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My name is Cynthia and I’m an alcoholic. I’ve been sober for almost 11 months now. I don’t know what constitutes an alcoholic, really, but I’m pretty sure if you gave me one of those checklists, I’d tick off a box or two. I’ve been saying sober since Boxing Day, but I don’t think that’s accurate. The last time I drank was technically New Year’s Eve 2008, but if the question is when did I hop on the wagon, it was most definitely in the wake of that sunny, sandy December 26th.  For all intents and purposes, we’ll go with that.

I was holidaying in Bondi Beach with my brother and friends.  Christmas is the height of summertime in Sydney, Australia, and everyone’s down for a piss up. It’s the only auspicious item on the agenda. Seasonal gorging is well underway and you’ve got a good solid base to work with. So give ‘er. My brother, his mates and myself lug an icey, slushy cooler the 5 minute walk down to the beach. It’s a sea of Santa hats and skimpy swimmers, so we find a stretch of space on the sand and plunk down for an afternoon of putting them back. Beeeer, beer and more beer. Joints, Hungry Jack’s (i.e. Burger King), sun, sun, swimming, sun, beer, and a stop on the way home to pick up more beer. All fairly innocuous in the context of festive fun. This is perfectly socially acceptable behaviour (the beach is packed with partiers) it’s the order of the day, and if we’re all being honest here, it’s encouraged. Gettin’ fucked up – whatever state of mind you’re in, get right out of it.

To provide an appropriate backdrop for this tale, I’d been toying with the idea of going dry on and off for a few years prior. Not necessarily because there was any inkling of an issue, but simply because my body was rejecting it. In the aftermath of major tummy troubles, I sought the advice of an allergist and while delivering test results, he says to me, “Are you by any chance a really cheap drunk?” “Why yes, I am.” “Yeah, because you’re really allergic to alcohol.” “Hmmm, yep, that would explain a lot,” I reminisced.  I rolled through my roster of really bad hangovers, and decided this was a missing piece of the puzzle. On the same solicitation, I was also diagnosed with an abhorrence to all sorts of things I was courting on a daily basis; innocent items like grapes, and mushrooms. Strawberries. Cheese. Alcohol. Ok. So, out they went. Snippity snip from the diet.

Elimination diets. What an invention. They’re all well and good until time goes on. You kind of get over having to adhere to this constant state of awareness to your aversions. So you give in. You cheat. Oh well, frig, what’s a couple of grapes gonna do? It’s not anaphylactic or anything…you gotta live a little. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a drink. Yeah, yeah, I’m “allergic,” I can still have a couple of drinks…I’ll just take it easy…I won’t die. I don’t want to be the only sober one again.

So, you tip a couple back. A few piddly, little drinks. I know I’ll probably wake up with a rash, a decent wager says I’ll toss a couple of cookies, and I’ll certainly be exhaustedly despondent until oh, 5 o’clock tomorrow, but whatever. I don’t care.

You see, herein lies the problem. I think for a while I was kidding myself. Ha. Wait. Rephrase. I was definitely kidding myself. Maybe if I just only drink once in a while, I’ll be able to manage the “symptoms” as if the only adverse effect of the booze was the gut rot it gave me. I was blocking out, or more specifically, blacking out, literally, the whole other level of bad vibes emanating from my being. The stupid shit I would say and do. I’m a handful at my best, I definitely don’t need to be sauced up into a stupor. Try as I might to keep alcohol as an acquaintance, I always opted for a grand slam, taking it all the way home to a sloppy, forgettable, regrettable mess.

Some nights I could successfully gam limited libation, it wasn’t always a sordid debacle, but more often than not, 7, 8, ok, probably 9 times out of 10, I was the one falling on my ass, missing the whole damn party, my own damn party, from my lack of functioning gauges. In spite of all the evidence, which is now crystal clear to me, I chalked a lot of it up to that’s what happens to people when they drink, and everyone drinks. There needed to be a bigger incentive than the rash.

I was recalling a night about 5 years ago with a friend recently. Remember the time at Christmas (a real bad time for alks) we played games at your place, and then went to Baba’s?  “Yeah,” she says, “and there was fireball whiskey, and then there wasn’t.” Somehow after downing lord knows how much wine, I had the golden notion to pocket my madcap stocking stuffer from Uncle Stu on my way to the bar. Glug, glug, glug. I was positively pulverized. Then I was the fallin’ down drunk, dramatic, puking, emotional, bawling, hair needs holding, how the fuck did I get here girl. The rash would’ve been the least of my worries when I woke up with the pangs of regret as the fog cleared on my patchy put together of the misbehaviour from the night before. Coincidently, that was the eve of a 20 hour bus ride to Montreal, so I could catch a 24 hour flight to New Zealand. Way to go, Champ.

I must have been out to prove something that day on the beach with the boys. Champion of what, I’m not sure, but I was downing the Toohey’s New like it was my job. “What do you mean you don’t drink?” “Me and alcohol don’t really mix.” “Pfff, come on! It’s Christmas,” and if there’s one thing I’m not, it’s a party pooper, so I reluctantly joined in.  My trepidation quickly transformed to elation and I was off to the races. After the entire day of drinking in the blistering sun, we made our way back to Simon and Mark’s place for a breather before catching a second wind for round two.  A few more friends signed on, and the last thing I remember was dancing in the living room, swigging a slurp of wine while I jumped up, pumped my fist in the air, shouting, “Whoooo.”

And then I woke up. I was tucked away underneath an afghan on my brother’s couch. My shoes were neatly aligned next to my purse on the floor, something I would never do, so I started trying to fill in the blanks. Hmmm. How the hell did I get here? Clearly I didn’t go home with someone, and clearly someone kindly put me down for the count, but I have no clue what happened in the interim. Nothing. Nada. Not even a glimmer of insight into my whereabouts.
I texted my mate, Caroline.  “Wanna fill me in on what happened last night?” I implored. If anything seriously major happened I would totally remember, right? I mean, I don’t feel like I’ve been raped or anything…any major incidents would surely make themselves known to me. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. When Caroline finally roused she called me up to check in. “Soooo, what happened last night?”

“Well, didn’t we get into some trouble,” she announces, and my heart just buries itself in the floor.

“Well, after we got to the bar….”

“Whoa, wait a minute, we were at a bar?”

“Um, yes, for most of the night. We went to the Beach Road? You don’t remember?”

“Nope…keep going,” I was rifling through a completely empty rolodex, waiting for a cue, a trigger, anything to give me some sort of context, but kept coming up short.

“Well, yeah, we went to the Beach Road with Andrew and his friends, and then we were upstairs, and you were onstage dancing with the band for a while…”


“Oh yeah, you were busting a move…”

“Jesus, that must’ve been nice. Ok, and then…”

“And then a while later, you kept saying that you needed some water…and I don’t know what exactly happened to you at the bar, but you asked some guy to get you a glass of water, and whatever you said to him, or he said to you, I’m not sure, but you were up in his face, and he was pushing you…it was quite the thing really. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. These men were awful! Pushing you around. I got in between the two of you and shouted at him to stop shoving and he poured a whole glass of water right on my head…the bouncers were involved, it was a huge ordeal. After all of that you just kept saying, I need to go home, I need to go home, so you had enough sense to get out of there, but if I hadn’t of been there, I don’t know what those men would’ve done with you. I’m telling you these guys were just absolutely rotten. Scary.”

And I don’t remember any of it.  A couple of nights later when I made a sober visit back to the same venue, I was basically terrified to be there for fear that I wouldn’t recognize these characters if my life depended on it. Surely they could pick me out of a line up, but I’d be damned if I could pin anything on them. If any of you have been drunk before, you’ll know that sometimes the night is initially recalled in a hazy veil with scant details, but you can usually get to them eventually. Someone reminds you, and you go, “Oh yeaaaah, ok, yikes…” or whatever. Not when you black out. It’s just gone. The whole thing. Gone.

Well, if I needed incentive, I guess I got it.  The thought of what could’ve happened to me with those mysterious men was so sickening I thought, I never, ever want to put myself in that kind of situation again. I was so deeply depressed that day, after the puking and the whole thing of it, I said to myself, “I honestly have to come to terms with the fact that I can not drink alcohol.” Whatever it is that’s screwing up the mix, I’m not sure, but all I know is it’s a recipe for disaster.

So here I am, almost a year later, I’ll have a gin and soda, hold the gin.  (I always make sure to get a bubbly drink, with some sort of citrus, and a straw, lest I be hassled for why I’m not “partying”) For a long time, when I was questioned about my abstaining, I would explain that I had an allergy, blah, blah, blah, and yeah, I do have a sensitivity, but once it hits my bloodstream I have no sense.  Alcoholic? Why fuss over semantics.

I guess what’s prompting this upheaval of thoughts and reflections is my recent experience with a false started relationship. I met a dashing man, right up my alley, the vibes were happening, it was all systems go, until it became shamefully obvious that he too was an alcoholic…the kind that says, “Yeah, I know I have a problem, but I don’t see me slowing down anytime soon.” Talk about party poopin’.  He is such a lovely man. The joy in his eyes has set many a hearts on fire I’m sure, but I had to make the shitty decision that I didn’t come this far to go back to that place. My ex-boyfriend was an alcoholic, one that was lucky enough to quit, but he’s still picking up the pieces years later. My family is full of them too. It seems to surround me. Hey, but you know, I’d venture a guess it’s surrounding everyone. What the hell is up with this silly juice, anyway?

What is it about this thing where we all like to get together and drink fermented yeast and sugar? An even bigger question is why do people look at you so funny when you say you don’t? It’s fascinating.  What people are willing to lose over their attachment to this ritual never ceases to amaze me. I guess I’m lucky. I think too often our barometer for health and happiness is how well we are “functioning.” I imagine I could have carried on in that fashion for years, functioning, narrowly averting potential catastrophes, or not, and whose to say I would’ve really “lost anything”? I don’t know. But I guess the defining question for me was not what I was losing, but what was I gaining? Aside from loads of fodder for tales such as this, the answer was not much.

November 2009
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