After my AA meeting – in which I refuse to take my “30 days sober” chip, stating quite matter-of-factly that I can’t commit to sobriety yet – I find myself walking alongside the road, searching for the nearest liquor store late at night.
To a non-addict, this would set off about a million alarms. But to me, nothing about my situation was troublesome.
I had been plotting my next drink obsessively the entire thirty days I’d been sober, and I’d finally devised the perfect moment to enjoy a solitary night of drunkenness.
That is, until a man starts to follow me. He comes from behind, asking me what my name is, where I’m going, if I’d like to talk, if I’d give him my number, if we could talk on the phone sometime, and he insists I shouldn’t walk away, insists that I’m being rude when I try to, insists that he’s just a nice guy.
A nice guy that is getting in the way of my drinking. A nice guy that doesn’t realize that I am transgender and this whole exchange is awfully gay, which I suspect isn’t his intention.
I’m growing impatient and afraid. Finally, I fake a phone conversation to pull myself away.
Shaken, I hide out in a cafe while the “nice guy” huffs and puffs about the rejection as he paces down the street. I promise myself that tomorrow I’m buying enough alcohol to hide multiple stashes in my apartment so I never have to wander around this fucking late again.
I tell my therapist the story a few days later, being sure to emphasize over and over that I’ve never really had a problem with drinking.
He looks at me and asks, “Sam, do you see that you’re not in control?”
His words shake me, hard, like I’m being woken up suddenly from a deep sleep.
No, I wasn’t in control. And it’s painful to realize, because it confirms what everyone has been saying but I desperately didn’t want to admit: Somehow, some way, I’d developed a drinking problem.
I think about the AA meeting I had been at before I went wandering that night. I think about how I couldn’t concentrate because the mere mention of alcohol was causing me to obsess and ruminate. I think about how I had promised myself, right in the middle of someone saying that alcohol had ruined their life, that I would go straight to the store after the meeting and not tell anyone.
You’d think the rousing speech about the dangers of alcohol would’ve had the opposite effect, but not for me, because I thought I was special – not like them, not like that.
And you’d think that would be another warning sign for me – that kind of obsession and the subsequent need to hide it, paired with the denial of my struggles – but it didn’t matter.
Really, none of the warning signs ever mattered, because drinking was more important than the truth, or my safety, or my sanity.
I knew that drinking agitated my bipolar disorder, and I still did it. I knew drinking was a terrible idea with the numerous psychiatric medications I was on, and I still did it. I knew drinking only made my problems worse, and I still did it.
My affinity for alcohol defied logic or reason.
I was told once that if you want to know if you’re an alcoholic, take a drink. But for me, I didn’t realize I was an alcoholic until I stopped drinking.
My drinking hadn’t created catastrophic consequences like the stories I’d heard in AA – I had yet to reach a point where drinking had ruined my life, though I’m certain that’s where I was headed.
But when I stopped drinking, a really painful truth came into view: in the absence of alcohol, the intensity of my obsession became undeniable.
It was no longer about a fun night out and was instead a sinister compulsion, one that I struggled to maintain control over.
When I sought out help, I was given two options: Get out of the game while I’m still ahead, or wait until I lose.
I could commit to sobriety wholeheartedly, or I could relapse and go back to drinking. Drinking, I was warned, would mean getting help later, when the consequences were more dire and I was deeper into my addiction.
Alcoholism, I was reminded, is not a game that someone wins.
And that’s exactly why I’m taking a medication to make myself violently ill.
That is, a pill called Antabuse, which, if taken while you consume any amount of alcohol, will result in an adverse reaction. Most folks know it as the pill that makes you vomit if you have a drink – but the reaction is complex, severe, and downright horrible.
We’re talking like, exorcist-style vomiting after a beer. It’s not fun.
But you know what else isn’t fun? A DUI. Spending the night in jail. Blacking out and waking up on the street. Alcohol poisoning. Destroyed relationships. Losing your job.
And while alcohol has not wreaked this kind of havoc in my life yet, people just like me – people with the same addiction – have ended up in these and worse situations, after swearing for years, like I did, that they didn’t have a problem.
I am not exceptional, or special, or strong-willed: Alcoholism is not a game that I can win, either.
But I can be thankful for the early opportunity to take control. I can pursue sobriety knowing that it’s the better choice for me. I can accept that I struggle with an addiction to no real fault of my own.
I can waste time trying to justify my drinking by saying I didn’t get drunk too often, or I didn’t really drink too much, or that there’s nothing wrong with drinking alone – the hamster wheel in my brain has spun for weeks upon weeks like this, making a million excuses about my drinking.
But it’s clear that my brain is wired in such a way that I am inclined to abuse alcohol, so I need to stop putting myself in situations where I do.
Even if it means taking a pill to remove any shred of enjoyment I could find in drinking. Even if it means threatening myself with intense illness just to battle my cravings. Even if it means running the risk of becoming dreadfully ill if I relapse.
This is the best chance I have at a future that doesn’t involve senseless pain and an unmanageable addiction. This is the best chance I have at sobriety and wellness.
If it means taking a pill that could make me sick, I guess that’s what I’m doing.