What’s Your Story?
Mine runs something like this: I had a great childhood, though I grew into an anxious adolescent. By high school, I was pretty much OK. Going to college, however — that place of higher learning — changed that.
I hadn’t experienced much of the drinking culture in my small hometown. Instead, I jogged and played tennis and painted and went to movies. I was shocked at first, and then gradually drawn in to the almost nightly ritual of going out. The habit of drinking instead of doing other things was formed here, as was the feeling of being truly lost. The two went together, although I couldn’t see it at the time.
If life can be described as navigating a river, then I started to hit the occasional rapid. Sometimes it was exhilarating — flailing about in the raft, trying to get myself back into the flow of the river, and sometimes it was scary, not knowing what might happen next. Sometimes, without warning, I was thrown from the raft completely. Then life became more like survival.
Still, for most of the journey, I traveled with everyone else on the river, especially with other fun people with floating coolers. You can go a lot of places with these people. You can tie your raft to theirs. You can ride the rapids together. You can befriend them, marry them, and have children together. Then you won’t feel so alone — so afraid when the next rapid hits.
So the end of the story goes like this: I went in way over my head eventually, and began to experience some near-drownings. But as is the nature of addiction, I was less afraid of the dark swirling water when I had alcohol flowing through my veins. Soon, I had to drink during the calm parts of the river, just to anesthetize myself from the stress of being out of control. I was no longer sure where I was headed. Part of me didn’t care.
But as luck would have it, I began to link the rough waters and terror and loss of control with the alcohol itself, and not the river. I began to see what a mind-game the whole thing was — drinking to prevent or survive the effects of drinking. I recognized this, and could talk a good game about why I needed to quit. But I didn’t quit for long.
After decades of living like this, slowly making my way downstream, I could see the foreshadowing of how one might die while drinking on the river. It would happen sooner or later, either by declining health or by being flung one last time into the cold, rushing water. And on some deep level — one that barely registered in my wine-addled brain — I knew the choice of how the story ended was mine.