What Does Alcoholism Look Like? Sometimes It Looks Like Me, Even If You Don't Think That It Does.

I quit drinking three months and two days ago. I came out about it in the most straightforward manner that I could, because I had to fess up. I had to, by my admission, bind myself to a social contract to be sober, because, if I continued drinking, I knew that I was going to die, if not bodily all at once then at least in pieces bit by bit, and I could feel the only pieces of myself that I loved slipping under the wheels of intoxication.

There have been comments made to both me and the Palinode recently that have called the fact of my alcoholism into question. I wasn't the picture of the down-and-out rummy we all conjure up when we think of it. I wasn't desperately sucking remnants out of used bottles at parties (although I have done that). I wasn't always asking friends to front me money for more alcohol (although I have done that, too). I was most often sober while around certain friends, if not others (I was careful keep myself in check in certain company).

I was not the public picture of desperate, drunken, used-up looking sadness that we've come to expect. Not always. Maybe not right in front of you. I certainly didn't write about it.

The photo albums of my childhood look like anyone else's photo albums, because we didn't take pictures of the times that my severely disabled older brother drenched several square feet of our living room carpet in his own blood after repeatedly banging his head into the floor. With regard to my drinking, I didn't write about all the times I got stoned when I came home because I wasn't yet messed up enough not to feel all the shame I felt about being that messed up in the first place.

I was what I've come to call a well-managed drinker. I set out fairly strict rules for myself that I firmly hoped would save me from alcoholism but in truth were there to fool myself into thinking I might not already be an alcoholic. I rarely had alcohol around my home: check. I almost never drank alcohol when it was offered to me at family occasions: check. Most of my drinking was done socially with friends: check.

The truth was that I drank a lot in public several times a week, instead. I didn't drink at family dinners or events, because I didn't like starting to get my drink on if I couldn't pursue getting blind drunk. I chose friends who didn't mind getting liquored up with me several times a week. It worked for me for a very long time. My home was fairly free of the devil alcohol, my family rarely if ever saw me blind drunk, and the public drinking I was doing was normalized by my social group. I even convinced myself by citing statistics that the rate of Canadian alcohol consumption ranked 23rd in the world, as though the amount that I was consuming was at the rate of the average Canadian. It most definitely was not.

I was black-out drunk two or three times a week, which means that, although I was walking around and talking, I would have no recollection of what I did, who I talked to, or how I got home. The Palinode would mention the night before, and I would nod along like I knew what the hell he was talking about. I often faked my way through conversations with friends about past events, because it was like I had never been there. I never remembered people's names, because I was usually too drunk to absorb them when we met. The days when I wasn't drinking were reserved for healing from hangovers. Every moment when I wasn't drunk, I had a plan for when I would next have a drink in my hand.

My creativity, the joy I have found in the act of creation, is the ground upon which I have always been driven to build my life, but, one day while sitting drunk and trying to keep up with a conversation that was eluding me, I realized that the ground upon which I was building my life was right there in that cup. My life's work was a hobby next to the amber call of beer, and that call was doing its best to erase what memory I had of the less than stellar life I was managing to lead.

One thing I did learn, though, while downing gallons and gallons and gallons of alchohol over the last twenty-one years was that my life management skills are stellar. When three to four nights of your week are lost to black out drunks and no one, not even your own husband, knows that three to four nights of your week are lost to black out drunks, you've got mad skills, and those same mad life management skills that I used to make alcoholism look good are the same ones that brought me here, to three months and two days of sobriety.

I had to throw out my old rules, the How To Be A Total Alcoholic Without Looking Like One rules, and I adopted new ones:

Rule #1: I can never ever again set foot in the pub where I forgot years of my life. It is the comfortable shoe, the place I used to joke that I should pay rent in, my second living room, and I need my home to be where I create and love and breathe without shame.

Rule #2: I cannot hang out with most of the people I spent my time with over the last nine years. Some of them are fine people, but my old social patterns and my alcoholism are a dysfunctional marriage in my mind that no counselling can fix.

Rule #3: I cannot be left alone with alcohol in my home. If a bottle of wine is left behind by a guest, it becomes an instant surprise gift to the neighbours.

I moulded my alcoholism to revolve around social patterns, which means that all of those social patterns have had to be terminated. I told no one. I made no phone calls. I embedded none of my sobriety-seeking energy into my alcoholic life. I just stopped showing up where I used to drink. It was that or lose everything I need my life to be. And I need my life to be awesome. I, at the very least, need my life to be about more than my next pint of beer.

So, if you know the Palinode and I and you have doubted the veracity of my claim to alcoholism, you are just proof of my wildly effective expertise. I can manage the shit out of an alcohol addiction, and I am now managing the shit out of sobriety.

And, one day, I will move on from managing my sobriety to managing my awesomeness, because I've only got one life to figure out exactly how fucking awesome I am, and I am awesome.

That's just how this Schmutzie rolls, bitches.


PS. Check me out with the sinus cold.

PPS. Here's me looking much better, although still in my tropical bathrobe.

I Washed That Grey Right Out Of My Hair

I Take A Moment To Pretend That My Sinus Cold Is So Much Fun