I knew I had a drinking problem when I was still in my teens. My first serious attempt to quit drinking began a couple of months shy of my 20th birthday. It ended 464 days later, sitting alone with a beer at my parent’s kitchen table. Read about my first “last drunk” in this post.
Having no real understanding of the disease of alcoholism, it was not surprising I convinced myself I was doing better and would be able to drink in moderation. That experiment started with a single beer that first night, a few the next time I drank, and a full-blown drunk the next time.
For the next three years, I pretty much got drunk every time I drank, and blacked out more often than not. So much for drinking in moderation. My experiment failed. I didn’t drink every day, which helped me rationalize and justify that I was doing okay. I finished college and got my first teaching job during these 3 years, along with a car of my own and an apartment.
People with real drinking problems don’t have jobs and cars and places to live. This became a convincing argument feeding my denial. Other things were happening that ran contrary to this normalcy I was trying to hang on to. By the time I finished my college softball career, I played with a serious hangover a time or two. I also coached in the same condition a few times. These were two things I said I wouldn’t do. When I got that apartment, it became easy to drink alone. After some nights of heavy drinking, my hangover was compounded by a growing sense of paranoia. Was that car behind me on the road actually following me, and were they after me for something I did last night that I don’t remember?
Alcohol was also becoming less reliable. Sometimes I was well on my way after just a couple of drinks. That didn’t fit with someone who prided themselves on being able to handle their booze. Other times, I wouldn’t get the buzz I was hoping for in the timely manner I was used to. Decreased tolerance at times, increased tolerance at others.
By this time, and after several previous scares, I either drank where I was living or around people I trusted enough to keep an eye on me. I still drank and drove at times. In other words, my disease of alcoholism was progressing and I was busy denying it and proving to myself that I was handling life just fine. Mirrors were not my friend and neither were my thoughts most of the time. People were concerned for me and I was concerned for myself, but I kept on drinking.
My last drunk took place on August 12, 1989. I didn’t plan on it being my last drunk, but I am sure grateful today that it was. It was anything but pretty, though I don’t remember most of it anyway. The occasion was the wedding of my classmates Lori and Brian. I had gone to school with Lori all through elementary and high school and we were good friends. Brian just happened to be my first cousin. Needless to say, I knew a lot of people at this wedding. That may have stopped some people from drinking to excess, yelling across the room, slobbering, slurring, and blacking out early in the evening, among other things. But not me. I was clearly out of control.
My friend Linda and I left for a road trip to California the very next morning. I was still feeling the effects of my heavy drinking, but already looking forward to more drinking. That didn’t end up happening, and much to my disappointment I never even got drunk on the trip.
When we returned home, my sister Leonice came to talk to me about her concerns regarding my drinking and what she had witnessed at the wedding. Weeks prior to the wedding, I had also received a letter and a book from a friend of a friend. She had been in treatment herself for her own drinking problem. She was bluntly honest in that letter about what she had surmised about my problem with alcohol. These two messengers, Leonice and Sarah, were instrumental in what soon would become my last drink.
My brother Linus and his wife Elaine had a Labor Day weekend barbecue that year. The fun had gone out of my drinking a long time ago. My thoughts were tortured and my feelings were raw. My alcohol consumption habits were clearly progressing and obviously not normal. The wall of denial was breaking down. Still, I wasn’t making a conscious choice to quit drinking.
I had a couple of beers that Sunday evening, September 3. They did nothing for me. And yet they did everything for me. They became my last drinks of beverage alcohol. My last drunk on August 12 had been a real doozy. My last drinks were barely a blip in comparison. Both were necessary days in my drinking story.
We are reminded as recovering alcoholics to never forget our last drunk. We are also cautioned that the further we get from our last drunk, the closer we get to our next one. Even though I don’t actually recall much of August 12, 1989, I recall feeling out of control, full of self-hatred, a sinking hopelessness, and like a weak fool. I don’t plan to forget those feelings. They continue to fuel my recovery work to this day.