The Moment When I Realized I Had to Get Sober
I probably started drinking around the time my friends and I were getting our driver’s licenses. At the time, I could not handle the taste of beer. Since I did not like beer, my friends and I would drive in his purple MG convertible to the poorer part of town where we could shoulder “bum wine.” We would give him a few extra dollars for the cheap, sweet wine. One weekend after getting the wine, we were driving back to meet our friends, but a police officer stopped us. We tried putting the cheap wine under the seat, but he already knew. I thought we were busted and would end up in jail for the weekend. The police officer had my friend pour out the wine out on the side of the road. My fun for that Friday night was being poured out as well. But that just affected that Friday night, it did not detour my drinking for the rest of my high school career.
Later, the same friend and I moved to Richmond, Virginia. My friend’s brother already lived there, and he was our main beer hookup. His brother told me about this bar that would let you drink if you went before the bouncer got there at 9 p.m. On Friday night, they had jazz night with a real, live band, and I loved jazz. My friend’s brother and his friends had their fake IDs. When I showed up, I had no fake ID and I was by myself. I sat at a table in the back alone.
The prep work for this moment involved not shaving for days and wearing a collared shirt tucked in. I also had my satchel. A big part of it was talking myself up so I did not seem paranoid. Also, I tried to act mature, whatever that meant for a second-year college freshman.
The waitress was cute, and after I asked for a beer, she didn’t card me. My heart fluttered for that waitress and fluttered wondering just how long I would be able to keep this so-called maturity up. Either way, for that Friday night, I was drinking beer and I was legal and I had no real concerns as I drank more beer that night.
Drinking underage was exciting, but youth does not last forever. Drinking became routine for me, and there is no excitement when it comes to routine. After a while, I just became a barfly among other drunks with most of their attention on whatever game was on the television. Drinking buddies are just that — buddies you only see when you’re dinking. They were nice, but most people are after a couple of beers. I was excited about this bar because I could walk to it, it was just in my neighborhood.
I was not your typical drunk. I never blacked out and I did not spend all my money on alcohol. However, I did drink five to six times a week and it was just a matter of time until my unhealthy habits caught up with me.
Besides drinking, I smoked three packs of cigarettes a day. My biggest fear was not heart disease or lung cancer, but what I would do if I ran out of cigarettes. I was just a drunk in a dim-lit bar, drinking because I thought that was what people did. What else should I spend my Veterans Affairs (VA) disability on?
I had demons in my mind, sure. I had been in the Army, and I received an honorable discharge, but my military service did not involve medals or an accommodation. It did not involve fighting bravely in a war. My military service involved a mental breakdown after I experienced hazing. I had no heroic stories to share with anyone, just a hidden mind with schizophrenia. I drank to forget and to ignore my schizophrenic symptoms.
Alcohol took away the effects of my antipsychotics. At the dive bar, I often thought I was going to get jumped. I often came in by myself and left by myself. I thought there were people in the bar who were trying to listen in on the conversations I was having with my drinking buddies. I was often looking over my shoulder to scope the place out.
Also, financially it was awfully expensive to drink as much as I was drinking. Spending my money on alcohol took a big chunk of my disability, but I still had enough money to pay rent every month.
One weekend, I was with my parents who were in the process of moving. We were staying at a hotel in town and had just come back from the bar. I could have stayed longer, but I was with my parents. I was using the bathroom when I coughed up this bloody mess. This is what did it for me. I believed my lifestyle was catching up with me. It was that and the fact that for a while I kept on thinking drinking was just not as fun anymore. It was routine and it was expected. Not to mention, when I drank, I drank a lot.
The transition from a drunken lifestyle to a heathy lifestyle took changes not all at once, but one by one. It started with changing my habits and changing my routine from drinking to exercising and eating greens instead of donuts. Now, my routine is exercise and often I feel a high from the endorphins. I fear my old addictions. I do not want to be that far down again. My medication works now, and I have some symptom-free days. This was worth the change and I feel blessed.
Getty image by jesadaphorn