My Complicated Relationship With Alcohol

BY ELIZABETH KING

I love a good drink. I hate drinking. I want a beer. I’m never going to drink again.

My relationship with alcohol is complicated. Though I’m not addicted or dependent, alcohol and I just aren’t very compatible. I never really let it go. I don’t drink often, but I do spend a lot of time thinking about the way I relate to booze. Even though I don’t always have a great time when I’m drinking, I never seem to remember how tenuous this relationship is. I want to be a person who can drink regardless of what is going on in my life, and no matter how I feel. I want it to calm my nerves when I’m anxious, buck me up or numb me down if I’m depressed, and draw me out when I’m feeling shy. But I’ve never quite been able to make it work the way others seem to.


Maybe I drink so I can express things I’m usually too vulnerable to say; so that I can l metaphorically vomit up any pain that I might be repressing.


It’s odd, even to me, that I see this as a shortcoming or failure on my part. Having always strived for perhaps impossible levels of perfection, I resent that something as basic as alcohol can disrupt my image of myself as much as it does. In my mind, a healthy adult should be able to get good and drunk and be fine, no matter what. They should be able to carry on a conversation, easily walk home from the corner bar, and dear lord, they should never, ever cry. The problem is, I can’t do any of those if I’ve had even half an ounce too much to drink. Before I go out I try to have the limits conversation with myself. I say, “Okay, tonight, no more than three drinks.” Sometimes this self-talk is effective, but when it isn’t and I have, say, five drinks, things can and often do go awry.  

After the internal scale of my blood to alcohol ratio tips the wrong way, I can quickly become the poster child for sloppy drunkenness. Other times I am the life of the party: giggly, friendly, enthusiastic, and charming. Maybe a little wobbly, but fun to be around. That’s the sort of inebriation I'm always hoping for when I take my first sip of my first beer. But in truth, I can’t say for sure how many times I’ve actually been able to stop at this point; at that solid buzzed feeling when I haven’t yet lost my glasses or become fixated on something that upsets me.


No matter how innocuous my behavior may have been, I will find answers to these questions that serve a self-loathing agenda.


People close to me have suggested that “the sad Liz” comes out when I’ve had a few too many. They gently suggest that I have deeply repressed issues that I only unleash when my inhibitions are virtually nonexistent. According to this theory, which I admit may have some merit, I drink with the hope that a nice, stiff drink will buck me up and make me feel powerful. However, this doesn’t work, and I instead bumble down the path to my deep dark place.

I’ve given a lot of consideration to this explanation, and the narrative does seem to fit. Maybe I drink so I can express things I’m usually too vulnerable to say; so that I can l metaphorically vomit up any pain that I might be repressing. Alcohol lowers inhibitions, but my goal isn’t to get laid or give someone a piece of my mind after holding it in for weeks, it’s to get myself to admit that I sometimes still feel injured and vulnerable and alone.

The anxiety that comes when I am truly hungover is perhaps the most unsettling part of my relationship with alcohol. The frenzied and passionate rampage of anxious thoughts that flood my mind before I can even get up for a glass of water causes pain in my chest that rivals any champagne headache. My heart feels like it is beating down on my ribs, and all I can think about is the fact that I cried in front of people. Or if I didn’t cry, I’m left wondering what I did do—did I otherwise embarrass myself? Did I do anything unsafe? Was I nice to everyone? No matter how innocuous my behavior may have been, I will find answers to these questions that serve a self-loathing agenda.


Maybe I’m just not ready to give up unadulterated access to a part of me that’s so vulnerable that I can barely touch it laying on a shrink’s couch.


So why on earth don’t I just give it up? Alcohol is not a big part of my life. I’ve gone on so many stints of sobriety, ranging from two weeks at a time to half a year, that have gone off just fine, and (I'll admit it) may have been good for my overall mental health. It’s not that I need it; I think I just want to feel normal. I want to feel like a person who doesn’t have quiet demons lurking around in my psyche that suddenly start to rage after a couple of whiskey sours. I don’t want to admit that even after three years of therapy, a year of meditation, and several quality self-help books, I still have problems. I don't want to admit that alcohol gives me an outlet.

My relationship with alcohol humbles me, and reminds me of my own humanity. It helps me talk about things I’d rather forget were inside of me. And afterwards, the hangover is a physically and emotionally painful reminder that stings more than the thoughts and actions that lead to it. Feeling this way always makes me want to do better; to try harder.

I’m not sure that I’ll ever be able to sort things out with the bottle. It’s totally possible I should let it go and not drink at all. Just accept that it doesn’t work for me. On the one hand it feels like it would be so easy to give it up, and I wouldn’t miss it once it was gone. It’s the obvious solution. However, I haven't reached that conclusion yet. I still get drinks, I still get drunk, I still have self-loathing hangovers. Perhaps I’m just not ready to give up unadulterated access to a part of me that’s so vulnerable that I can barely touch it laying on a shrink’s couch. At least for now, I’m not ready to see these things in another way.

Make me a martini. Make me promise not to drink for a month.  Make me normal.