I was six or seven when I had my first alcoholic beverage. Well, it was only a sip, but the memory is still strong. It was summer and my dad had been working outside, maybe he’d just finished mowing the lawn or chopping some wood. When he finished he came in the kitchen and pulled a beer bottle out of the fridge, probably Budweiser or something similarly American, and took a swig. I knew kids weren’t supposed to drink but I asked, “Can I try a sip?” and he let me have a tiny sip because hey, it’s was the 1970’s. I nearly spit it out it was so disgusting. Why would anyone drink this metallic tasting piss water when there were better things to be had like soda pop and milk shakes?
I didn’t drink again until maybe the summer of 1991. A bunch of friends were over at my house and my parents were in California. One of the kids was looking through the kitchen cupboards for something to munch on when he suddenly shouted, “Look what I found!” Up high and at the back of the cereal shelf were several bottles of hard liquor—which I’d never seen my entire life despite using that cupboard regularly. Hell, I’d never seen either of my parents drink anything besides the rare bottle of beer or glass of wine, usually when entertaining friends or family, so the discovery was a complete surprise to me. The bottles were almost full and all had a healthy coat of dust so we did what any 17/18 year olds might do given such a bounty. We started doing shots. Well, that’s not exactly true. They started doing shots. Me? I just wanted to watch movies, but I did want to see what all the fuss was about, so I filled a pint sized glass with vodka and proceeded to drink it as if it were water—my God did it taste terrible! Worse, nothing happened. I didn’t feel any different. I didn’t talk any different. I didn’t walk any different. Absolutely no change. What the hell? I was surrounded by swirling, dipping, laughing, cajoling teenagers who were obviously impacted by these nasty liquids, but my body was literally having no reaction. So I sat and tried to watch a movie while barely tolerating their shenanigans. At least that’s how I remember that evening.
There was another time, probably during that same summer, where I was downtown with a few of the same guys. I don’t have clear memories of the order of events that night, but we’d all had a few drinks and ended up at a tea shop where someone was sharing their experiences RE: the challenges of coming out of the closet in a small town. Unknown to me until I walked in my therapist was hosting the event and, oh, he was gay! Not that I cared (in the parlance I’m an “Ally”) but I don’t think either of us expected this aspect of his life to come out while I was buzzed at a coffee shop 30 miles from his office with my equally buzzed teenage friends. Anyhooo…afterwards we went to someone’s house and proceeded to have what I’d consider probably the only real “wild party” I’d ever been invited to during high school. I proceeded to get hammered while playing some drinking game and by the time the early morning hours came around everyone had found a couch or patch of carpet to fall asleep on. The next day I’d come to experience my first hang over.
I don’t recall drinking again until I was nearly twenty one. I was repelled by the taste of beer. I hated the taste of wine. And hard liquor, yuck! I preferred downing one to two liters of Coke or Pepsi every day. Kept me hydrated and energized. Soda was cheap—and legal—so it was a habit I was all too happy to embrace.
I got engaged when I was twenty. The honeymoon period was, well, unimaginably awesome. When that passed, though, I was having a full on war with my inner demons, which were coming out in the form of depression and suicidal ideation. So sometimes when we were at the grocery store I’d ask her to grab a bottle of wine (since I couldn’t) and then we’d go back to the apartment, have a few glasses together, maybe watch a movie, maybe have some sex. Whatever the case, on those occasions I did drink it was in part to dull the edge of my increasingly agitated emotions. Generally, though, neither of us went overboard, but there was one time I’d had too much, got angry about something (probably something extremely stupid), and threw a bowl of Pace Picante sauce at a wall. Months later, when my depression had gotten pretty damn bad, I found myself alone one night with a bottle of fine German win her best friend from high school had given us as a gift (she’s now a notable singer from a famous 90’s Riot Grrrl band). But generally speaking I didn’t drink all that much, all that often. My gremlins were Depression and suicidal ideation.
Then there were the times my co-workers would invite me to a nearby bar after work (after I’d turned 21, of course). Bars had never been an aspect of my life (hell, I don’t even recall my parents ever going to one) but being included in any tribe made me feel special. My manager suggested I try something more to my taste so I’d usually have one, maybe two, Jack and Cokes. That was enough because A) I didn’t absolutely love it, B), I’d be driving later, and C) I wasn’t made out of money. I did, however, like that I was a hell of a lot less socially anxious after a J&C. Also, as I write this I now recall one occasion one of my female coworkers invited us all out on her weekly bar hopping spree (she was likely an alcoholic, just didn’t bring it into work). We’d end up at some crowded bar and if we did find somewhere to sit is was so loud and rowdy we absolutely weren’t able to engage in any meaningful conversation—which is the only reason I’d agreed to tag along. Most places near campus were so overcrowded it was a drama just squeezing through the drunken masses before making hand signals at each other that we’d have to go somewhere else. Needless to say, that night I learned bar hopping was not my thing.
There’s a story in there of a girl I had a major crush on who turned out to be an alcoholic. She drove to my place once completely hammered. She wanted to make out but I put a stop to that and had a long talk with her during which I unfriended her (and that’s a huge thing as at that point in my my life I’d never stopped being anyone’s friend). But that’s another story for another time…
It wasn’t until 1999 or so where I learned to pack down the whiskey. I had a girlfriend who could slam them down like nothing and her family were frequent bar goers. So I learned to keep up. Still, after that, drinking wasn’t a regular thing. And it wasn’t generally something I ever did alone. It was always with friends or at a crazed out company function where alcohol was the least of people’s concerns. Then, and generally only then, would I pack down four or five or ten shots then simmer down on a couch before later getting back home and having a perfectly restful night. It wasn’t until I started experiencing the first symptoms of Lyme disease (+ bartonella + babesia) that I tried on alcohol again, but that was only for an evening or two every now and then during the first two months of the early symptoms. Simply put, it barely helped cover up the pain these infections were causing so, after I realized a bottle of whine a couple nights a week wasn’t doing shit, I went to see the doctor, which began 10+ years and $70k+ trying to find an answer, with some moderate drinking interspersed, but nothing most would consider out of the ordinary for a normal person having a few with their friends.
It wasn’t until about five years ago I started drinking with any regularly. I was mostly over the Lyme stuff (but dealing with post-Lyme symptoms, which are what you hear about with post-COVID folks). And it wasn’t because I felt I had to drink. No. It’s because I had to commute in to and from work on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, on the train (or MAX, as we call it here in Portland). After having to get up early to make it to work on time, the 30+ minute commute in on the train, and and 8 hour day at the office, I was usually in a significant amount of physical pain. So I’d stop at a pub on the way to the MAX station (Paddy’s) and have a double scotch and often a bowl of soup before the commute home. It softened the blow of a usually bumpy ride which, without any type of pain management, could be 30+ minutes of hell. Some nights, though not often, I’d stop at my favorite dive, about a block from my house, and have another drink, but that was usually only on Fridays. Drinking wasn’t something I did because I was, at least in the typical sense, an alcoholic that needed a drink. It was something I did to lessen the regular trauma of commuting with the symptoms I was experiencing (and getting no help with from my doctors).
And then came COVID. And for the first time in my life, after the world stop, I needed to hear my parent’s voices every couple of days. But they stress me out. They always have. That’s a blog post or two (or twenty). I called them every couple of days, but I found I absolutely needed a couple of drinks to bare more than five minutes on the phone with them. For one thing, I don’t like talking on the phone (with anyone). And for another, they’ve never been the best listeners—and in my sober state, people who don’t listen drive me up a fucking wall. So I did what any sane person would do under the circumstances as they try to keep sane: I became an alcoholic.
But then, what is an alcoholic? I don’t drink every day. I don’t feel the need to. I almost never, when I do drink, do so before 6pm. And, with rare exception, do I drink to absolute excess. Hell, since my dad died and the regular phone calls died with it my drinking pattern went down to once every two to three days to two times a week (generally one in moderation and one to excess, the latter usually being on a Friday). I sometimes think wow, you’ve really gone too far. Then I live with an alcoholic for awhile and get to see, first hand, what that’s like. Talk to another friend who’s struggled with it for a decade and think, yeah, well, I drink more than is healthy, but I don’t drink enough that it would cause me to loose my job or end up at a detox center. Hell, on a normal night I don’t even have anything near what you’d call a hangover (outside of my post-Lyme, current-whatever-the-fuck-is-wrong-with-me symptoms).
Well, that’s all I have to say about that for today.