Why I’ve Got a Problem With Drinking…But it’s Not What You Think

I drink. Not a lot. But at a half-century plus, I’m well into adulthood, and I do have a drink or two a few times a week. But I have a complicated relationship with alcohol. I didn’t ask or want for my relationship to be this way, but I guess my personality combined with those who have crossed my path, have turned it into this complicated thing.

Drinking for me began as an underage teenager, as it often begins for most. But that’s not where my problem began. It began with other people. My first real exposure to drinking was around my older sister and her friends. I would go hang out with them at my sister’s apartment, and while they were sitting around listening to music, drinking beer, and smoking a joint, I would watch. Sounds voyeuristic, but it was more observation and a study of this social dynamic. It was kind of learning how this other part of the world worked.

Sure I had a beer or two at the time, but I was a bit mesmerized by the whole scene, pondering the idea of “partying”, and what I had been missing in my uncool, uptight youth. THIS was what people did when they asked, “do you wanna party?” ?! Frankly, I thought it was dumb. And I thought the people LOOKED dumb doing it. I didn’t get it. What was fun about that? What was so great about looking so dumb getting high and drunk? No, really, I need someone to explain that to me.

I continued to imbibe given the opportunity, and can report that my first night of total drunkenness was not fun. I suppose there was some sort of fun at “the party,” but that quickly turned to an un-fun-never-forget-it-evening with the porcelain god. I’m lucky to have gotten home alive, no one hurt, un-arrested.

I can count on one hand how many times I’ve over-indulged to the point where I know I’ve crossed a line…and still have probably one finger left over. That was all it took to learn my lesson about drinking too much. When you feel like shit afterwards, what’s really the fun in it? You didn’t have to pound lessons into my head. Being the rule-follower that I was, it didn’t take much to realize a bad choice when I made one.

My first date with who would be my future ex-husband involved a trip to the Zippy Mart to buy a 12-pack of beer for the hour’s drive back home from our date. He grabbed one out of the case, popped the top, and off we went! I should’ve gotten a clue at that point (see that little red flag waving?), but I thought this was what the cool people did. And remember I had a yearning to be cool.

Over the next 10 years I watched this man have a dysfunctional relationship with alcohol. There was drinking on the job (as a bartender), drinking after the job, drinking and driving, and just drinking, and more drinking. I spent many a night watching him drink when we were out at a bar. So much so, that counting his beers became important to me because that would tell me when he’d cross the line to sloppy drunkenness.

That line was 10 beers in. Number 8 was the warning that sloppy obnoxiousness was just around the corner at 10. That line where I didn’t care to be around him anymore. But I was. I sat glued to my seat, emotionally tormented by my internal struggle to be the good, loyal girlfriend. For some reason I couldn’t muster the strength to proclaim how wrong it all was and just leave this alcoholic man.

But I didn’t really KNOW what an alcoholic man looked like. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe he really wasn’t. There was doubt in my thoughts, and also not. I was young and dumb, and didn’t know my self-worth. So I stayed and kept counting. I was the passenger in his spiraling ride to rock bottom. I was also the passenger in his car after multiple beers and gin and tonics, and watched him weave in and out of traffic, over the speed limit, inches from the back bumper of too many cars.

I’ve felt the fear. Not just the fear of being in that car, but the fear of wondering when the obnoxiousness would kick in. I learned all about drinking from him. There are fun drunks, mean drunks, and obnoxious, sloppy drunks. He was the latter. 10 beers and counting. That doesn’t mean he’d stop at 10. That was just where I knew the line existed, and I knew what to expect. Which wasn’t anything good. The speech would begin to slur, he’d get a little glaze in his eyes, uncoordination would slightly creep in, his banter would get a little more obnoxious, and at times his drunken overconfidence would make him a little flirty and invincible. I watched for a decade until finally it all caught up to him.

It was just before Christmas, and he had spent the day drinking and shopping for my Christmas gift. On his way back home (late as usual- the drink becomes more important than watching the clock) in his “company car” he made a brazen left turn right into the path of another car, hitting it and sending that unsuspecting couple to the hospital with injuries. He himself was life-flighted there as well.

Our child was already in bed, and I had dinner on the table, when I got the phone call from the hospital about my husband, the patient, the soon-to-be-arrested. Everyone physically survived the car crash. The emotional collateral damage still lurks behind a distant corner decades later.

There were stitches and broken bones. Cars were totaled. Bank accounts got lighter from attorney bills. Egos were humbled. Fear lurked beneath the surface as the courtroom promised to put him away for 3 years. That was the end of his drinking, and the beginning of his sobriety. But I sure did learn all about drinking from him. And it’s nothing good.

He got lucky, and never went to jail. He got sober, and life carried on, but we divorced anyways. I always thought it would be a return to drinking that would challenge our marriage, but surprisingly it was not.

He was great at drinking, but equally fantastic at staying sober. Good for him. But because of him I have a complicated relationship with alcohol. I watch others at a social function and watch how they drink. If they seem overly happy, fun, obnoxious, or anything out of character for that person, then it’s usually because they’ve reached a level of tipsiness. It’s funny. Even entertaining. Guiltily so. Guiltily because I am enjoying behavior that I should not.

When they continue to drink, and start to get slurred speech, uncoordinated, or sloppy, then I’m totally turned off. It just brings me back to ill feelings, and it hurts to go there. I’m fascinated by people that allow themselves to lose that much control through alcohol. How stupid they look, I think. And yet I’m also a teensy jealous that I can’t let go like that.

…I told you it’s complicated.

But then I berate myself for that feeling because that would be bad to envy one who drank so much. It’s just really wrong. After what I’ve been through and seen. I can’t condone drinking to excess. I just can’t. I can’t be a party to it (no pun intended). How many car crashes and lives hurt and ended, do you have to read about to know that drinking doesn’t do much good for anybody? I didn’t just read it. I lived it. But we got out unscathed compared to those who are paralyzed or dead, or who drove their friends and loved ones to their deaths and lived to tell about it. How horrifying.

So yeah, I’ve got a problem with drinking. It creates a lot of problems. I know what’s possibly waiting on the other side of that round of shots no one needed to have. And it isn’t pretty. Not pretty at all. So I dare not be jealous. I’d like to have fun like others do, but I can’t undo and un-see what I lived as an alcoholic’s wife. And I have children. I feel a responsibility as a parent to demonstrate responsibility around drinking…in my words and actions. I can’t contribute in any way to the bad choices they will more than likely make. I can’t have that on my conscience. If they’re going to drink underage, or to excess then I don’t want it to be because they learned from me that I thought that was okay.

What I’ve learned the most…and this will wrap it all up nice and pretty with a bow…is that drinking to excess is a selfish activity. Not much good happens when you drink to excess. In fact I will stand up and say that NOTHING good happens when you drink to excess. One or two is one thing. Drunkenness is another. If you’re drinking to get buzzed or shit-faced, then what you’re saying to the one you’re with (girlfriend, wife, partner) is that you care more about losing yourself at the bottom of those 4 or 6 or 9 drinks and the feeling you get from those drinks, than her feelings and your relationship together in that moment, at that restaurant or bar or party.

I spent a decade with an alcoholic, so I know a few things about alcohol. None of it is pretty. And I’m here decades later still wearing scars that will never, ever go away.

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On a writing journey to somewhere. I like talking about life lessons and self-awareness. Proud mom, happy wife, just trying to leave something behind.

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Della Jennsen

Della Jennsen

On a writing journey to somewhere. I like talking about life lessons and self-awareness. Proud mom, happy wife, just trying to leave something behind.

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