Author | Photos Paul Garaizar

Never Enough: Alcoholic at sixteen, sober at twenty-five

My first drink was a shot of vodka with a little bit of sugar in it. I was sixteen years old and hanging out with some older teenagers and twenty-somethings. They thought it was adorable that I’d never had a drink and immediately got me drinking. My memory of that night comes in pieces: chugging red wine from the bottle over a sink and chasing it with a litre of pepsi; the wine bottle smashing as I tried to prevent them from taking it from me; crying and talking at length about my abuse-filled childhood; making out with this girl while her boyfriend was in the other room; him walking in and a dramatic break up ensuing. I was still drunk in the morning as everyone lay passed out around the house. I had, from anyone’s perspective but mine, caused a number of huge scenes and embarrassed myself. From my perspective, I had just had the best night of my life. I felt good, which, for a chronically depressed and traumatized teenager, was an incredibly rare thing.

The second time I drank, I was hit with a wave of depression. This was nothing new, but what was new was the clarity and courage that the alcohol brought to the depression. I had been suicidal for years and had made a few halfhearted suicide attempts, but I never had the courage to really act on it. There, drunk in my room, with my best friend sprawled out on the floor (we were pre-drinking before a party we never got to), it suddenly seemed so easy. I drunkenly found a bottle of Advil and, without my friend’s knowledge, began swallowing the pills one at a time. It was only when I reached into the bottle and found it empty that I realized what I had done. I was suddenly gripped with fear. Drunk out of my mind, I started trying to puke up the pills but couldn’t get them up. For some reason I thought it would be a good idea to drink shampoo, believing this would induce vomiting. Instead, it burned and I was choking up bubbly bile without being able to get the pills up. My friend managed to get me to a hospital where I drank charcoal and was formed.

The third time I drank I was at a large party. Having consumed all the drinks I had, I went around taking other people’s drinks. Being seventeen – inexperienced, naïve, and incredibly drunk – I didn’t realize that hard liquor was somewhat different from the coolers I had been drinking. I took a twenty-sixer of hard liquor out of someone’s hands, tipped it back and chugged. I drank the entire thing. I went into a blackout, of which I remember only slivers. I was considered a danger to myself and others. I was taken in ambulance with a police escort to a hospital. I was admitted to the psych ward and remained drunk for days. My blood alcohol level was about eight times what is legally considered ‘drunk.’ The doctors said it was a miracle I wasn’t in a coma. When I sobered up enough to stop screaming, a group of doctors and my parents sat me down. The doctors told me that it seemed like I had a problem with alcohol. I thought this was ridiculous. I had been drunk three times. There was no way that a person who had only been drunk three times could be an alcoholic. I admitted that I had mental health issues, and that this was interacting badly with the alcohol, but that did not mean I had an alcohol problem.

I continued to drink. Mental health episodes were common. Blacking out was usual. Hangovers that left me sick, puking, and shaking for an entire day were standard. I had a difficult time maintaining friendships, or any other interests in my life. The only people I wanted to hang out with were people who drank like I drank, people who drank to get wasted. Even then, I always nervously eyed the alcohol supply, watching how much they were drinking, how much I was drinking, and worrying that there wouldn’t be enough. The truth is there was never enough. No matter how drunk I got, I always wanted more. No matter how many scenes I caused, or how sick I got, drinking never seemed like a bad idea.

At the age of twenty-four I decided to take a break from drinking. I had tried many times in the past and had never lasted more than a few days. This time my motivation was to save a relationship, and I tried harder than I ever had before. I continued smoking weed from morning to night (another habit I had picked up along the way) but I didn’t drink. After a few months off the alcohol, I decided to stay away from alcohol for an entire year. During this year an amazing thing happened. I made friends. My life started to blossom. Because I wasn’t getting drunk, causing scenes, and saying all sorts of regrettable things, I was able to maintain friendships for the first time since I started drinking. I was still under a fog of marijuana smoke and spending more money on weed than on rent, but my life had drastically improved. I no longer found myself in strange places, on park benches, in ambulances, or in strangers’ apartments. I actually had people in my life who thought I was an okay person.

The friends I made drank. I would often hang out with them while they were drinking. They drank a lot, but they didn’t seem as crazy as me. They didn’t end up on park benches or in ambulances, but they did frequently end up in strangers’ apartments. Binge drinking was normal, and since they didn’t cause as many scenes as I did, their drinking seemed a lot more manageable. They were what I aspired to be. Twenty-something year olds who got drunk on the weekends and had fun, who acted crazy but not too crazy. Not drinking started to become harder and harder. I felt like the odd one out. I watched them all laughing and having fun. I tried to be a part of it while feeling awkward and self-conscious, yet I stayed true to my decision not to drink for one year. I needed to prove to myself that I could. I believed that if I could stay alcohol-free for one year I would no longer be an alcoholic. I believed that if I could say no to all drinks for one year, I would then be able to say no to sixth drink, or wherever was a normal place to stop.

When my one year arrived, I waited a day or two because I didn’t want to seem too eager. Then, as casually as I could, trying to hide my incredible eagerness, I announced to my friends that I would join them in drinking. They were all overjoyed and excited to have me. That first night of drinking, I got drunk. I don’t know how many drinks I had but I didn’t stop at any point. I went home with a random guy and was wandering back from his place at 5am, still drunk. This felt like a success. There were no ambulances, no scenes, just the regular behaviour of binge drinking. I was back, and I was convinced I was no longer an alcoholic. I joined my friends in their pre-drinking and bar hopping, in their summer days on the balcony drinking nonstop, in their occasional crying or arguments, and mine. It all seemed normal and fun and what everyone else in their twenties were doing. I was glad to have left the dysfunctional drinking of my past behind me.

Within three months I had destroyed every relationship I had built in my year of not drinking. I screamed at people. I said awful things. I was mean and inconsiderate, and only cared about drinking. Within three months of that hopeful first drink, I was out in a valley I had drunkenly wandered into. I had lost my shoes and stepped on glass, and I was bleeding everywhere. You would think it would seem obvious that my experiment of attempting to be a social drinker had failed. You would think that I would immediately put down the booze, apologize, and straighten out my life. But I couldn’t. Despite the chaos, the pain, the loneliness, the embarrassment, I loved drinking. I needed drinking. I didn’t want to stop.

Fast forward a little less than another year and I was still going strong. My blackouts became more and more frequent. One minute I was in a bar, and the next thing I knew I was naked in some strange bed and there was a man yelling at me, calling me a crazy bitch, and telling me to get out of his apartment. I didn’t know who he was, where I was, or why he was calling me a crazy bitch, but I could assume from the context that we had sex, sex that I did not remember at all, and I could not say whether or not we had used protection. My life was lonely, small, and scary, like it had been since I started drinking. Part of me wanted to try to stop again, but a life without drinking honestly didn’t seem like a life worth living.

Through a twist of fate, an old friend I hadn’t spoken to in years got in touch and asked me to go to lunch. She brought along another friend of hers. During this lunch date I brought up that I was thinking of taking another break from drinking. The friend of my old friend handed me a piece of paper with the names of some meetings written on it. She explained that she attended twelve-step meetings and that this was how she stayed sober. I was skeptical, but I was also desperate. I decided that I would check out a meeting.

When I got to the meeting I heard people describing something which I lived but which I had never been able to explain. They didn’t all have the same experiences as me, or drink in the exact same way that I did, but they understood the underlying feelings. They were describing the experience of going back to drinking, over and over again, despite the severe consequences. They were talking about how limits like “I will only have six” or “I will only buy three so I will only drink three” fell away completely once they started to drink. They were saying out loud what I was too afraid to say: that despite the horrific consequences of alcoholic drinking, the alternative seemed worse. A life without alcohol did not seem like a life worth living.

But they were also saying other things. Some were talking about how they used to feel this way, but that they now had full, fulfilling lives, and five, ten, twenty years of sobriety. They were talking about how they stayed sober and why they were grateful for their sobriety. For the first time, I felt a flicker of hope. I decided to come back, and I kept coming back.

I am now coming up on four years of sobriety, which to me means complete abstinence from drugs and alcohol. I have friends, community, and a loving partner. I am in school studying what I am passionate about. I remember what I did last night and I no longer spend days on the floor in front of the toilet. Most importantly, I love myself. Sobriety has utterly transformed my life. It has opened up doorways, which I wouldn’t have believed possible. At the same time, the journey has just begun and I am learning more every day. I am incredibly grateful for my sobriety. When I look back at my life before, it is unbelievable to me that I spent so many years feeling lonely, unsafe, hurting myself and others, and being completely powerless to stop.

I am an alcoholic. This means that I cannot safely drink. It means that once I put alcohol into my body I lose all ability to control how much I will drink, what I will do, or what will happen to me. It means that I need to prioritize sobriety as the centre of my life, as the foundation on which the rest of my life is built. It means that I need the help, support, and solidarity of other alcoholics on this journey.

My sobriety does not mean that I judge the person I used to be, or others who are in that position. Just the opposite. I have profound compassion and empathy for everyone who struggles with addiction, including myself. I hope that everyone is able to be supported in the way that they need to be supported. I believe that everyone should have access to health care and community support that works for them. I believe in harm reduction as a spectrum that can include support for complete abstinence (which is what I need) and also things like support for using certain substances and not others, support for finding ways to moderate, access to clean injection supplies and pipes, access to safer sex supplies, and communities that support and respect our different and complicated relationships to use. I believe in cross solidarity among sober alcoholics/addicts, active alcoholics/addicts, and drug users. I believe in the decriminalization of all drugs, and I long for a culture that helps people rather than punishes them.

Sobriety is what I need, and I want support for getting sober to be available to everyone who needs and wants it. I want to see a cultural shift in which there are alternative social events that do not centre on drinking. I want to see a cultural shift where young people struggling with addiction don’t fear seeking the help they need, believing that sobriety will be a social death sentence. I share my story because I want people to know that it is possible. It is possible to be an alcoholic at sixteen years old. It is possible to get sober, and stay sober, at twenty-five (and I know people who got sober, and stayed sober, at fifteen, nineteen, twenty). It is possible to have a rich, full, and satisfying life without drinking. And if you are struggling, you are not alone.

Clementine Morrigan is a queer femme traumatized sober-addict witch, writer and artist. They are a white settler living on colonized land known as Toronto, Turtle Island. Clementine’s work spans genres and mediums, including essays, poetry, creative non-fiction, zines, illustration, short film, self-portraiture and sculpture. Their first collection of poetry and creative non-fiction, Rupture, was published in 2012. A second book of poetry has been accepted for publication and will be available in 2017. All of their work aims to undermine hierarchies of knowledge production by blurring distinctions between art, academia and DIY culture making. More can be found at clementinemorrigan.com

Shedoesthecity is committed to sharing stories of addiction and recovery from women of varying lengths of sobriety. Every time we publish a story, $25 will be set aside to donate to Renascent Rehab Centre. If you would like to share your story, please email jenmcneely@shedoesthecity.com. Read more stories here

2 Comments

  1. Cupcakes_n_Rap
    March 9, 2016

    C, this is so good to read. I love that you say you have compassion for yourself. You are so right that so many young people think they can’t have friends sober. This is so valuable as an example to them. <3
    K-L

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    March 20, 2016

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