The room was dimly lit, smelling of stale cigarette smoke and burnt coffee. Twenty-some people were there, sitting on folding chairs, or the overstuffed navy blue couch. Almost everyone was drinking black coffee from Styrofoam cups, with their legs crossed, listening intently to the speaker. During the talk, a couple of people went to the coffee maker for refills, or grabbed stale powered donuts, so hard they had to be dipped in the coffee to be rendered edible.
I was sitting on the floor, legs crossed, Indian style. The shag carpeting felt comfortable under my bottom, and was enjoying listening to the speaker. When he was finished, everyone clapped and someone else started talking. After several more speakers, it was my turn. I cleared my throat and looked nervously around the room. The words were coming out faster than I could think. "Hi, my name is Susan, and I am an alcoholic."
I am an alcoholic. I haven't had a drink since September 26, 1996. My last drink, ice tea and grain alcohol was the day before. This is something that I never thought about until I was reading a book on bipolar where the author stated that 60 percent of all people with bipolar have had a problem with substance dependency. My drinking was different. I wasn't drinking to control my moods, I was drinking because I was hell bent on destroying myself. They say that alcohol is a depressant, but I can tell you when I drank, it was for the initial buzz of euphoria and sense of well being. I loved the way it made my insides melt. What I didn't like was the sad feeling that always came out after the first initial numbness.
Every alcoholic has a story. I had my first drink in college, the first weekend away from home. My roommate and I crashed a frat party. This was the fall of 1980 and I had just turned 18 that weekend. Animal House was out the previous year, and every frat on campus was having a toga party. We went to one of the frats, thinking we were all grown up. I recall when I got there, I didn't want a beer. Someone handed me a cup of purple Kool Aid, and I found a couch inside and sat down and drank. Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon", was on the stereo, and I just recall that the album never sounded so good.
Guys kept refilling my glass, asking me "You're a freshman?". Finally the inevitable happened, my bladder was full. I tried to make it upstairs to the bathroom, but there was an incredible line. Instead my roommate found me and we left the party, walking back to our dorm cross campus. I recall I could barely walk, and neither could she. And I couldn't stop thinking when I fell on the ground "The lunatic is on the grass".
When we got back to the dorm, I signed in, and it became clear to my
RA that I was drunk, very drunk. I couldn't understand that, I had no beer, just grape Kool Aide. Roommate and I somehow collapsed into bed, and I recall the bed spinning. Then I got sick. Exorcist sick. I ended up in the infirmary. The next day the nurse told me I was drinking grape Kool Aide with grain alcohol in it. All I knew is I felt sick, hung over and ashamed. I vowed never to drink again.
And I really didn't. Oh yes, I might have had a beer in the Rathskeller with my friends between classes but one was always my limit. Somehow, I must have sensed my birth family had a long line of alcoholics and I knew not to drink.
Fast forward to 1996. I had come back from California a year before, broke. I had the misfortune of letting a friend's sister stay with me when her apartment was being fixed from the Northridge Quake. No one told me she had a coke habit, and I had never met anyone who did drugs before. In the two months that she lived with me, she totalled my car, then totalled the rental car. She figured out my ATM number, went into my checking and savings accounts and wiped them both dry, stole my furniture, and my jewelry and pawned it. I lost almost 40,000 that went up her nose before I realized what she had done and and at that point called the police and they involuntarily put her in rehab. And with no money left, no furniture, I had no choice but to move back home with mom and dad.
It wasn't a good situation. I found a job at a bookstore and moved out into an apartment. It wasn't a nice apartment, it was in the states capital, but it was mine and it was better than nothing. I remember my upstairs neighbor was a prostitute and my doorbell would ring at weird hours by drunken Johns at the wrong door.
The downstairs neighbor sold pot, but the police stayed away because he never sold to minors. Another neighbor was constantly getting into trouble for beating his wife.
I didn't like working in that bookstore. I love books, and own close to a thousand in my own personal library. But this was a mega bookstore. I had worked in a mom and pop one ten years earlier for a few years, which I loved. But this was different, there was less emphasis on the customer and more on just selling books. They guy I was seeing was really disliked by my parents, and much to my chagrin, my father told him he would give him money to stop dating me. Of course, he took it.
I am sure this was done in my best interests, but I felt like I was a failure. One day a friend from the bookstore came over with a bottle of red wine as a housewarming gift. We drank the bottle and the next morning when I woke up, I wanted more. I went to work and on the way home, stopped at a licquor store and bought a bottle of the same vintage, and drank that in the evening. I did this every night for a week. And I discovered something. By the end of the week,I wasn't getting buzzed on the wine. Instead I was drinking vodka, pouring it in the wine to get drunk faster. I knew it was wrong, but I didn't care. I figured I didn't have the courage to kill myself outright, so I might as well drink myself to death. Besides, some of the best writers were alcoholics, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Fitzgerald and Steinbeck. A genius that no one understood. My muse was telling me it was romantic to be drunk like them.
The only problem was what I was writing at this time was absolute crap. Alcohol might have made Faulkner or Hemingway more creative, but it was having the opposite affect on me. But I loved the warm feeling I would get when I drank, how the walls around me dissolved, melted and I became one with the universe.
In two short months I was a full blown alcoholic. I was drinking very every night, first pouring vodka in my wine coolers to get drunk, and when that didn't work anymore I graduated to wine and vodka. When that no longer worked I was pouring grain alcohol in my wine to get buzzed faster.
That would make me wake up in the morning with the shakes, and I needed an eye-opener. So I would have a glass of wine by itself. I didn't care, I figured I would be dead in six months. I figured I had nothing to live for, after all, I was persona non grata in my family. I had no boyfriend, I mean what kind of boyfriend would choose money over me? My self esteem was out the window, and I felt like shit. The alcohol bloated me up by thirty pounds and I was the heaviest I had ever been in my life.But I couldn't stop, every night I would take a bottle of Stoli I left in the fridge, pour a huge drink and watch British comedies on VHS tape. I knew I shouldn't be doing it. At the time I had an idea I was bipolar, but wouldn't acknowledge it. I had been diagnosed as bipolar 10 years earlier when I had my first hospitalization when I crashed and burned at the end of Grad school and would up first in the hospital for 2 days from the suicide attempt, and then a month in the other hospital.
All I knew now that my moods were going from manic- days without sleeping, to suicidal despair where I would try to top myself off with a drink and Asprin. One time I fell asleep , tripped over a bottle, broke it and wound up with glass embedded in my kneecap. Cute. Blood all over the carpet. I didn't care, I laughed when I saw the blood red streaks melt into the off white color. For months I had glass embedded in my skin.
And one day came when I woke up covered in vomit from head to toe, shaking so badly the bed was actually moving. I knew I had to stop. After all, didn't Janis Joplin die when she vomited in her sleep? Maybe something woke up that day inside of me and I knew I needed help. I had to stop. Something primal in my brain told me the next time this happened I would be dead like Janis. And suddenly, I didn't want to die anymore.
I cleaned myself up, did the laundry. I felt awful. I was shaking,m but poured the rest of the booze down the drain. And went to my first AA meeting that day.
I realized that was what stopped me. I didn't want to die. I got sober, which was one of the hardest things I ever did. But I wanted to live. I didn't want to be a drunken writer. All of a sudden Hemingway and Fitzgerald as the troubled dipsomaniacs with the tortured souls wasn't appealing. Ray Carver got dry. I could do it too. i didn't stay with AA but did it myself, substituting a Snapple for every time I wanted a drink.
So 60 percent of people with bipolar have a lifetime substance dependency problem. Maybe in my case it was just from a feeling of pain of being different, feeling different from everyone else, feeling like a failure because I felt like I was the only living person on the planet. I was in so much emotional pain back then I didn't know how to cope. I've learned sincethen to make closure with a lot of the issues I had back then. I have also learned that yes, I am bipolar. I have grown to accept it, and by accepting it work on my recovery. The only way I could get better, to start healing was to accept it. Whether it's alcohol or bipolar. It's something I still have issues with, dealing with, understanding and accepting. Even now. There are days where I wish I was normal and didn't have to take any meds, thinking there is nothing wrong with me. And I feel great until I go manic or depressed. Now I know I have to take my meds daily. Now I know my birth family comes from a long line of Irish alcoholics, my genes didn't escape that. I know if I have one drink, I die. Simple as that. I don't want to die, not now. I still have a lot more living to do.