My Occasional Binge Drinking Became a Serious Problem

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This is a picture of me, after a grad school Christmas party 38 years ago, lying on my boyfriend’s sofa and being ministered to by one of his oldest friends, someone I had never met until earlier that night. I was out-of-my-mind drunk and sick after downing about ten cups of lethal eggnog and attempting to walk through a glass door.

The Ghost of Christmas Past !

Woman on Couch with cloth over face after binge drinking

I can barely remember the party. I do remember my boyfriend holding my hair back from my face as I vomited into a bucket next to the sofa. I remember him putting me to bed, where I stayed until one o’clock the following afternoon. I remember that my head hurt for days afterwards, partly from the hangover and partly from the blow from the door’s impact. I don’t remember that my boyfriend took the picture, but no matter how much I hated seeing it then, I’m glad I have it now.

I remember being very self-conscious about meeting my boyfriend’s friend, who had come from another country to visit and to meet me. I feared being judged and thought he might compare me unfavorably to the ex-wife with whom he and his partner had been friends for many years. I had never liked parties but usually felt obliged to attend them, and I knew my boyfriend wanted to go. Ever the pleaser, I said okay, and we took his friend with us.

It didn’t help matters that the three of us smoked a joint in the parked car before entering the party house. The pot loosened them up, but it made me anxious and paranoid. It also didn’t help that an entitled rich-kid asshole opened the semi-expensive (to me) wine I’d brought and downed it straight from the bottle, leaving me with nothing to drink but the host’s heavily-laced eggnog. So: a self-conscious, paranoid, angry introvert with social anxiety. Why not just keep drinking? I drank. I drank and drank and drank, until the moment when my head made contact with the glass door and my boyfriend decided it was time to say goodnight.

My kids were at home with my mom, who lived with me and knew I’d be out all night. My daughter had a friend spending the night, and I had agreed to take her home at ten the next morning. But by then I could barely open my eyes. When I called home to apologize and say I had a terrible headache and would be late, this 14-year-old girl remarked, in a voice so matter-of-fact that it chills me to this day, “Oh, the Christmas flu. Sure, no problem, my mom gets that all the time.”

I was ashamed, humiliated, and sick as I could be. It took me three days to recover completely,  and the Christmas flu story turned into one of those things my kids brought up from time to time when they wanted to make me squirm.

But although this is the only photographic evidence of my binging, it certainly wasn’t the first (or the last) time it happened. I binge-drank for years. I just didn’t admit it to myself.

On July 30, 2019, I stopped drinking. I had been telling the same story about my alcohol problem for several years, and I kept telling it, to myself and to the people in this community. Here’s the Reader’s Digest version:

I didn’t drink much at all until just before menopause. At some point my husband and I went from being occasional drinkers to daily drinkers, starting with one bottle of wine between us and gradually moving to two. It was rarely more than two. Even after 20+ years of over-consumption, I was a pretty cheap drunk. My esophagus and stomach suffered. I slept poorly and had frequent debilitating hangovers. I was self-medicating for hormonally triggered general and social anxiety, a monster version of the condition I’d lived with in some form all my life. I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in those years and lived with a great deal of body pain and increasing insomnia, and (almost without conscious awareness) began using alcohol as a short-term analgesic/sleep med. All but one of my kids was grown and gone by the time things got really bad.

That narrative is mostly true, but as with many addiction stories, it’s not complete.

The more alcohol-free days I have, the better my memory gets. And now I realize that I was a binge drinker almost from the time I first tried alcohol in my teens. I didn’t really like alcohol. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I drank before age 21, and I drank maybe four times a year between the ages of 21 and 31. But nearly every time I drank at a party (either a house party or at a club with friends), I binged.

If I am honest, and I’m trying to be, I probably binge-drank two or three times a year for roughly 15 years. Between 30 and 45 binges. It didn’t occur to me that this was a problem, neither at the time nor in my first couple of months sober. But it was. It was a huge, screaming, monster-sized problem.

I didn’t see it, though. My occasional binge drinking episodes seemed normal. I figured that if I rarely drank alcohol, there was no way I could have problem with it. Sure, it was a drag to have to be carried into the house and put to bed, or to have my best friend forcibly remove my keys from my hand, or to wind up on the floor of the entryway without knowing how I got there, or to call in sick on a Monday with a left-over “migraine” from a Saturday night I couldn’t remember.  But if it almost never happened, how could I have a problem?

Well, I can see a lot more clearly now than I could a little over four months ago, and I’ve spent countless hours thinking, talking, reading, and writing about my addiction, about addiction in general, and although too much regret is unhealthy and useless, self-awareness is healthy. So is honesty. I see now that I had a serious problem with alcohol from the very first drunken teenage party, and I must have known it on an unconscious level, enough to keep me from drinking most of the time. Once I settled into my comfortable, self-medicating daily habit, I stopped binge-drinking and slapped on the blinders that allowed me to justify it…until I couldn’t do it anymore.

And what about that boyfriend? Reader, I married him. I figure the care and compassion he showed me that night, and has shown me ever since, loving and supporting me for 38 years, more than made up for how funny he thought it would be to take that picture.

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