I will remember the point at which I didn’t feel drunk yet, the point at which I kept on drinking, the point which led me to forget the rest.
It’s odd to me that some people can get wasted and nothing bad will happen. And others, like me, inevitably become darker and different at the end of the day or night. I mostly know this because of what my boyfriend has told me and also because I’ve seen it in my own father. Some of my friends get drunk only rarely now. We are not in college now, so dealing with a bad hangover and high level of unproductivity several times a week is unacceptable. Inappropriate even. But lately, I've been going hard most nights I partake in imbibing.
“Do you remember breaking up with me last night?” B asked me the morning after what I thought had been an amazing evening of entertaining in our apartment. My sister was in town. Our friends had joined us for dinner as well, and although I’d known we had consumed a lot of wine (and gin and beer), and all been pretty buzzed, I didn’t think anything untoward had gone down. I didn’t remember fighting with B! Since he was acting nonchalantly casual and not pissed off, we dropped the topic. Maybe he was joking?
It didn’t take long for me to get drunk again and wake up feeling like garbage, the night before a mere blur. This time, when B and I sat down to talk about what had happened, he told me he thought I had a drinking problem. The words “high-functioning alcoholic,” “reliance on prescription drugs,” “whole new level of crazy,” stung.
What was he saying? Was he leaving me? What exactly had transpired the night before?
These questions, these thoughts are so common and painful that I don’t know how I’ve gotten by so long. I don’t know how I haven’t destroyed all of my relationships.
It seemed the only way out of the conversation with B was to agree with him. No point in defending myself if I couldn’t even recall what had passed between us. But that was the truth, anyway, wasn’t it? B was right: I have a drinking problem.
Later that day, I went online and googled high-functioning alcoholic, and I found loads of information. I share a lot of the traits of an HFA, but does that mean I am one? Maybe I just have a problem that I’ve yet to learn to control consistently. I can say that I might have a drinking problem, but I am not ready to say that I am a high-functioning alcoholic. If I were to say that, what would it mean? I’d have to stop drinking altogether? Go to AA meetings? Tell people I no longer drink? Tell them I am an alcoholic? NEVER again savor a glass of wine? Be the person at parties who drinks sparkling water with lime?
I know I need to do something. I need to make changes in my life. And I intend to. The idea of waiting until I hit rock bottom to shape up doesn’t exactly thrill me. The thought of losing B because I cannot hold my liquor and when I have too much, I flare up and become a belligerent being and hurt him tremendously scares me like nothing else in the world but, then again, so does never drinking again.
And that there, of course, is the real problem.