The smoke drifted up from the incense, hit the roof of the shrine shelf, and crept along until it escaped out the front and back. My shrine to Apollo had just been established, about two days after my 26th birthday, and I was basking. Enjoying His presence.
A voice intrudes, cutting across the chatter of my mind. “You’re an alcoholic, you drink all day and all night. How are you going to serve Apollo?” I’m annoyed “I’m not an alcoholic” I snap back “I just like drinking. And no one can tell when I’ve been drinking most of the time, I’m functional, and I don’t black out, so it doesn’t matter. Alcoholics black out, I don’t black out. I’m fine.” Silence. The candle flame heating the essential oils fumigating the room flickers. The smoke from the incense seems to grow thicker. “Count them” the voice intrudes into my mind once again. “Fine” I relent. But deep down I already know where this will end.
I dutifully counted the drinks by tallying them each day through an app called HabiticaRPG and recorded the number before bed. The numbers quickly became disturbing. The count went on around ten days before I had enough evidence to make a decision.
On the low end of the spread was four drinks in a day. Yes, that was the low end; an amount to drink that the NIAAA considers the absolute maximum for an adult man to consume in one day. The high end? Over 20. The number typically fell somewhere between 14-18 drinks a day, about one drink for every hour I was awake.
To put that into more concrete terms, I was drinking about a handle and a half of liquor a week, or about 10 six packs per week, or about 13-14 bottles of wine per week. Yet even then I still had a bit of resistance from myself; I couldn’t be a problematic drinker because I didn’t “binge drink” (which is usually defined as drinking five drinks in two hours). The lack of binge drinking meant that I rarely got a hangover, and when I did get hangovers it would be because I drank a lot right before bed.
Even this gave my brain enough ammunition to be a bit resistant to the idea of quitting: if I’m not binge drinking do I really have a problem? Something in me was resolute though; yes, Conor, you have a problem. You need to take care of this.
And the numbers didn’t lie. Somewhere along the road I had developed a problem. For the first time in a long time I felt a sense of abject shame that I had fallen into the snare of addiction that has plagued so many of the people in my family. I didn’t want to go to a rehab facility because of this, I didn’t want my partner or any of my friends to know I had a problem. I had to quit by myself, I just had to.
The first attempt I tried to go completely cold turkey. That failed, hard. Amidst my hands shaking heavily and sweating profusely the last shred of doubt about my alcoholism was eradicated . . . I guess you could say I shook it off (can you hear the Seinfeld bass line in the distance?).
I was still adamant about tackling the problem at home though. After some research I found a method of tapering off for those of us who were extremely heavy drinkers, wanted to do it at home, and wanted to do it without having to see a doctor. The method takes time and very careful monitoring of your blood pressure, pulse, and symptoms. I can’t stress this enough, getting off alcohol can be extremely dangerous if you are a heavy drinker. I was lucky and during my taper had very few withdrawal symptoms, but what I did was foolhardy and a little stupid.
It took me about a week to completely taper off alcohol and the first two days, where the reduction was the most marked, were honestly miserable. There was a lowkey sense of dread and like my brain was mildly torturing me, as if it were twisting my arm into giving it more alcohol. The alcohol eventually came to be like unpleasant medicine; by day 4 I was completely uninterested in having my obligatory taper drinks but I kept at it. By the end of it, the taper drinks felt like having to take cough syrup or something. When I awoke on the first no alcohol day I was so relieved. I was free. Until what I was using drinking to suppress started to rear its ugly head.
I realized that my drinking had spiked so heavily within the last year or so in part because I was filling a void, the void of no longer being near anyone or knowing anyone or having any friends. But my alcoholism and feelings of isolation had a symbiotic relationship. When I was tipsy or drunk I didn’t really want to go socialize, I wanted to be where booze was. And booze was at home. Booze was always at home.
I started only going to social functions where I was certain more booze could be acquired. When sober, I was incredibly lonely. I missed hanging out with Pagans. I missed hanging out with furries. I missed my best friend. I’d try to find something to do, someone to hang out with, but at the slightest hint of disappointment or frustration I’d give up and just turn to drinking again.
So, gradually drinking only in the evenings became drinking in the afternoons, which became having a drink with lunch which became having a drink right before lunch because my hands felt unsteady which turned into drinking whenever I felt like it, because it wasn’t like I had anywhere I needed to be. I didn’t need friends. I had video games and liquor and those rarely disappointed me, bored me, or caused me grief. They were stable. They would be there.
Seminary only compounded my drinking problem. When I was uncertain about a paper or a discussion post, I’d just down a vodka soda or two and crank something out, which generally ended up going pretty well for me. Then some classes touched on places that were hard for me to encounter, so I drank to numb the pain of re-encountering trauma. Life was hard and I didn’t know how to cope in healthy ways. So I drank. I drank until I realized I shouldn’t, no hitting rock bottom needed.
I’m in recovery now. What I didn’t read on the guides or the websites was just how beautiful and also horrible things seem again. You notice little things again, a butterfly circling a flower, excitement in your dog’s eyes, the way the hair swirls on a lover’s chest that you hadn’t noticed in a very long time. So their beauty strikes you in an overwhelming way.
Yet, you notice once again the cruelty and hatred committed by others, the cruelty and hatred committed by yourself, and that, too, is overwhelming. I’m learning to deal with this. I’m learning to process the grief and mourning that comes with realizing you’ve spent so much time in an altered haze of consciousness and weren’t fully there for the last three years.
How many friendships weren’t fully experienced? How many good times weren’t fully had? How much time did I waste on drinking? There are no answers there. Just reminders of what I lost.
I’m still processing what this means for me as a Pagan. I feel that in a moment of kharis Apollo cut across the chatter and lies I told myself and struck me with truth, gave me a glimpse of inner knowledge that I needed before I destroyed my body and mind with alcohol.
I find myself asking, where did the urge to build a shrine for him come from? If I hadn’t followed through on that impulse, when would I have gotten sober? Would I be sober? What would it have taken? I didn’t surrender my will to Apollo and say “I can only get sober with your help!”, I just heeded that inner voice. In fact, I very intentionally didn’t pray to him while I was tapering off booze. I didn’t pray to anyone while tapering off booze. Something inside of me knew that I had to be convinced that even if the idea to stop drinking was external the will to follow through came from the inside.
I’m still new to living in recovery, sobriety started a few weeks ago, and I still have a lot of doubts and worries. My two primary social groups, Pagans and furries, certainly enjoy a good drink at their social events; can I go to bars or other events with a lot of drinking and be comfortable saying “I don’t drink?” and not be tempted to drink? The answer is usually yes. I’m adjusting to living this way still. Yet I’m happier for it.
The hardest adjustment so far? Well, to quote John Mulaney: “Also, if you quit drinking you’re about to lose the best excuse you’ve ever had in your life. Which is, ‘I’m really sorry about last night, I was just so drunk’. That is a get out of jail free card that you don’t even realize you have until you lose it. I can’t say that anymore. I can never be like ‘I’m really sorry about last night, I was just so drunk.’ Now I have to be like, ‘I’m really sorry about last night. It’s just that I’m mean and loud. It probably will happen again.’”
Lastly, I want to address some errata that comes to mind:
Rehab is a great and valid choice for many individuals experiencing alcohol dependency.
Quitting drinking, even through tapering, can be dangerous and even fatal. If I had experienced withdrawal symptoms beyond feeling a bleh and occasionally shaky I would have consulted a doctor.
Anyone can have a drinking problem.
I’m 26. I’ve met people 40 years my senior and 8 years my junior with drinking problems. People from all walks of life and levels of education. People across the gender spectrum. From basically every profession. Ergo, I’m not ashamed anymore to cop to it and I’m not ashamed to seek out resources to help me live the life I want to live.
You don’t have to hit rock bottom to stop drinking.
My day-to-day life really wasn’t that bad and keeping a not-depressed mood was totally easier while I was drinking. But it wasn’t helping me get to the root of my problems and I wasn’t really living. My only regret is not stopping a couple of years back when I first suspected I might be sowing the seeds of a problem. Your life doesn’t have to be in shambles; if you have any suspicion that you might need to quit or cut down give that suspicion serious consideration.
As a random aside, I’ve found sober-living groups to be completely unhelpful.
A good chunk of people I’ve met have simply never drank. The experiences are just different and I don’t find lifelong teetotalers very relatable (and I’m not really comfortable talking about my problems with them. Real judgey, vindicated in life decision vibes). I had a drinking problem because I thought drinking was wayyyy too fun, enjoyable, and pleasant. Anyone else have experiences with this and/or advice?
Finally, I don’t think alcohol is bad or evil.
It is, after all, an expression of many deities. That being said, I don’t have to engage with every expression a deity has in order to honor them and connect with them. I’m content with that.