The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism, Part One


We have lingered in the chambers of the sea, By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown, Till human voices wake us, and we drown.                 — T.S. Eliot

In my semi-homelessness, I find that I spend a lot of time cowering in public bathrooms. Sometimes to run hand-soap through my face and hair, but most times to fill up my thermos with vodka, which I then cleverly top off with Diet Coke (for I am an alcoholic who wishes to stay thin). Doing this, the thermos thing, involves hiding in a stall for a while, as I unscrew various bottles, trying not to splash or make too much noise. So, this gives me a lot of time to read bathroom stall graffiti.

Mostly the graffiti is dumb. Drawings of penises or very short messages. For a good time call… Or short declarations: Chris loves Beth. John + Allie. Mike loves Jesus. It’s nice to see that people can still love each other, I guess.

But sometimes, the graffiti is of higher quality. I was in the bathroom of a hipster coffeehouse the other day, carefully filling up my flask, and I saw two scribblings that stuck in my mind. One said this: READ MORE PYNCHON. It’s a debatably good point. I don’t like Pynchon much (he’s too desperately po-mo for my taste), but I should try to read more of him. I only made it ten pages into The Crying of Lot 49, and only two pages into V.

The other scribbling said this: YOU ARE GOING TO DIE. This was definitely a good point. It’s the one inarguable thing that you can say, really. We are all going to die. I’m going to die one day, and so are you. Everyone dies.

But it stuck in my head for a different reason. I am afraid that I am going to die of alcoholism. My grandmother and uncle died of it. My father almost did. It’s a family thing. It runs in the family, you might say.

A good question might be: If you’re afraid of dying of it, why don’t you just stop drinking? To which I say: A-ha. What a stupid fucking question. You clearly don’t understand alcoholism at all.


People think alcoholics are crazy, but I’ve seen crazier things than that. For example: I was at my friend’s house the other day. She opened up a bottle of white wine. She drank about a glass and a half of it, over the course of dinner. And do you know what she did then? She put the cork back in the bottle. It was one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen. “That’s all?” I wanted to say. “That’s sufficient for your wine needs?” It was one of the batshit insanest things that I’ve ever seen. Why bother? I thought. Why start, if you’re doing to stop? When I start drinking, I don’t stop.

Listen to me. I don’t drink for fun. I long ago gave up drinking for fun. I don’t even go to bars any more. I drink so much that going to bars is way too expensive. Seven drinks a night, say, at a bar? That can really add up. I go to the store, buy alcohol, and drink at home, by myself, while I write, or talk to people on IM. I don’t party, I don’t go to keggers. I’m a professional. I take my drinking seriously.

I have a fairly high level anxiety disorder. And if I don’t drink, I have fairly constant panic attacks. I start hyperventilating. I cry and such. I take meds to avoid this, but the meds barely work. Drinking works though.


Here’s the problem with drinking: With no drinks in me, I am shy, hiding in the corner. After two or three drinks, I’m a witty raconteur. I’m the person I want to be; the person that I pretend to be in my writing. (I drink while writing most of my essays, it helps build my confidence — although I didn’t drink while writing this one.)

So that works fine, but that’s where most normal people would stop: with two drinks, when they are feeling fine. I don’t stop. Repeat: I will not stop there. You cannot stop me. I will not stop.

Alcoholism is an impulse-control problem characterized by a lack of forethought.

It’s hard for people to understand. If you’re feeling good after a few drinks, why not stop there? But my mind thinks:  If I’m feeling good after two drinks, then, say, fourteen drinks will — um, math, math… make me feel seven times better, at least!

This is not, of course, what happens. After fourteen drinks, I am not exponentially the life of the party. After fourteen drinks, I do crazy shit. And after fourteen drinks, I say mean shit, and act like an asshole. (And I have done this several times here on Thought Catalog; saying mean shit when I was drunk — for which I unreservedly apologize.)

People don’t understand why alcoholics act like this. What alcoholics are doing is making a category mistake. We’re not seeing what’s right in front of us. Despite repeated failures, we persist in thinking that lots of drinks will lead to lots of good results.


Maybe an example will help. Say you’re out of shape, and you have a mean girlfriend/boyfriend who’s constantly nagging at you about your weight. So you start jogging a mile every couple of days. Pretty soon, you’re fit and slim. You feel better; more confident. You ditch the mean girlfriend/boyfriend and get a nicer one.

Encouraged by these results, you start jogging five miles every day. Now you’re really in shape. You get an even hotter and nicer girlfriend/boyfriend. People are knocked over by your physique. Strangers whistle at you and give you their card. Your newfound confidence leads to you getting a promotion at work.

So, that’s all well and good. But now, the law of diminishing returns kicks in. It doesn’t follow that if you jog forty miles a day, you’ll be dating a supermodel and become President of the World. Diminishing returns, do you follow? Instead, what will happen is that your obsession will start to affect the rest of your life. You miss work, because all you’re doing is jogging. You don’t spend time with that new boyfriend/girlfriend; all you’re doing now is jogging. all you talk about is jogging, all you think about is jogging, jog, jog, jog.

…Do you see the problem here?

Well, that’s what being an alcoholic is like.


Coming next:  What it’s really like for me.

You should like Thought Catalog on Facebook here.

image – Chris huh