A few months ago I had lunch with a former alcoholic. I guess that is still just called an ‘alcoholic’. Presidents and alcoholics get to keep their status for all eternity. Anyway, I told him about my situation; about not being able to control my binge drinking and about getting anxious and depressed for several days after having been drunk. His response was quite clear: ‘Well, you are an alcoholic’.
Shortly after having posted a Facebook update about this blog a few days ago, I received an email from a journalist I know asking if I might want to consider hosting a tv or radio show about alcoholism. My immediate impression from reading the email was that the idea was for me to act as the recovering alcoholic whose experiences should serve as entry point for discussing alcoholism more broadly.
In both instances, I am being categorised by someone else as an alcoholic. And I am really not comfortable with that. Maybe I am an alcoholic. I don’t know. But I am definitively not ready to own that status with everything that it might entail. I know that from my immediate reaction: They are wrong! I have a problem with alcohol but to frame it as alcoholism is…a bit excessive. But they might be right.
Here is my drinking pattern during a normal week: Monday to Thursday I don’t drink. But depending on the work load during the week, I might already halfway through Wednesday start to think about having a glass of wine Friday night. Thursday I am seriously considering whether to have a glass of wine or a beer but I usually don’t drink anything. The big issue on Fridays is not whether or not to drink alcohol but when to start. For many years, 18:00 was the limit. Anything before that was a problem. But during the last couple of years, I changed that to 17:00. That always implies a feeling of guilt because, obviously, drinking alcohol in the late afternoon is morally wrong. If I am at home with the family, I usually have 3-4 glasses of wine. And, in the summer, probably also a beer. After two glasses of wine I get a bit tired and will often start thinking about why it is that it is so important to me to drink alcohol when what it does is that it detaches me from whatever I am doing. Such as spending time with my family. The pattern repeats itself on Saturdays. If I am at social gatherings, dinner parties or even something more ambitious that might involve an ironed shirt, the pattern changes. For the first 2-3 hours of the night, I am extremely conscious about not drinking too much and not drinking too fast. And I try to dilute alcohol with water. In fact, I will often start out drinking more water than alcohol. I drink really, really fast so I spend a lot of time observing everybody else’s drinking patterns in order not to get too far ahead. But after a few hours, I loose track and my thoughts wander off leaving behind the carefully crafted mental chart displaying the average drinking pattern of everyone at the party. Very soon I start to binge drink and will continue to do so until I am too drunk to participate in a meaningful conversation. At that point I usually try my luck on the dance floor. It rarely leads anywhere except back to my bed. For the next few days I will be anxious and depressed; constantly scanning my fractured memory for traces of all the stupid things I probably did. Usually I find only fragments that I use to confirm what I already knew: I got way more drunk than everyone else and ended up as a pathetic clown.
Is that alcoholism? Am I an alcolic? I might be. I don’t know. But I do know that I have a problem with alcohol. And by keeping it at an arm’s length, it is easier to deal with. At least for now.