Monday, June 13, 2011

A Drinking Game - No One Wins

June 13, 2011

A Drinking Game - No One Wins

A month ago today, on Friday, May 13, 2011, I decided to test myself and see if I could drink again, like a normal person. This wasn't an easy decision, nor one made in a hurry. It's something I've been considering for at least the past few months. Why? Because I had been sober for almost two and a half years and I felt I had enough time under my belt that I could drink again.

A lot of things have changed since I was drinking heavily. First, I have no work-related stress. That was a key factor in my drinking days, at least in the couple of years just prior to retirement. Second, I have no relationship issues. (Being in love with someone who doesn't feel the same about you is heart wrenching and stressful.) Third, and probably most importantly, I've had time to adjust from the death of a close friend, someone I had known for a very long time and loved a lot. I didn't see it happening at the time, but in retrospect I could trace the beginning of my downward spiral into blackout and binge drinking to about the time my friend died, almost five years ago now.

In spite of two years, four months, and fourteen days sober with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous, my sponsor, and my higher power, I decided enough had changed in my life that I could handle drinking like a normal person. It wasn't a decision I made lightly. I wrote out a list of consequences, not just to myself but to other people. For example, it is strongly recommended that a recovering alcoholic have at least a year's sobriety to serve on the service committee for an AA group. I am currently the treasurer for our Keep It Simple group at the May Club. Making the decision to drink meant giving up that role. Not only giving it up, but finding someone else to take on the responsibility. Choosing to shift the burden to someone else for the sake of drinking reveals a serious character flaw.

It took me a couple of weeks after starting this "experiment" to admit to my home group I had started drinking again, and therefore should give up my position as treasurer. I've shared a couple of times in the meetings about having started drinking again. Today, at our 3 o'clock meeting, I also announced the end of my experiment and my return to sobriety, with today being my new sobriety date. (I know, it's never that simple. I can't just "announce" I'm sober and expect anyone to believe me. I've obviously relapsed, so why should anyone believe me?)

"Don't let the life AA gave you take you away from AA." That's a great line, and one I heeded well for two and a half years. But it's funny how a little distance between my last drunk and me can blur my thinking.

I'd like to say I was beguiled by alcohol, the "cunning, baffling, powerful" thing that it is. Add "insidious" to the list as well. But you know what? I made an active decision to drink. I stood in my kitchen with two cans of beer and said to myself, "OK, let's try this experiment." Even as I reached over to pop the top on the first can, several things flashed through my mind: Admitting to the failure of being able to maintain my sobriety; Facing the disappointment of family and friends who have been so supportive of me since I stopped drinking in 2008; Knowing I was throwing away the accomplishment of having accrued nearly two and a half years of sobriety; Swallowing my pride and returning to the rooms of AA if/when I ended the experiment; How refreshing that first taste of beer would be, after literally years of its absence. (Yes, that last line really did cross my mind.)

I've really wanted to drink again the past couple of months. It hasn't been an overpowering urge, and oddly enough I've only wanted to drink beer, not wine or liquor. I didn't know where this would lead. If I believe the AA experience, it would lead me back to where I was, as bad or worse, when I quit drinking and went into detox on December 29, 2008. But I wasn't convinced this was where I was headed. This belief, too, is reflected in AA literature.

So in spite of all the hundreds of people I've listened to in AA, and all I've read in the AA literature, I had to prove to myself whether I could drink "normally" or not. The first night, Friday the 13th, two beers and done. Nothing the second night. The third night? Sunday, May 15th, I got hammered. Seven beers followed by two very strong mixed drinks. I woke up with a nasty hangover the next morning, and ended up spending most of the day sleeping in my recliner, although I managed to get to the 3 o'clock meeting just so I could get the day's collection and deposit it in the bank.

That was a wake-up call, although I refused to answer it. I just thought to myself, "it's normal to twist one off within the first few days of starting drinking again. The important thing is to get it back under control." Control meant rules. So I set down the following rules for myself.

1. No drinking and driving. If I'm going to drink with the boys, then someone (a non-alcoholic, like Mark) has to drive me. If I drive myself where there is going to be alcohol, no drinking.

2. No mixing types of alcohol; beer, liquor, wine, etc.

3. When drinking at home, set limits on the number of drinks (or cans of beer) and stick with it.

When I confessed to my sponsor that I was drinking again, he was very understanding. He recommended I journal through the experience and try to discover what had triggered the desire to drink again. So I covered the major topics.


Am I lonely? Yes, at times. All of my close friends, with a couple of exceptions, are in relationships and I wish I was in one, too. But it's not something I dwell on. I don't sit around moping about being alone. I actually like living alone. Aside from the occasional desire for sex, I really don't mind being alone.

A friend mentioned I said I was lonely (I don't remember saying it). There have been many times I've wished I could drink again, if for no other reason than to lower my inhibitions, hang out at the bars, and hit on the cute guys. I just don't have the gumption to do that when I'm sober. But is that behavior of which I can be proud?


I can't see this one being a problem either. I still have money in the bank after all my taxes have been paid and absorbing some other large expenditures this year. I just need to buckle down and curb my spending. When I'm frugal, I can add to savings each month. My goal is to build my reserve back up and then save for another trip, perhaps this fall or winter.


I can't think of any situation where I've been afraid of anyone, so this doesn't apply.

So, aside from the possible loneliness issue, all I can think of that made me drink is that I just wanted to! Maybe it's because I've missed quite a few meetings over the last month or so. I didn't go to a meeting the whole time I was in Port Aransas, and I missed several other days both before and after the trip. Could it be a simple as that? Not going to meetings? "Meeting makers make it," or so says one of our AA cliches.


After getting drunk that first Sunday of the experiment, I skipped drinking a few nights. When I drank again, I had several mixed drinks, but no beer. I managed to not get drunk or have a hangover the next day.

The next few days sometimes I drank, sometimes I didn't. I never felt an overpowering urge to do so, and just drank when I felt like it. Mostly I drank at home, sometimes at the Burger Joint (where I could walk home and not drive).

On Saturday, June 4th, just two weeks into the experiment, I went over the cliff. A friend and I walked over to the Burger Joint and started drinking beer. Not 3.2 beer, but the strong stuff. We started down their list of imported beers and tried quite a few. I thought I was doing pretty well and I was really enjoying myself. My friend and I were both having fun with some of the employees. By the end of the evening I was buying drinks not only for my friend and me, but for the employees too!

After the Burger Joint closed, my friend and I joined our new Burger Joint friends next door at The Office. I don't recall much by that time, except that I was very drunk. Another friend came to get me and take me home. With the help of all involved, they got me safely to my condo.

Much of Saturday night is a blank to me. And I was appalled when I saw my bar tab; $223 (including tip)! I was hung over on Sunday, of course, and in fact didn't drink for a couple of days while I recovered. Had I learned my lesson finally? Hardly.

Last Saturday ended up being almost a repeat of the previous Saturday, except this time I was drinking with a different friend, and I didn't suffer a blackout; I was able to stop drinking and find my own way home, walking the short distance from the Burger Joint to my condo. I had a tinge of a hangover on Sunday, but nothing major. My bar tab? $152.

So here it is, two days later, Monday, June 13, 2011. Last night I bought two 12-packs of beer and sat at home drinking alone. I had six beers before I quit. I realized I wasn't having a good time, at all. And the acidity of the lime flavored beer was giving me an upset stomach.

I reread my journal this morning, which I have faithfully maintained this whole time. I decided to take inventory of what I expected to achieve with this experiment, what I actually achieved, and write up a pros and cons list to see if I can justify continued drinking. Here's what I came up with.

What did I expect to achieve? Knowledge of whether I could drink like a normal person. I actually achieved that goal, too, even though I am not happy with the result because the answer is no, I cannot drink like a normal person. I was hoping to prove that I could do so, and in the process prove everyone else (including the long dead authors of the Big Book) wrong.

It took less than a month to fall back into my old behavior. Granted, I never drove while intoxicated; that was one commitment I was determined to keep. But in the span of two Saturday nights I spent $400 at the bar just on alcohol, and I don't know how much on beer that I drank at home over the course of the month.

Other despicable behavior included self-pity, trying to "buy" the affection of others by paying for all the drinks, needing others to get me safely home, and drunk texting. Yep, that old habit reared its ugly head last Saturday night after I got home from the Burger Joint. Drunk texting seems entertaining at the time, but always proves embarrassing the next day.

I think back to when I drank nothing but beer many years ago, and remember having continual bladder and prostate infections. Those disappeared when I switched to wine and liquor. When I quit drinking wine and liquor too, two and a half years ago, my liver function improved, my blood pressure dropped to the point I no longer needed medication, and my depression improved. Not to mention the amount of money I saved by not drinking!

What do I gain by drinking again? A temporary high from the alcohol. A feeling of belonging with my friends who still drink. And a lot of potentially negative results: Financial difficulty, bad health, broken relationships with family and friends, etc.

So as of today, Monday, June 13, 2011, one month since I popped the tabs on two beers, I am pledging to be alcohol free again. I theorized (or rationalized, if you prefer) that after two and a half years sober, with such a clean break in my drinking habits as a result of going to detox and rehab, and obvious improvements in the circumstances that triggered my drinking before, that I could now handle alcohol like a normal person. I tested the theory with specific goals and results in mind, and failed. None of the reasons I felt I could drink normally again held water, so to speak. No better than I could hold my liquor.

I hope I can keep a clear mind on this, now. I know I need to study the inner feelings and fears that drive my want and need to change my behavior, and deal with those issues directly - and without alcohol. I hope this essay is still around in a few years time, should I decide once again that I have the ability to be a normal drinker rather than an alcoholic. Even if I decide the Big Book and all those AAers out there in the world are full of crap and what they say doesn't apply to me, at least I'll have my own experience and words to remind me I'm no different, and no better than the rest.

Day One, Lucky to be Sober Again - I Win.


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