This isn’t a flattering story to share; it’s actually quite embarrassing, but here it goes.
Until the middle of last week, I always thought that I drank a lot in college. My sophomore year I lived in an apartment that threw two parties every weekend, for example. The place got destroyed. Even then, I never had to question, how do you beat alcoholism?
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Drinking in College
We (by we I mean a particular friend of mine) kicked the thermostat off the wall twice (you know who you are!). We broke a few doors, blasted 20-odd holes in the wall, snapped the hinges on the fridge, changed the color of the carpet from soy-latte brown to black-coffee black, used one closet to hide the empty beer cans which eventually became a breeding ground for tiny flying somethings, and on Homecoming morning a kegs-and-eggs pre-game party became an excuse to have an egg fight. The yellow stains never left the wall.
Did I mention the place got destroyed?
Our end of the year bill was just shy of $1,200 for repairs. Yikes. We were drunkards.
Or so I thought.
Getting smashed a few times a week in college isn’t uncommon. Not throwing any shade on anyone who does that, because I did that. That’s not alcoholism, even though we should take the concept of binge drinking very seriously and it’s not something to joke with.
That being said, I thought I was an alcoholic in college.
But, I was wrong.
I wasn’t depending on alcohol daily, I wasn’t using it to battle my stress. I was using it to not be such an awkward dork in a group of outgoing cool kids. Oh, well.
Drinking for Stress Relief
Last week, however, I realized that I had crossed over a line, and I Googled a question: how do you beat alcoholism?
I’ve been living in Hong Kong since September, and I could have told you before I moved here that living in Hong Kong is stressful for me (I’ve lived here before). But I’m not living here for me, I’m living here for my daughter. For those of who aren’t aware, she’s half-Chinese, and her Chinese family is from Hong Kong. So, she’s here to learn their language and get to know her loving Chinese family.
Unfortunately for me, that means I’m also living in an environment that stresses me out every day. Don’t get me wrong, Hong Kong isn’t necessarily an awful city to live in, it’s because I spent my entire life living in the woods. I grew up surrounded by trees, fresh air, and falling asleep to the sound of crickets and frogs outside my window, then waking up to deer or turkeys waddling through my backyard. When you drive down the road where I grew up, you generally wave at everyone you pass by.
Hong Kong is nothing like that, it’s a big city with a big city environment. There are tall buildings, cars and buses honking, people shoving past each other on the street and throwing their litter on the ground, sirens blaring, helicopters chopping the air, rats dashing between alleyways, upside-down cockroaches on the sidewalks, and shops and people making a general nuisance for a mind like mine that developed on the sound of leaves in the wind.
Even now, as I write this post, someone is hammering away in a nearby room in my apartment building, and I want nothing more than to beat them to death with that hammer.
But I’m not a murderer. I’m stressed out.
How Alcoholism Begins
How have I been handling my stress the past two months? With alcohol.
It started off with a beer at lunch to get me through the day, maybe another beer with dinner to help me relax before I put my daughter to sleep.
Then it became a beer with lunch, one with dinner, and another afterward to put my mind at ease from the city life.
Then, slowly, it built up.
On Thursday last week, I drank 2.5 liters of 5.0% ABV beer over the course of the day. Not partying, not enjoying it with anyone. Just doing my writing at home, drinking, all day.
I woke up on Friday and asked myself, why the fuck am I drinking so much? But, I knew the answer, it’s the stress of the city. However, it’s no excuse. So I decided I needed to quit drinking. I needed to ask another question, how do you beat alcoholism?
Why? I know the long-term effects that alcohol can have on your brain and body. I could tell I put on some weight over the past two months. And I just don’t want to drink that much. I knew I was using it as a crutch, and I don’t even like drinking that much anymore, so I was just generally grossed out with myself.
How do You Beat Alcoholism?
Firstly, you Google it and find a method that works for you or talk to your doctor. This isn’t medical advice, it’s my personal story.
Thursday, my drinking peaked. Friday, I quit. And, Friday, I felt the effects.
Despite my drinking escapades in college, I never got addicted. I wasn’t using it every day, so I’m not surprised. This time, since I’d been drinking every day for two months straight, I did get addicted.
This isn’t the story about the addiction, though. It’s about the withdrawals.
No Drinking: Day 1
On Friday, not long after lunch time, I started experiencing headaches. Not weak ones either. Before dinner time, the headaches were stronger, and I was feeling a general feeling of crappiness. Even though I hadn’t ever experienced this before, I knew what it was: alcohol withdrawals.
I knew it was bad as I was on the subway to pick up my daughter from school. I was leaning against the side of the train car, feeling melancholy, muscle pains, and upset at myself for drinking so much recently.
On the walk home, I made my attempt to quit real. Holding my daughter’s hand while walking her home, “I’m not gonna drink any more beer,” I said to her. She didn’t fully understand what I was saying, but it’s not the point. I knew that my 4-year-old would call me out if she saw me drinking one, it was a way to keep a check on myself and not break a promise to my daughter.
Playing with Auburn when we got home was impossible. I needed quiet and rest. A 4-year-old doesn’t give you either.
I had a hard time falling asleep, I couldn’t stay asleep, and my dreams were extremely vivid and disconcerting. They were dreams of being trapped, held hostage, fighting, and arguing. Overall, the first 24 hours were pure crap.
No Drinking: Day 2
Saturday didn’t start off any better. I awoke groggily with a headache still present. I knew that drinking a beer would ease the pain and discomfort, but I can be a person of extremes, I wasn’t going to taper. It’s cold turkey for me. Just get it over with.
But it wasn’t about to let up that easily. The headaches intensified, the general feeling of shittiness grew. And I was looking at a full-day of hanging out with 4-year-old.
People think being a single parent is difficult, especially if you are away from home. I don’t (usually). Maybe it’s because I’m just accustomed to it, and I enjoy spending my time listening to her giggle in between her grumpy footstomps. However, being a single parent is extremely difficult when you’re going through withdrawals.
The attention that I usually give to Auburn was diverted to trying to mitigate my headaches, relax my body, and reminding myself that I’ll be over it soon (hopefully).
I had to quickly come up with a way to keep her fed and entertained all day. So, I premade a bunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and gave up my ideals of minimizing her electronic usage and let her use my Kindle as much as she wanted. Thankfully, she spent the day watching Lalaloopsy and munching her sandwiches, but that did nothing to ease my physical and mental discomfort.
It was day two of headaches, physical pain, in the mental torment of knowing that I did this to myself. I did what I could to keep myself nominal: I drink a lot of water, ate plenty of vegetables, and moved my mind away from drinking beer by drinking Sprite and eating Cadbury Milk Chocolate.
Night number two was very similar to night number one. In fact, there was almost zero change, and I woke up on Sunday with the same headache.
No Drinking: Day 3
Sunday was like Saturday. Headaches, muscle pain, general feeling of melancholy. I was starting to realize that I had been much more addicted to drinking that what I had thought. At least, I said to myself, I hadn’t been drinking for six months or a year. Alcoholism runs in my family, and it’s not a rabbit hole I want to fall down.
Thankfully, Auburn spent the afternoon with her Chinese family. I spent the afternoon wallowing in pain and self-pity. I spent it thinking about how awful other forms of withdrawal must be and how people can get addicted to painkillers or street drugs.
You see, like many Americans, I lost a friend about a year ago to addiction. I remember knowing why he had got addicted to painkillers (he fell off a roof and broke his back), and him explaining how they had stopped working, so he had to take more than what he was being prescribed. It sounded scary to me, but he said he needed it. He was a hard-worker, a good father, and a kind friend. I never expected him to be able to end his addiction to painkillers. Now that I’ve been through the withdrawals of alcohol, I can’t imagine anyone being able to. I digress.
How do you beat alcoholism? You suffer. You suffer for days and nights.
Sunday night was the worst of the headaches: a splitting headache. Worse than the concussion I got when I fell off my bike in the 7th grade. I knew beer would stop it. I had a beer still sitting in my fridge. I opened the fridge door.
And I nearly vomited.
Just looking at it reminded me of the trap I had built for myself. To get to this point, I was ashamed of myself. I closed the fridge door, got my daughter and myself to bed, and slept just slightly better than the previous two nights.
No Drinking: Day 4
Now it’s Monday. My headache is almost gone, the physical pain significantly reduced, the feeling of melancholy nearly extinguished. I haven’t drank any alcohol since Thursday, and I’m feeling much better about myself. I can tell that I’ve already lost a pound or two from my diet the past few days. I don’t feel as tired this morning, and I’m much more productive than I was on Friday (of course).
So, how do you beat alcoholism? You suffer. But when you’re done suffering, there’s still the guilt. Thankfully, I’ve learned to let go of guilt and focus on the future. I won’t say that I’ll never drink again, I probably will. But I won’t be drinking for a while, and when I do, I’m going to remember these past few days and what it was like to withdraw from it. If I don’t remember, then I can always return to read this post to remind myself of the physical and mental pain that it put me through. It’s something I never want to return to again.
If you’re wondering, how do you beat alcoholism? Do it at your pace, stay strong, and just remember that your central nervous system is reacting to a new environment that isn’t soaked in alcohol. It will take time to adjust, but it will adjust.