I distinctly remember my first drink. It was a glass of woody Merlot, sipped nervously with my parents at a Shakespeare play in downtown Atlanta. I remember asking my mom if I was feeling the effects yet. After sipping half the glass (and not enjoying the taste), “Have I had enough to feel it yet?”
“Why don’t you let me finish that for you,” she said.
I could say I was an alcoholic from my very first drink for that reason alone. I was only looking for the effect. But let’s allow the story to play out for a bit.
I approached alcohol in, what I thought, was a scientific manner. I kept a journal of everything I drank, how much I drank, how long it took to affect me, and how long the effect lasted. You see, I was looking for the greatest effect with the fewest amount of calories.
My parents (I was still living at home) let me do my thing. So long as I kept my bar locked up in my room and my drinks hidden in solid plastic cups, they didn’t have anything to say about my drinking. After all, I had assured them I was mature enough to handle it. And I had never given them a reason to doubt my maturity.
Within a month of starting drinking, the cocktails I mixed to bring to dinner were 3-4 shots strong. I would have one cocktail with dinner and another after and then several shots throughout the night. I had found my solution to all of my emotional problems. Alcohol was solving everything. I finally felt comfortable in my own skin. I wasn’t twitching anymore. If I felt numb, it made the numbness go away. If I felt too emotional, it helped me feel numb.
Alcohol was my answer.
I did not go back to wine after that first glass. I read about schnapps, vodka, and tequila and decided to try those. Within six weeks of my very scientific alcohol experiment, I was drinking shots alone in my bedroom, often drinking as much as half a fifth every night.
I found my true love in gin. I could go on and on about gin and how much I loved drinking it. Instead, I’ll tell you that I managed to drink so much of it that within a year I
gave myself an allergic reaction to it. If I had so much as a sip of Bombay Sapphire or Tanqueray I would break out in hives and my eyes would swell shut.
So when did I become an alcoholic? When did I cross that line from normal drinker to alcoholic?
I don’t think I was ever a normal drinker. For me, one or two drinks was never enough. I always had to have more. I chased the effect. Craved it. Once I started drinking, I could not stop.
I became an alcoholic at my first sip of wine. To a certain extent, I believe I was born and bred to be an alcoholic. All I needed was the right catalyst.
My parents tell a story about how they stopped drinking in their youth. They were a young married couple and had two children – my older brother and me. Faced with a decision between buying a case of beer or shoes for their youngest, they decided they needed to stop drinking. So for 20 years they didn’t drink.
At least that’s the story they tell.
When I was 22 they started drinking again. That gave me permission to start experimenting myself. After all, I was an adult of legal drinking age. And I was responsible and mature. I’m sure my parents didn’t expect me to start drinking whole bottles of liquor all by myself in my room alone at midnight.
But that’s what I did. And once I started I didn’t stop. I continued drinking for 13 years. For the majority of those years I was a high functioning alcoholic (defined here by WebMD). I managed to hold a job, I maintained a few friendships, I even fell in love and got married, but I needed alcohol in all of those situations in order to feel confident in myself.
Of course, I couldn’t maintain the “high functioning” part of my alcoholism. This is just the beginning of my story. There’s plenty of misery to come.
If you or someone you love is struggling with alcoholism, there is help and hope. You can find resources on my Resources page or Google AA meetings in your area.