I used to have a drinking problem. I don’t think it ever elevated to the point of “alcoholism” and I don’t identify as an alcoholic, but my social drinking was socially acceptable enough to screw up my life for years.
After a string of manic episodes last summer, I wound up in Orlando at Pasadena Villa- an inpatient living facility for people with mental health / addiction issues. The month I spent there saved my life. Making friends and being in groups with other people with bipolar totally destigmatized the disorder, and I now talk about it openly whereas once I pretended it wholly didn’t exist.
Most of the other people there had addiction issues in addition to their psychological conditions. The overlap is prevalent as many with mental health issues tend to self-soothe one way or another. I was pretty much the only one there who was not sober. I felt that drinking was not really a problem for me, and while I was committed to my mental health needs upon exit from the program, stopping drinking was not necessary for me. In fact, I had a few beers at the Orlando airport before boarding my October flight home.
My friend and manager Chris invited me to a series of Zoom support groups called MusiCares, sponsored by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS). There are a few every week, and I try to make the LA one on Tuesdays and the Fort Collins one on Wednesday nights. Most of the meetings are “process groups” and are open to music-oriented folks with any issues, not limited to substance abuse. The lion’s share of the attendees are, however, former addicts of one stripe or another. The lifestyle began to rub off on me.
My hangovers started to get bad. I was working freelance, so it was no big deal for me to sleep in and start work in the mid or late afternoon. My schedule was amenable to problem drinking. But I had a few things “going for me”. I never drank at home. I didn’t even keep booze in the house. Never really have. Also, upon waking after a night of drinking, I didn’t crave alcohol. But these were all bullshit rationalizations that made me think drinking wasn’t messing up my life. I would go out to the bars 3 or 4 nights a week, and I’d generally drink 6 to 8 IPA’s. Here’s me talking frankly about my habit in 2017.
Toward the end of my drinking, things started to get a little scary. My anxiety was so bad that I started to crave relief during the day. I would go to Starbucks and get a green peach tea, then wait for the bar to open at 3pm and order a Steigl Radler and dump it in my venti iced tea. Radlers are a grapefruit malt soda thing that’s only 2.25% alcohol. I would have a few of these and they would make me feel better. Looking back, three of those equal about one strong beer, but this was just another way for me to feel like I didn’t have a problem. I did this for about a week and a half. Waiting all day for the bar to open, then soothing my anxiety with Radlers. On about day 10, I simply wasn’t having fun anymore. So I quit. And that was 208 days ago.
I still love hanging out in bars (I’m in one right now, as a matter of fact). There are a ton of non-alcoholic options nowadays that taste just like beer and make me feel like I’m a part of the crowd. Quite often I’ll have a soda water with a dash of bitters. Bitters is technically 40% alcohol, but the few drops that go into a soda and bitters is pretty much the equivalent of mouthwash. I haven’t been drunk in over 6 months, and obviously, have not had to suffer any hangovers.
I feel good. I look good. But I still have some challenges.
It’s hard for me to socialize. I used to rely on booze to ease my social anxiety. And as you can read in my blog post “Digging up the Dirt,” a lot of my unresolved childhood issues are now coming to the fore now that I’m not anesthetizing myself. I’m starting to feel for the first time and it’s scary as fuck.