I haven’t had a drink of alcohol for 17 years. I don’t remember the exact date I stopped, and I don’t have a yearly sobriety coin. But 17 years ago, I determined that alcohol was a negative force in my life and I decided I needed to leave it behind. This was without a doubt one of the best decisions of my life.
I’m sharing this because “alcohol use disorder,” as they call in nowadays, is widespread and an extremely common roadblock in people’s road to fitness and a healthy life. But we sure don’t like to talk about it.
This is not an anti-alcohol rant. We will serve alcohol in our home and I don’t mind or care if other people drink. This is for the people for whom alcohol is an issue.
I started drinking in middle school. I can remember getting into my best friend’s parents’ liquor cabinet. I think we were just curious, slightly bad kids with too much time on our hands. Also, back in the ’80s, alcohol use and abuse was definitely glorified in high school, at least where I grew up in northern Virginia.
Throughout high school, drinking and getting drunk was a lot of fun. It was a chance for us to be as stupid and goofy as we could be. Every single weekend, our goal was to see how we could get some cheap beer and where we could drink it, and how we could get away with it without our parents finding out. We were regularly successful in all parts of this mission.
But I was never escaping anything, nor did I ever thirst for alcohol during the other parts of my day or week. I was just caught up in a widespread party culture that seemed to surround me and the tight group of friends that I grew up with.
This same behavior continued in college, but at “graduate level.” Now we didn’t have to sneak around. We still studied hard and made good grades, but we made up for all that hard work with hard partying. Still, I never woke up and wanted a drink, or craved alcohol during other parts of my week when I was being productive.
Even in veterinary school, and even after I started to date Michelle, my wife, I was still regularly binge drinking, thinking this was what normal people did. It was such a big part of my high school and college social life, that I mostly assumed it was normal adult behavior.
I won’t shine a light on all the skeletons in my closet, but I finally came to realize that alcohol was having a negative impact in my life. In fact, the evidence for this went all the way back to high school. Doing stupid things while drunk, making bad decisions, hurting people that I cared about. There were loads of incidents that I had always passed off as, “Well, I had been drinking.” as if that was an excuse for my behavior.
But never once did I think of myself as an “alcoholic,” by any definition that I was familiar with. I didn’t need to drink, I could easily go weeks without it. I never drank in the morning or during the day. I didn’t drink and drive or drink before school or work. Only alcoholics did that stuff, and if I wasn’t an alcoholic, was there really a problem with getting drunk on the weekends to blow off some steam?
But as we get older, the stakes get higher. More responsibilities. Deeper relationships. More accountability.
I can recall once researching signs of alcoholism, because I was starting to feel some of the repercussions of the negative force alcohol was becoming in my real life. I remember coming across some “other” signs of alcohol being a problem in your life, which you can find today when trying to determine if you have alcohol use disorder. The “11 criteria for Alcohol Use Disorder,” is a tool used to help clinicians determine if a person has AUD and to what degree. A few that spoke to me were:
- Continuing to drink even though it hurt relationships with friends and family
- More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chance of getting hurt
- Having had a memory blackout
The first one is the one that really got to me. When I took a minute to look back at my then-current situation, and also going all the way back to high school, then, yes, there were numerous instances where alcohol use hurt my relationships with friends or family.
The second one is also definitely true. I did some really stupid stuff and I continue to be grateful that I never was injured or harmed.
The last one is tough. I would definitely at times drink to the point of blacking out. Never on purpose, but this is just where either my genetics or my drinking behavior would lead.
And so, in an epiphany of sorts, I realized that I did not want to go in the direction of letting something so…unimportant…as drinking beer, get in the way of successful and meaningful relationships in my life.
And alcohol, for some reason, was important to me. I loved craft beers. I even brewed my own. It was a huge part of my social life and it was hard to just give that up.
Now, 17 years later, I’m not sure what all the fuss was about. I have just as much fun and get into just as much trouble, but without damaging my important personal relationships with my friends and family. Also, not damaging my health.
My case was mild, I just stopped and that was that. Many people need real help, and fortunately that is easy to find, it’s just really hard to accept that you need it, to ask for it, and finally, to receive it.