When you come to the place where the branch in the road is quite apparent, you cannot go ahead. You must go either one way or the other. For now if you go straight ahead, you will go nowhere.
― A Course in Miracles
Despite appearances, I know that I’m no high-bottom drinker. I am beginning to wonder if there is such a thing.
But I might look like one to a casual observer. Most of the real consequences of my drinking took place years ago. I am now married (for the second time), I work as a freelance editor and writer (sort of), I have a car (paid for by someone else), and maintain the occasional periods of sobriety. The police haven’t been to my door in ages.
But here is the truth … the decisions I made since I first began to prefer a night of social drinking over anything else color the life that came after it. Eventually, the alcohol soaked the lens by which I viewed everything, especially myself.
If every decision, conscious or unconscious, is viewed as a fork in the road, I made a thousand left turns instead of right, which led me to a life completely unrecognizable from the one I might have lived if I’d never had a drink. But I think this is true of everyone who drinks with any regularity. Even casual drinkers make the occasional left turn. They just can’t see what might have been.
I was a normal kid with a pretty normal upbringing. Neither of my parents are drinkers. But in high school, because I often felt a social awkwardness that I abhorred, the occasional beer or two appealed to me. It was the foul-tasting elixir that turned me into one of the peers I admired ― those outgoing, popular kids who apparently were free of self-consciousness. (It wasn’t until years later, long after I had adopted their ways, that I realized that they often lacked self-awareness as well, as did I by then.)
So even though drinking was relatively rare in my high school years, I made my first major decision based on it: I gravitated toward the college where my drinking buddies were going. I reasoned that it would be more “fun.”
This decision entirely altered my future. Before the drinking, I had friends that were more serious types — interested in books and sports, like me, and dreaming of their careers. As they studiously filled out scholarship requests and sifted through elite schools, I sent out only one application ― to the school called (at the time) the beer-drinking capital of the South. It was a very good school, I told myself, but I went there for totally unrelated reasons.
College, for me, was the real launching pad for drinking, but it didn’t start out that way. My first year, I studied, always went to class, and jogged around campus in my free time. But the boozy, partying college culture began to seep its way into my life, as it did for many of my friends. Every event involved alcohol, and bingeing was a popular pastime. Being “drunk,” something that I would have considered humiliating in high school, became almost acceptable – even a badge of honor among what I judged to be normal people.
In truth, I was no longer connecting with normal people. Normal people were not usually in bars until closing, migrating to late-night frat parties. I was gradually winnowing the “boring” people out, people that the sober me would have found interesting and ambitious. Suddenly, who was at what party, what they were wearing, and the easy grace with which this crowd of moneyed kids moved became what mattered. Character did not. Substance and intelligence did not.
And I was still, at this time, a social drinker ― someone who often drank the least in a particular outing and often the first to go home. But those subtle left turns were taking a toll. They were steering me towards a life that would be shaped around the cocktail hour, the pursuit of superficial qualities, and ― as the years turned into decades ― a life marred indelibly by escalating drinking.
After college, while I worked odd jobs considering my next move, I took a literal left turn in front of an oncoming car. I wasn’t drinking at the time, but I was hungover and late for a party. Did this influence my hasty decision to lurch out into traffic? Probably. The result was a loss of short term memory that lasted for over a year.
So, instead of going to grad school or getting a real job, I chose to go with a friend to waitress in the Caribbean, where the drinking lifestyle was at its richest (left turn). Later, I returned and married someone who drank like I did (left turn). We had drinking in common and not much else. Predictably, after having two children, we went through a contentious divorce (left turn).
At this point, as a single mother with kids ― depleted financially and spiritually, lonely ― wine became my solace, and its grip around my life and my neck did all of its inevitable damage, to both me and my children.
Anyone who has raised children while drinking heavily will understand what this means ― a lifetime of profound regret and excruciating memories. And blank spaces where memories should be.
I really can’t point to any particular bottom, there were so many. But eventually, through the avid reading of alcoholic memoirs and self-help books, coupled with an occasional stint in AA, I began to make some right turns by putting together a few days, then a few weeks of sobriety at a time. I started to free myself from my drinking buddies, knowing that I could only sit through so many awkward hours with them before I finally drank. Then, as the kids got older and left for college, I began a serious spiritual search and once again managed to put together a month here, a month there, and astoundingly, almost 90 days of sobriety.
That was six years ago.
Today, my life is definitely on the upswing. I’ve sustained long periods of sobriety (almost ten months once!) and through self-love and forgiveness and a loving husband, managed to limit the time spent in purgatory ― Cosmopolitan in hand.
I have a life that feels safe now and wonderful. It’s just waiting to be discovered and appreciated. I feel like the stage has been set, and life is just waiting for me to finally make my debut ― not as my drinking self, but as that girl I left behind in high school, the one that I was ashamed of. She’s been waiting in the wings all this time, just waiting for me to finally come back and love her as she is. I want to free myself once and for all from the chains that I have bound myself with. To make a right turn, and never look back.