The Daily Struggle of High-Functioning Alcoholism
I’ve been sober for almost two years, but I think about drinking every day
As I write this, I’ve been sober for 685 days. And I have thought about drinking for each one of those 685 days.
Unlike a lot of people who have problems with alcohol, I didn’t start drinking as a teenager. In fact, I don’t think I had my first drink until after I was 21. After those first few drinks, I didn’t drink again until I was in my mid-30s. I became friends with a college-age guy at my workplace who drank more than anyone I had personally known (and I had several alcoholics in my family) but who still managed to go to class and work every day and generally keep his life together. He’s now a lawyer and seems to be doing well.
My friend introduced me to what was my drink of choice for several years: Evan Williams whiskey. It doesn’t taste as good as Jack, but it gets the job done and is less than half the price. It probably wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that I loved the stuff. Although I did have an on-again, off-again affair with some cheap vodka.
Throughout my drinking years, I was moderately successful. It took me a while to climb the ladder of success at work, but I made it as far with the company I was working for at the time as I had any interest in going and my biggest promotion came during the period I was drinking the most. I have an awesome family that includes a wonderful wife, two great kids, and way too many pets. I own a nice big house in one of the best neighborhoods in my city and I drive a newish car.
My life was hardly perfect — my marriage, for example, suffered some major bumps and bruises along the way but I can safely say almost none of those were due to alcohol.
I know now that I was (am) what some would call a high-functioning alcoholic. This is someone who, even though they drink excessively, appears to have most of their life under control despite their drinking.
I never drove drunk, I never got into fights, and I was never late for or skipped work due to drinking. Unless you happened to see me buying my whiskey or be at my house after 8 pm most evenings, you’d never even know I drank.
But drink I did. For the last five or six years before I stopped, I’d been tipsy or drunk more nights than not. I would meticulously measure out my whiskey most of the time, I think in an attempt to feel like I had some control over the booze. Most nights I would have between 8 and 12 ounces of Evan Williams, and there were many nights I drank as much as 16. This would all happen usually within two hours or less. Occasionally, I would drink several beers instead of whiskey, and many times I would mix beer and whiskey for a faster buzz.
I always knew this was a problem. Even if it didn’t make me screw up at work or engage in risky behavior, I knew I was harming my body. I’ve been overweight for some time, so even just considering the worthless calories from that much booze every evening I wasn’t doing my weight any favors. When you factor in the fact that I tended to snack voraciously while drinking, well… I would usually go over my daily calorie goal within that two hours of drinking alone.
I started out 2018 intending to eat healthier, lose weight, and cut back on alcohol. I did pretty well for most of January. I made a deal with myself to only drink on days where I had the next day off work, and I succeeded in that for almost the entire month. I didn’t have a single drink for maybe 10 or 11 days in the beginning, due to my work schedule and an important trip out of town for which I knew I had to stay sober. I also did well with my diet. I cut out soda completely, had virtually no unhealthy snacks, and tracked my calories daily.
I’d lost 10 pounds by the end of January 2018, and I felt better than I had in a long time. More energy, fewer headaches, etc.
And then I went back on my pledge to only drink when I had the next day off. I stuck to my diet, more or less, and I did okay with tracking my calories — to a point. My weight loss stagnated since I was consuming so many calories between the whiskey and the extra food I would eat while drinking. I plateaued for a while and then started regaining some of the weight I had lost.
I’m not completely positive, but I think I could count on one hand the number of days I didn’t drink excessively throughout March and April 2018. I wasn’t exactly keeping track.
I had my last drink of alcohol on April 30, 2018. I didn’t drink as much as I normally did since we had to leave early the next morning to take my daughter to some doctor’s appointments in Cincinnati (three hours or so from home). When I woke up that Tuesday morning knowing I had made that three-hour drive rougher on me than it had to be by drinking the night before, I angrily poured what whiskey I still had down the sink.
And that was it. I quit drinking cold turkey, which I understand can be dangerous for someone who drank as much as I did. For a few weeks afterward, I had what felt like a hangover many mornings but thankfully didn’t experience truly horrific alcohol withdrawal symptoms like hallucinations or seizures that some people do.
Making the decision to quit drinking was incredibly easy, but staying sober has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. In fact, not a day goes by that I don’t think about drinking.
I never went to Alcoholics Anonymous or saw a therapist about my issues. I am very uncomfortable with AA’s insistence on a higher power being necessary for recovery and was aware of the overall ineffectiveness of 12-step programs for long-lasting sobriety.
As for therapy, while I believe that almost everyone can benefit from seeing a good therapist no matter what’s going on in their lives, I’ve just never taken the first step towards therapy for myself.
I credit the fine folks of the Stop Drinking subreddit for helping me through the last couple of months of my drinking life and the first couple of months of my sober life. Reading stories of people who were even more dependent on alcohol than I was and seeing how they got through it was instrumental in my decision to stop and my struggles afterward.
Annie Grace’s This Naked Mind book was an invaluable resource as well.
Some days are harder than others. I almost stopped at the liquor store on the way home the day I was fired, for example.
I was angry that, while I had no problems with my job the entire time I had been drinking, I ended up being fired well over a year into my sobriety. But my termination had nothing to do with whether or not I was sober and everything to do with my company’s desperate attempts to stay relevant in a dying industry and my boss’s obvious dislike of me personally.
The day my favorite dog passed away was another tough day to get through without drinking, but I continued my streak through that as well.
A couple of things make this daily struggle a little easier. My daughter had a liver transplant when she was three due to a condition called Alagille Syndrome. It’s very important to me that she treat her liver well since it was a gift from a family who lost their child. I always felt hypocritical as I worked on destroying my own liver while stressing the need for her to take her medicine and to stay away from alcohol when she grows up. These feelings ended up making it into some of my fiction.
Another thing that makes it easier is just not being around many people who drink. My wife has abstained from drinking since before I stopped due to some health issues of her own. I think it would be much tougher for me to stay sober if she wasn’t, and I’m grateful to her for her strength. It’s definitely greater than my own.
I wish I had some great advice on how to replicate my success (so far!) with sobriety. I’m proud that I was able to stop drinking and stay sober (so far!) with minimal outside assistance. I know many people would have a tougher time than I’ve had without taking more extreme measures.
All I can say is sobriety is definitely worth it. I’ve come to believe that even a moderate amount of alcohol is more trouble than it’s worth. Most people will end up paying some price for drinking, even if they can do so for quite a while without having obvious repercussions in their daily lives.
I feel much better than when I was drinking. Not having hangovers most mornings is only one part of it. I generally have more energy now than I did before. I’ve lost over 60 pounds, and most of that is directly due to not drinking — I still eat horribly unhealthy things a lot of the time.
So the only advice I feel qualified to give to someone who knows they have a problem is this: do whatever it takes to help you stop drinking.
If you need to stop being around others who drink, do what you can to make that happen — or at least minimize the time you’re with them while they drink.
If you need to think of someone who needs you and would miss you if you weren’t around, think of that person whenever the urge to grab the bottle hits you.
If you think AA will help, even for a while, by all means, do that. See a therapist. Visit the Stop Drinking subreddit and introduce yourself (they are super nice there).
Whatever it takes, do that thing.
The fight against high-functioning alcoholism is definitely worth it, but make no mistake — it is a daily struggle. As they say on the Stop Drinking subreddit, IWNDWYT (I Will Not Drink With You Today).