This post was originally published on October 20, 2014.
It always surprises people when I tell them that there are many people in Alcoholics Anonymous who identify as “addicts”—not alcoholics—because it was their addiction to, say, crack that brought them into recovery. But you would be hard pressed to find a crack addict who could drink like a normal person, or could drink at all without calling the dealer three beers in. While I completely understand that it’s hard for drug addicts to connect to the word “alcoholism,” the way I see it, it’s all the same disease. Still, alcohol addiction can be much trickier to identify as a problem because of how socially accepted—even glorified—drinking is. Pot is making its way up to the status quo but when it comes to smoking meth or shooting heroin, it’s a lot easier for people to accept that they are addicted. Alcohol abuse can be confusing, especially with some of the euphemistic terms that are being kicked around out there, like “functional alcoholic” or “addictive personality” or “Hey, I’m Irish.” Until I got sober in 2003, here are four ways I justified my drinking:
1) I’m Not Nearly as Bad as My Friends
This is a classic. It’s almost the standard entry-level alcoholic excuse. Of course, I honestly believed it was the truth—which it was—but what I didn’t get was that how much my friends drank had zero to do with my own alcohol problem. It’s like going on a month-long chocolate cake binge with Kate Moss and expecting to be the same size as her at the end. When it comes to the human body, we are all vastly different. Since every medication, workout routine, diet and skin care product works differently for everyone, why would I ever justify that ninth glass of white zinfandel just because Keith Richards is still alive? (Note: Keith Richards is not my friend, but you know what I mean.)
2) I’m from Boston
Boston is a city built on drinking—almost literally. Since there is a heavy Irish population—a culture notorious for alcohol abuse and drinking glorification—the city was mostly built by the hands of Irish immigrants (who were most likely drunk). Boston also happens to have more than 100 colleges and universities within its greater metro area so any boozing not done by the locals is well supplemented by the college kids—many of them only enrolled for the party. If you are a local and a college kid, you pretty much run around like you have a license to act like an asshole—which is exactly what I did.
But when I lived in Boston, it wasn’t hometown pride that fueled my drinking; it was that I didn’t know any other way. My parents never drank in the house so I learned how to drink from my older degenerate friends—which means I learned how to drink alcoholically. My first drink was a blackout and so was my second but I was still never thought of as a heavy drinker among my group. But when I moved to Los Angeles, that changed. I started meeting people who barely drank or didn’t drink at all. I quickly became that girl at the bar who pissed in her shoes and called the doorman a n***** (BTW, there is nothing worse than apologizing to someone for calling him the N word).
3) I’m a Fun Drunk
This seems like a hard argument to make after hearing about my atrocious bar demeanor but I honestly thought of myself as one of the more fun people to drink with. And this was only validated by my immense popularity amongst my vast network of friends. This was years before Facebook, so my friends were actual humans I had a relationship with—people who accompanied me to bars and invited me to parties. I was considered wild and funny so I was everyone’s first choice to hang out with (this changed drastically when I got sober). But drama usually ensued by the end of the evening, when my wildness became a liability and the way I made out with the guy my friend was interested in wasn’t seen as funny—well, except to me.
The fun drunk lie also bled into the idea that I couldn’t be fun or funny when I wasn’t drunk. In reality, I was funnier when I was “sober” because I was hungover and covered in shame and I am always more funny when I am uncomfortable and hate myself. I guess I was worried that it was the crazy stories that made me funny—not a talent for telling a story or having a unique perspective on something; instead I thought what made me funny was the fact that I would get so drunk that I would lose my wallet and car. And it was, but after the age of 25 (and once you get healthy friends), that stuff is more seen as sad and troublesome.
4) Only Losers Don’t Drink
This is something I still believe—kidding! But seriously, what even moderate drinker wants to hang out with someone who doesn’t drink? Drinking wasn’t just the basis of my social life, it was how I dated (AKA lured innocent men into my tangled web of bipolar emotionality), how I networked—it was my identity. I couldn’t fathom being the kind of person who didn’t drink. It seemed so sad to me, not unlike the feeling I have when I see a man with a baby stroller and think, “Wow, you really got yourself into a mess, didn’t you?”
In sobriety, I once dated a guy who said he almost didn’t go out with me because I didn’t drink and that bummed him out. And as horrifying as that was to hear, the truth is, I would have felt the same. When I was a drinker, I never would have considered a relationship with someone who didn’t drink—let alone someone in recovery. Ugh! The idea of having to be self-conscious every time I ordered a beer, wondering if I was tempting the person? Or worse, worrying that I was being judging for how much I drank? And what the heck would we do together anyway, have sober sex? Yuck.
If you are one of these people, let me to enlighten you. Sober people don’t care if you drink around them (unless they are brand new). Anyone with six months or more of solid sobriety wants you to do exactly what you would do if they weren’t there. Much like a person in a wheelchair doesn’t want to be treated differently, sober alcoholics are the same. In fact, I get mad when people don’t drink around me or take advantage of having a sober driver. It feels like such a waste. However, if you are going to drink around a recovering alcoholic, make sure to finish your fricking drink. There is nothing that bothers a former drunk more than wasted booze.