WEEKEND Beach Bum
|by Eric Morrison|
|My name is Eric, and I am an alcoholic
I often write my Letters column with tongue firmly planted in cheek, but this column is no joke. I have wanted to write this column for months, but each time I started, it just didn't feel right. Now, I think I'm ready to write this column, although a little part of me feels forced to do so. It's tough to face your demons, and it's even tougher to breathe life into them by honoring them with words. But when you write about a problem, you take away some of its power over younot to mention that you may help someone else recognize or deal with a similar problem. Therefore, I offer the above confession.
In the shadows of my mind, I have known for a long time that I have a problem with alcohol. It all came to a head about three years ago when I got a DUI in Rehoboth. Strangely enough, getting the DUI was a relief of sorts. I had driven drunk so many times, it was bound to happen sooner or later. When it finally happened, I could stop wondering when the day would come. On a beautiful spring night, while driving through a construction site on my way out of town, I couldn't see which way to go at the orange barrels. I thought I should go to the left, only to realize at the last second that I needed to bear to the right. I swerved to get in the correct lane, and in just a few seconds the red and blue lights were flashing behind me. Ironically, I had not intended to drink that night at the bars, but intentions fall to the floor like a bowling ball when an addiction is part of the picture.
As the man in blue approached my car, I thought to myself, "There's just no way I'm getting out of this one." Still, I had heard somewhere that if you chew penniesyes, pennies!it throws off the Breathalyzer. They tasted just awful and I didn't want to chip my enamel, so I lit up a cigarette instead, hoping the nicotine would mask the smell of alcohol on my breath. I nervously completed the initial sobriety test that I seriously doubt I could have passed stone-cold sober. (Who, I ask you, can recite the alphabet backwards starting at W?!?) I consented to the Breathalyzer, and the officer informed me that I was borderline, so he needed to take me into the station for a more formal testwhich I flunked. I hadn't failed a test this important since my pre-calculus mid-term in high school, and my ignorance of sines and cosines suddenly paled in comparison. Thankfully, the officer was very kind throughout the nerve-wracking ordeal. He even drove me back to my hotel when it was all over, since my car had been impounded as if it were the one who had made a terrible mistake.
I chose not to fight my DUI. Instead, I essentially pleaded "no contest" through Delaware's First Offenders program. You are eligible for the program if it is your first DUI, your blood alcohol level is not above a certain percentage, no accident was involved, and no children were in your vehicle. I didn't want to torture myself with expensive, eternal legal wrangling, and besides, I was guilty as charged. I paid some fines, lost my license for a while, and had to attend several weeks of drug and alcohol awareness classes with other first-time offenders. I learned a lot about alcohol in those classes, and even more about myself. I never thought I could be an alcoholic. Alcoholics fall out of their chairs at bars and wander the streets homeless. But I learned that you are the one who decides if you have an addiction, and you have a problem when the substance interferes with your normal life.
Alcohol had wormed its way into every aspect of my life. By the time I received my DUI, I was drinking just about every night, from the time I got home from work to the time I went to bed. In fact, I took a full bottle of beer with me to bed most nights, although I'd pass out as soon as I hit the mattress, waking up in the morning to a grim reminder of my powerlessness. I went to work nearly everyday with a heavy hangover, and I didn't always make it in on time. Not only did my work life suffer, but so did my personal relationships. I became a bit of a recluse. I didn't want anyone to know how much I drank, but the drinking was more important to me than my friendships. Living with a roommate also smacked me in the face with my addiction. When you live alone, no one notices the empty beer bottles that clutter the living room, bathroom, and bedroom at the end of the week. One night, on my second or third six-pack, my roomie asked me, "When you drink, do you drink to get drunk?" "Yes," I replied without hesitation. Why else does one drink?
My drinking had become a major issue with my boyfriend at the time. He hauled my inebriated ass home from drag shows enough times to know that I had a real problem. Then, on Valentine's Day of last year, I was organizing the holiday drag show at a local bar. Per my Sunday ritual, I began drinking in the early afternoon and was quite a mess by the time I had finished my face around 9:00. Mikey drove me to the bar and informed me that he was not coming in. "Call me when the show is over," he said sadly but bravely, "and I'll come pick you up." I was flabbergasted and my intoxicated pride had been punched in the gut. I caught a ride home from the show and found Mikey asleep in bed. In a stupor, I screamed, "Out on the couch! NOW!" My harsh words then melted to tears, and we both cried like babies. I decided that my alcoholism had hurt someone elseand myselffor the last time, and I have been sober now for one year, five months, and ten days.
Staying sober has not been easy, but in a weird way, it has been much easier than I thought it would be. For so long, I was convinced that I would always be a slave to alcohol. My DUI was far from the first indication of my addiction, but it pushed me to the point of no return. A wonderful college professor once said to me, "People only change when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing." Now, every time I think about bellying up to the bar for anything other than a Diet Coke with lime, I picture the cocktail glass filled with hurt feelings, disappointment, self-loathing, a spoiled reputation, and a liver like a raisinnot a good time. That's not true for everyone, but it's true for me and a lot of people like me, especially in the LGBT community. Believe it or not, I am grateful for my DUI and my alcoholism. It has taught me patience I've never known and exposed the courage I never knew I possessed.
Eric can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 15, No. 8 July 1, 2005