It was late October 2004, the start of my sophomore year as a Fine Arts major at Alfred University. This was the year of two important firsts: my first girlfriend and the loss of my virginity (why virginity is commonly referred to as “being lost” is beyond me, as I for one have certainly never wanted to find it again). I had been the shy, quiet geek in high school and consequently never scored too well with the ladies. Not to mention I was also an extremely devout Catholic at the time so the concept of premarital sex was a very real obstacle.
As my spirituality faded and my philosophical outlook emerged, my archaic morality had a chance to evolve and progress to what I consider and hope to be a more reasonable place.
One hang-up that remained in my second year of college was my own condemnation of alcohol. Catholicism forbids intoxication because being drunk is considered sinful. Between that and Nancy Reagan’s ridiculous “Just Say No” D.A.R.E. campaign, I was convinced that alcohol was a terrible, terrible thing for me. Even at 19, I had never had more than half a can of beer (which made me gag so badly I couldn’t finish it even while plugging my nose to block the taste). I witnessed plenty of peers drink themselves into oblivion and it never seemed appealing yet at the same time I felt left out, like I was missing something. It stirred a curiosity in me but not to the point of notable temptation.
A group of us had a party at our campus suite and my girlfriend was having plenty to drink. Everyone else was too… except for me. It didn’t bother me at first, but eventually it seemed like they were all having a private party of their own and that I was left out, like they were having an endless stream of inside jokes while I sat there, pretending to laugh as though I were in on it to mask my lack of amusement. My girlfriend became louder and bolder and outright stupider and I felt as if she weren’t the person I knew. She’d changed somehow, not for the better but also not for the worse. She was just… temporarily different. And I was… the same.
I didn’t like it. I felt too disconnected from her, but I didn’t want to say anything about it because clearly she was having a great time. It wasn’t her fault that I was getting increasingly miserable as the party progressed. I devised a very simple strategy. Anytime she set down her drinks, I’d quickly chug it while she wasn’t watching and put it back, not so I could get drunk but to lessen her inebriation. I’d leave a little bit because a fully empty cup would have drawn her suspicion. It worked. She was drunk enough that she didn’t notice. So I kept doing it. Eventually I felt what my roommates at the time explained to me as “buzzed”. I felt more relaxed. I still didn’t quite get the inside jokes, but I was closer to the (spiked) punch-line.
That was a terrible pun, I know.
The next time we had a similar party I decided that I wanted in on one of the drinking games. I believe it was Crazy Eights or Go Fish. I guess it doesn’t matter. After drinking a bit I felt a wave of euphoria, a level of happiness that I hadn’t felt before. Suddenly I understood everyone else, their jokes, their world. But at the same time I didn’t know if I was yet, by definition, truly drunk. I asked one of my roommates, Ted, how a person can really know if he/she is drunk or just buzzed. He asked me, “Well, how much have you had?” I replied, “Five shots and two beers.” “In how much time?” he continued. “Twenty minutes,” I replied, overly proud that I’d managed to successfully keep count. He replied, “Dude, you are fucking drunk!” My next experience was laughing hysterically and falling into a pile of clothes in an open closet.
It became “that big thing” to look forward to once a week. That next party, that next opportunity to go back to a state of inhibition, that next wave of freedom. To paraphrase a line I once heard in a TV show, “Alcohol isn’t evil, it just reveals who we really are.” And up until that point I didn’t really know who I was. I’d previously identified myself as just an awkward teenage Catholic that happened to draw well. An oversimplification, to be sure. So there I was, no longer a Catholic and on the cusp of no longer being a teenager. Two of my main descriptors were gone and I was left with my drawing ability. Notable, but still a very narrow definition for oneself. There was so much more to unlock.
Alcohol gave me the courage to explore what it was like to be sociable, brave, bold, blunt, and broaden my sexual experience. It was a state of being I wished I could be in at all times and probably would have done so if I could have afforded it. I think this mindset is a common one for young people when they first experience alcohol. Something new, something fun. Who wouldn’t gravitate towards that? But then there are usually consequences, some trial and error, and then people develop a healthier level of moderation and all is well again.
For me, alcohol didn’t simply enhance my reality but threatened to replace it, an alternate universe that I vastly preferred over the “real” one. A place where introverts could become extroverts, a place where the shy could have sex in public, where hesitation and caution became foreign concepts. Having been diagnosed with OCD years prior, alcohol had the added bonus of hitting the pause button on my irrational germaphobic obsessions and compulsions, acting as a temporary reprieve. It cured everything I didn’t like about myself and my environment. It let me, for better or worse, truly be… me.
And as for those consequences I mentioned? In college, at least, there really weren’t any of great significance. I was fortunate enough to be immune to hangovers and instead of becoming sleepy due from alcohol’s depressant effects, it acted as a stimulant. I’d get more work done, I wrote better, I drew better, I painted better, I worked out better, I fucked better… everything was just better.
As the world of being drunk became more and more appealing, sobriety by logical necessity became less so. It reached a point that I would have five shots of rum before going to a class, like clockwork. That way I would raise my hand, participate, and be more outspoken. I’d drink before going to the movies because I’d nit-pick the film less and enjoy it more for what it was. I’d drink before having sex, because I became more animalistic. I’d drink before going to the gym because I could lift more due to being more numbed to pain. I couldn’t get by without my liquid courage and nor did I want to.
I romanticized the whole concept of pouring a glass and “transforming” to varying levels of inhibition that became measurable and predictable. First date with a new chick? Three glasses of wine beforehand. Going to the movies? Eight shots in the parking lot. Mug night? Three beers before, 1-2 mugs at the bar. An interesting philosophy class? Three shots. A boring art history class? Ten shots.
I became so experienced with varying levels of alcohol that I became fully cemented in the lifestyle of being a functional, happy drunk. And why not? That feeling of happiness wasn’t imagined. Happiness is totally subjective, after all, so if I felt happy I WAS happy. And when I’m happy, I tend to be kinder to those around me and they in turn are happier for it. With no consequences presenting themselves to encourage any deviation from my path there was no reason to cut back. Certainly not for the short term, anyway. My sophomore, junior, and senior years of college were increasingly spent more drunk than sober.
I wasn’t ready to leave the party after graduating in May of 2007. The show must go on, as they say. And so it did for another two plus years. Had my share of fun with the ladies, experienced some bizarre work environments (a sailor in a WWll Japanese film and seasonal mall Easter Bunny/Santa Clause), and dabbled in testing the law via shoplifting and reselling DVD’s. I was bringing home a strong income via the combo of both legal and illegal means and thus I was able to afford more liquor. Sometimes I’d get drunk and just steal cases of beer from Hannaford. I’d fill up the shopping cart and roll right out and none of the employees were apparently paid enough to speak up. I woke up one morning and my hand was shaking until I had a shot. It went away. Problem solved? Yep! That warning sign was buried and ignored.
Then in 2009, furious at an old landlord of mine for screwing me out of a security deposit, I smashed up his parked car with a large set of bolt cutters. I had at least a dozen drinks in my system and it was easily the most reckless and violent thing I’d ever done. I was usually such a happy drunk, but something was different this time and a rage was triggered. I didn’t look around for witnesses first or scope out the block for cops. I just went to town.
On the drive back I was pulled over for speeding and finally was charged with a very overdue and probably-needed DWI. But I still felt invincible in the end because it was reduced to a violation (off the record), I’d gotten away with smashing up that car, and paid my court fines with money made off re-selling a few more stolen DVD’s. Aside from a small bump in my car insurance I’d managed to emerge unscathed. I even sued that landlord and won my security deposit back.
The opportunity to learn my lesson wasn’t completely ignored this time. I knew I couldn’t simply rely on luck forever, so I made a couple compromises for myself. I could still drink as heavily as I wanted, but not alone and not when I was going to be driving. And while I didn’t adhere to this all the time, I did make some strides.
Then I received a DWI in 2010 and a whole complicated legal fiasco spiraled out of it. I was furious because I hadn’t really been drunk. The breathalyzer read .10, but I’d driven after 22 shots in the past and had done so perfectly. I may have been legally drunk but behaviorally I was very much in control of my mental faculties. The stress of the legal complications that spun out of it ended my slow progress and led to heavier drinking. The philosophy of “fuck it” re-emerged.
I finally moved to Los Angeles in the Fall of 2011 under… stressful circumstances. Liquor was sold at places like CVS and grocery stores, which had been illegal back in NY where liquor could only be sold exclusively at liquor-specific shops. Having it available everywhere made it seem like a more casual substance which helped lessen it’s taboo appeal.
I also became a medical marijuana patient and started to smoke more than I drank until I hardly drank at all. Further research taught me just how beneficial weed really was, leading me to become a moderate stoner and much healthier as a result. I lost some weight (not that I ever was really overweight but I became better toned) and became a more relaxed and carefree person. Unlike alcohol, weed functioned as a complement to my life rather than a means of total escape.
The most interesting discovery of my newfound almost-sobriety from alcohol was that all those things I could do better when I was drunk never really faded. I’d spent seven years straight as a functional drunk, a period of time so long that the freedom it brought was ingrained into even my sober self.
Interestingly, I had drank alcohol solely for short term benefits, but in truth it had a positive long term effect that I hadn’t anticipated. And for that I am ultimately thankful for booze. It allowed me a means to eliminate the majority of my social defects… permanently. Oh, I can still be shy and awkward at times, but it’s a level of introversion that’s become far more manageable thanks to years of training as a sociable drunkard.
So this is my belated and formal farewell to my drunken days. I can still toss ’em back and get hammered on major holidays like the best of ’em, but it has ceased to be a part of my regular daily lifestyle for the past two years and counting. I’ll always have a fondness and appreciation for the ol’ bubbly, but it served it’s purpose and I’m fortunate that the results ultimately led to a positive place when it very easily could have resulted in the reverse.
Thankfully, nature’s gift of marijuana gave me the boost I needed to really step away from my vice, retain the virtues gained from my experience, and move forward. Since then I’ve felt more free, more healthy, and more at peace.