15 years ago this week I took my last drink. I didn't know it was going to be my last; a glass of pinot noir at dinner with my dad in Washington D.C. The next morning I had an appointment with a psychiatrist to modify my meds, my current meds clearly weren't working. The psychiatrist asked me how much I drank, and I replied, "Ten to seventeen drinks, 3-4 times per week."
I knew the number of drinks because I was in bad credit card debt and my dad's visit was in part to help me get my finances on track. In reviewing statements and receipts, I was able to account for the spending -- the bulk of which was in bars.
The months leading up to the appointment with the psychiatrist were not unlike the last four years preceding. I made numerous life changes -- moved, changed jobs, ended and entered new relationships, all with the intention of experiencing the euphoria of something new. With each change, after three months I would crash -- drink alcoholically -- devastated, bored and severely depressed. I would hit a bottom and seek some type of temporary band-aid, either through therapy or psychiatry.
The bulk of my drinking occurred in college, at a small liberal arts school on the east coast. It was twenty years ago, and I moved 3,000 miles from my family -- I remember the excitement of a new adventure, the grand plans of my college major and all that I would accomplish. Soon after my arrival, I told my parents, "I'll find my friends soon." Reassuring them I was okay and masking the panic I was feeling. I felt lonely and awkward. I had in my mind that a small east coast school would be more academic and less of a party than the notorious west coast UCs. The school may have been more academic, but my experience leaned to the party continuum.
I ran competitive cross-country my first fall semester. The coach asked us not to drink the night before a race -- most of which happened to fall on Saturday. The request seems rational now, but at the time it seemed incomprehensible that I would not drink on a Friday.
I didn't last long in cross-country -- less than two seasons. Instead, I surrounded myself with activities that seemed "fun," which was synonymous with drinking. I joined a sorority, which I swore I would never do. I changed college majors to enable my drinking. Every decision that I made led me further from myself and closer toward a shell of a person I could barely recognize in the mirror.
To this day, I cannot tell you my professors' names, the books that I read, nor the men that I dated, but I can tell you what I wore and what I drank. When I entered my freshman year, I imagined myself as a girl with a high tolerance for alcohol, coaching my friends on how to drink. By my senior year I spent most nights in a black out, and the mornings after could be found bribing my friends with bagels and Gatorade to help me recreate the night before.
Aimlessly wandering the streets of my college town in a drunken stupor were weekly occurrences. Though I was searching for the right party, the right guy, the right atmosphere what I found instead was violence, suicidal depression and a series of Ws on my transcript. (I always Withdrew before I failed.) My hospitalization for suicide, the cocktails of anti-depressants and my therapists were not able to lift the hopelessness I felt.
It was clear to me, having narrowly graduated college and entering the workforce by way of a bar that I was far from being President of the United States, which at one time had been my goal. Instead, I was struggling to survive -- my perception clouded by alcoholic glasses lent disdain to anything that did not support my drinking.
My last year of alcohol was a series of last ditch efforts to become the person I wanted to be. Maybe if I had my own business things would be better. Maybe if I painted more I would feel some release. Maybe if I had health insurance I could get help. Yet nothing put a dent in my misery until at age 22 I felt that I had tried everything and was ready to seek help and receive it.
So when the psychiatrist shared with me that I may have a problem with drinking, and that I likely could not stop alone -- I listened. I followed his few simple suggestions and was able to stop drinking. After 30 days of not drinking, I had my next appointment and he seemed shocked I was still sober. I explained that I was sober, but in more pain than I could recollect. The absence of alcohol left me with fear, panic and rage. He recommended additional help, which I still seek today.
I am not drinking, but I am an alcoholic. One drink for me will take me back to places and people I never want to see again. I remain diligent and conscious in my sobriety. I don't have the luxury of one glass -- I drank all of mine before the age of 22.
What I do have is a life worth living. Where the good and bad are experienced with perspective and support. A life I can be comfortable with -- without altering my state.