Everybody knows … That thought nagged me constantly in the last few years of my drinking career. I was living with this huge secret for a long, long time – the secret of how much I drank – and I was terrified of what would happen if people found out. When I was a ‘gray area’ drinker, I’d wager that nobody noticed. I did most of my drinking at home in the evenings, and because I lived alone at that point in my life, there was nobody there except for me and my son. If I knew people were coming over, I’d make sure all the empties were safely in the recycling bin outside. If I was out with people, I carefully monitored how quickly (or unbearably slowly) others were drinking and matched my pace to theirs. I made sure that nothing seemed out of the ordinary.
As I started drinking more and more and my hangovers got worse and worse, I obsessed about whether or not people could tell that I was hung over. I went to great lengths to cover up the effects of my nightly binges, even bringing ice packs to hold under my puffy eyes during my morning commute.
Eye drops to reduce redness.
Breath mints or gum just in case brushing my teeth in the morning didn’t quite get rid of the smell.
Scented lotions to mask whatever might be coming out of my pores.
Dry shampoo to hide that I hadn’t showered for days.
A water bottle always close at hand because “hydration is important”…
and a story about my son waking up in the night at the ready just in case someone mentioned that I looked a little tired.
I put so much effort into trying to prevent people from discovering my secret drinking that it may as well have been a second job. Still, it was never enough, and I stressed endlessly over whether or not people knew how much I drank.
Of course, the worse my drinking got, the less I was able to hide it. Eventually, my family and friends started to notice and brought it up. Not long after that, I got incredibly drunk with a group of coworkers and fell off my barstool in front of everyone. My paranoia morphed, becoming less about hangovers and more about whether or not people could tell how much I’d had to drink on any given occasion.
I started to monitor my intake more closely.
I modified my behavior and stopped drinking in front of people.
I didn’t take phone calls after 8pm, just texts.
I told the people who were concerned about my drinking that I had cut back or was taking a break, but knowing the truth myself, I wondered all the time if they were talking about me behind my back. I learned later that they were. Turns out my roommate at the time was feeding my sister a steady stream of information regarding whether or not I seemed to have been drinking, or if he’d found any empties in the trash. Let me just tell you all, that did absolutely NOTHING to help the paranoia.
Eventually, I obsessed almost as much about whether or not people could tell how much I drank as I obsessed about alcohol itself. Sure, my friends and family knew, but did the cashier at the grocery store? How about the neighbor that I talk to sometimes? Or that dude I passed on the street the other day, how about him? Could he tell I was drunk? It just never ended. Until that is, I cut the paranoia off at the source.
As it turns out, if you ACTUALLY don’t drink instead of just telling everyone you don’t drink, you never ever have to worry about whether or not someone can tell that you’re drunk. It’s a novel concept, I know.
There are times when I think I miss drinking, and then I remember things like this. I think back to how insanely paranoid I was and how that felt. The constant fear. The constant worry. Never knowing, never trusting, always wondering with varying degrees of anxiety just how visible my secret was to others. I never want to feel that way again. I am in a place now where paranoia occupies almost zero space in my head. I do still have knee-jerk paranoid thoughts occasionally, like if my boss goes into a meeting and I wonder if it’s about me. Then I remember that I haven’t fallen off any bar stools in front of my new coworkers, have never come to work hung over, and I have nothing to worry about.
What a relief it is to live with certainty.
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