Let me tell you about my friend, Betsy, and how I used her to justify my drinking. Betsy was pretty and skinny and always up on the latest fashion trends. She was smart and had a great job. She owned a house and drove an expensive car. She came from a great family and had a really hot boyfriend. In my eyes, Betsy had it all. Betsy also drank like a maniac and somehow managed to keep her life together. Or so I thought.
Betsy was my barometer. As long as I wasn’t drinking as much as Betsy or as long as I could escape the predicaments Betsy would find herself in when drinking, I told myself my drinking was okay. As long as I wasn’t as bad as Betsy then I would tell myself I didn’t have a problem. I realize how absolutely insane that sounds. But, I would venture to say most active alcoholics had a Betsy in our life.
You see, Betsy provided me with plenty of barometer testing to keep myself in check. Like the time we went to get a mani/pedi on a Saturday morning. I finished early and went to run some errands before meeting back up with her for lunch. After not hearing from her and calling and texting with no response, I finally gave up and figured she had a change in plans.
Around two that afternoon I got a call from Betsy. She wasn’t sure where she was and I could tell she was drunk. I found her in a grocery store sitting cross-legged on the floor eating a rotisserie chicken off the bone. She wasn’t sure how she got there. I was embarrassed for her and yet it provided me with another “pass” that my drinking wasn’t a problem. I had never gotten wasted at a mani/pedi appointment and found myself eating chicken from the bone like a savage on a Saturday afternoon. Not in public anyway.
When Betsy and I would go out to bars, it was typically me taking care of her, making sure she got home okay. It was the drunk leading the drunker. I always remembered more than she did from the night before, which was not much. In reality I probably didn’t remember more than her…I just remembered different parts of the night, but in my head I would use anything to justify drinking and convince myself that I wasn’t as bad as Betsy.
She would show up drunk to dinner parties. She carried a wine bottle in her purse and made no qualms about it. She drank wine from stemware when she drove. She would pass out at strangers apartments and not remember where her car was. She drove drunk on the regular. Basically, she was always one step ahead of me on the alcoholic barometer. I thought in the back of my head, “when I get as bad as Betsy I’ll stop drinking.” Well, we all know how that story goes. When I got as bad as Betsy—and I did—I couldn’t stop. It was no longer a choice. I imagine that it wasn’t a choice for Betsy either.
Even though Betsy was always one step ahead of me, it didn’t take long for me to catch up. Luckily, the same was true when it came to recovery. Betsy was the first person I saw when I walked into my brother’s funeral. She was sobbing. I stood in front of friends and family and delivered a eugology that included a letter my brother wrote about his struggles with alcohol. Will’s alcoholism progressed to opiate addiction and he overdosed from a fentanyl patch in April 2012.
I didn’t know it at the time but my brother’s death lead Betsy to evaluate her own life and get sober. I continued to drink for several weeks after my brother’s death, but eventually found my way to rehab. Betsy reached out to me when I got back from rehab to let me know that she, too, quit drinking. Four years later, we are both still sober.
I often think about Betsy and how I used her to make myself feel better about my drinking. When I outgrew Betsy and could no longer use her as my barometer, I found other people that I thought were “more alcoholic” than me. What I didn’t realize at the time was that it didn’t matter who I found, it didn’t make me any less of an alcoholic. It never did. For years, I used people to convince myself that I was okay. Here’s a tip: don’t use regulars at bar to justify being a regular at a bar.
There will always be a Betsy. I would imagine that I was a “Betsy” for a lot of people. Hell, I may have been that person for Betsy herself. I had a DUI, Betsy never did. That didn’t make me more of an alcoholic than her. What made us alcoholics is in our brain, not in our actions. You will always be able find someone who drinks more than you, has more DUIs than you, or whose life seems more unmanageable than yours does.
But don’t worry—you’ll catch up. Probably sooner than later. Alcoholism and addiction are progressive like that. My advice would be to stop finding other alcoholics to justify your drinking as normal. If you find yourself wanting to quit drinking and can’t, or if you have little to no control over the amount you drink, you are probably an alcoholic. Use that as your barometer, not a Betsy.