Early signs of alcohol dependence: 20/20 hindsight

I wasn’t one who drank in high school, or even college. I hated the taste of the stuff, and for that I’m grateful. I also had no money. For many years into my thirties I lived on temp jobs and tiny grad school stipends. There really is a direct correlation between my increasing drinking and my having a job with a livable salary. So for that very low bank account all those years I’m also grateful.

However. If I stop and think, I can remember a good handful of times when I began to experience the escape that I love in alcohol. The first was maybe twenty years ago. These long-ago moments are extremely useful to me now because they show me that I’ve had this predisposition for a long, long time – I just couldn’t very well act on it back then because just buying a box of herbal tea seemed extravagant. (Three dollars for a box of leaves with no nutritional value?) But the memories remind me that the predisposition is anchored in me, and that tells me that it’s foolish to try to drink in moderation, especially given my last nine years of sometimes fairly heavy, often daily drinking. Too many buzzing, beeping, flickering things in me are hooked up to the circuit box just waiting for the switch to be flipped.

The first moment I can remember has a painful irony. I was living at my grandmother’s house temporarily while I looked for a job and a place to live in that city. I was in my mid-twenties. It was somewhat stressful; our lives and perspectives didn’t mesh very well, though she was a good, nice person (and so hopefully was I). One day I took a long walk and ended up at a shopping center I knew well from childhood. I no longer remember the details, but I returned home to grandma’s house with a six-pack of hard apple cider. I went upstairs, shut my door, and drank a few. With each passing bottle I felt happier and more calm. I went downstairs after a little while and hung out with grandma, and she voiced pleasure at how happy I seemed.

My grandfather, her husband who’d died ten years earlier, had been an alcoholic. She had been describing to me how “grandpa was a happy drunk” (in and amongst her stories of driving him to his out-of-town construction jobs when they stopped every however-many miles, as they reached the next bar, and how she sat in the car while he went in to have his next beers, how she chauffered an increasingly drunk husband those miles to his work site). That hard cider day of mine, god, if only she had known. I’m sorry, grandma.

Another early time I began to appreciate the buzz was at a party at some friends’ house, and I found myself, while everyone watched a movie in the living room, in the kitchen slurping down a beer before grabbing a second one that I officially walked back with in my hand.

Like I say, a dependance on alcohol didn’t take back then because I didn’t have the cash. But these memories are here to remind me that my mind/body was wanting to choose alcohol as my escape way back then. And those memories now help to keep it very clear in my mind that I don’t want to poke that monster ever again. Peace, for me, lies in leaving it alone and going on to do (and drink!) other things.

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