Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Well, here goes...

My name is Jon C., and I'm an alcoholic.

On Sunday August 9, 2009, I finally admitted this to myself. This admission was mine alone, and came without coersion, or at anyone else's behest. This predicament comes with only one solution - stop drinking altogether.

Alcoholics Anonymous didn't seem like the right fit for me based on their guiding principles, but they have one solid idea on which I'm basing my journey: If you don't drink one, you can't drink ten. So far, it has worked beautifully. I suppose I'm one of the lucky few alcoholics that is perfectly content not to drink.

Confused? I was too, at first. I "stopped" drinking before. The first time was for about one week, after I was arrested for suspicion of DUI just six months after my 21st birthday. Thanks to a considerable amount of money and a great lawyer, I got out of it, but was still required to take an alcohol safety class called Alcohol Safety Action Program, or ASAP. I did not drink during the week leading up to the program, just because I wanted to see if I could do it. I didn't have a problem at all. Very simple - just don't drink. Once the program started, we were told that during the course of the 12 week program (which met every friday at 10am), we were not ALLOWED to drink, at all. We were required to take a breathylizer upon walking in the door.

"Hell, anyone can beat this system", I thought, and I was right. So I went back to drinking, realizing how easy it was for me to stop whenever I wanted to.

Then it got worse. I was drinking every night, hooking up with different girls from the bar whenever I wanted to - it was most 21 year old guys' dream. One morning (well, around 1pm) after one particularly bad night, I walked back to the bar where I had left my car (I had actually been somewhat responsible this time and not driven), only to discover it had been towed. Not wanting to deal with it at the time, One of my regulars (remember, I'm a bartender) offered to drive me home. In his car I was introduced to a new demon that would haunt me for the next two years - cocaine.

I had always been adament that I would never try drugs. Sure, I had tried pot in high school, but it wasn't for me. I had always feared that I would love a drug like cocaine, and those fears were not unfounded. Strangely, I didn't want anything to do with it unless I was drunk. Not just drinking, but drunk. I was bartending in two different places and still living at home with my parents. I was making a boatload of money, and putting close to $500 up my nose, and drinking close to another $500 in alcohol each week. If my parents noticed something was up, they never said anything.

Eventually, drinking cost me both of those jobs. Broke and unemployed, I was not able to spend the kind of money I had become accustomed to. I was lucky once again, and was able to break the cocaine habit, primarily because I couldn't afford it. It was around that time I discovered how my addictions worked. If I stay away from it long enough, eventually I will not crave it anymore.

In February of 2002 I stumbled upon another obstacle. A good friend of mine was preparing to go visit a girl he had been talking to down in North Carolina, and had invited me to come along. We were going to leave the morning of Valentine's Day. I was working at TGI Fridays at the time, and the Bennigans across the street was our watering hole. The night before Valentine's Day I got a phone call from the bartender at Bennigan's that one of my co-workers was passed out at the bar, and that he would appreciate if I would come get him. I'd had a few drinks, but no big deal. When I got to Bennigan's and literally dragged the guy into the parking lot to stuff him in my car, I suddenly felt like I had been hit in the face with a baseball bat. Then again on the other side. When I finally turned to see what had happened, I was shocked to see someone standing there that had sucker punched me. twice. To make it worse, it was someone that I had once considered a friend.

I spent the next eight weeks with my jaw wired shut - it was broken in 5 places. Unfortunately, I was not going to be able to make the trip with my friend.

Turns out, my friend and the girl didn't work out, but she and I had become friends and chatted online pretty much every night, along with other friends of our scattered all over the country. thanks in part to our good friend in Nebraska, Jen and I got closer than either of us ever expected.

That spring, Jen and her friend came up to visit for HFStival. For those of you too young to remember, HFStival was a legendary fesival featuring dozens of bands on three or more stages, kind of like bonaroo, but without the dirty naked hippies. Usually. Anyway, they had gotten a room at a local motel for the weekend, and it was like a big party the whole time they were there. We consumed alot of alcohol that weekend, so much so that I passed out during what could have been the highlight of my weekend. I suspect Jen knew right then and there that I had a problem, but if she did, she didn't say anything.

Despite the heavy drinking all the time, I still separated work and play, and pulled it off very well. Jen and I got married in 2004 and moved to Florida, where my drinking just got worse. I was hanging out with college age kids who had tons of money and lots of free time. I was out pretty much every night of the week getting trashed and staying out all hours of the night. The job market in north central Florida is very poor, at it's best. We struggled to get by, and yet I still went out and spent money. We racked up thousands of dollars in credit card debt just trying to keep bills and rent paid, along with all the money I spent out partying.

We were finally able to scrape together enough money to move back to the DC area in May of 2006. The partying didn't stop, it just got worse. There are months at a time that I probably couldn't recall anything that happened. At least I was making enough money that were digging ourselves out of the whole, so what did it matter?

In July of 2008, the worst thing imaginable happened: TT Reynolds, where I had worked on and off since I was 21, was closing. My bartending gold mine was shutting it's doors forever. Fortunately, I had taken a job earlier in the year working at a bartending school. It was fun, but the pay was crap. So I had kept bartending for my play money, and for me, it was a good arrangement. I hated the day job, but at least it was consistant money.

Then I heard through the grapevine that a new bar/restaurant was opening, just a mile from home. I interviewed with one of the owners who I immediately liked, and was hired to be part of the opening team. They had projected an opening date of early October, so I put in my notice at the school and waited for Union Jacks to open. Except that it didn't open on time. For two months I went without an income, Jen was flying solo in the moneymaking department. And STILL, I went out drinking. Once Union Jacks opened, it just got worse. Looking back on it, I feel like I drank in excess pretty much every night after work, and went out on nights I didn't work.

"Enough is enough", I decided. My 30th brithday was fast approaching, and I knew something was going to have to be done. "Coming June 8 - the dawn of a new era" my Facebook page proclaimed. 30 was the perfect milestone to stop drinking. Well, 30 came and went, and still nothing. I just kept right on going, and for the entire month of July I was in a drunken stupor, and managed to keep it hidden from everyone outside my drinking circle. I knew I had a problem, and had even gone so far as to look up treatment centers and AA to get more information. But I kept drinking.

Then, on Sunday August 9th I woke up (or rather "came to"), and couldn't remember the details of the previous night. The night had been the birthday party of one of my best friends, and I had little memory of it, or any of the events that transpired along with it. "This is it", I decided. I spilled to Jen everything I had been thinking and feeling, and told her I needed to quit drinking, I just didn't know how. We had a long talk, and mapped out our game plan. I am very lucky to have such a wonderful person in my life to help me down this path. She has truly made me feel like I'm not alone.

I am lucky to have a few friends and acquaintences who have been down this road, and the first thing I was going to do was talk to them and hear their stories. From there I would weigh my options. Until I was able to do that, I would just not drink. Sunday night, rather than go out like always, I stayed in and watched a movie. "Tomorrow is another day", I thought, "but until then, I will not drink today". When Monday came, I made the decision: "I am not going to drink today. If I don't drink one, I cannot drink ten". Tuesday, same deal. It was Tuesday that I decided to tell my co-workers what my plan was. I expected to be chastised for my decision - after all - we're bartenders. It's what we do. But everyone was very supportive and cool about it, which made it considerably easier. Knowing that everyone's got my back is an enormous boost, and I can't thank them enough for it, especially my bartending buddy J.S. It's amazing that your friends always show their true colors when you're going through a personal crisis, and this was no exception. I saw exactly the colors I expected, and I am forever grateful.

Mission: Sobriety

There are four factors that contributed to this decision.

1. My health. Alcoholism runs in the family. I do not want to end up with liver cancer or any of the other problems associated with alcohol.

2. My marriage. No drinking and partying is worth destroying my marriage. Jen has been with me through some of the toughest times of my life, and I refuse to cause her emotional or mental harm because of my desire to party.

3. My job. I have lost jobs because of drinking or drinking related incidents in the past. This will not be one of them. I love what I do, I love the people I work with, and I'm not willing to risk damaging my reputation there.

4. My freedom. When I drink, I drive. Jail or not, I could not live with myself if I hurt or killed someone because of my irresponsible decisions.

So the first couple of days were spent reflecting on my life over the last nine years. I never really drank before I turned 21. Sure, I had a little every here and there, who doesn't? But not like many of my friends, who were out partying hard in high school. It just wasn't for me. But for some reason, the day I turned 21, it was light a switch was flipped in my brain. All I have to do now is switch it off. As I write this, I am on day ten of absolute sobriety. I have not consumed any alcohol (or any other substances, in case you were curious), and have not even done so much as taste my own creations behind the bar. I am still bartending, and there has not even been an urge to drink. I am perfectly content not to drink. But I know that if I have one, then end result will be that I will have ten or more, and I'm not willing to fall back into that trap.

Thank you all for reading, and for your continued support. While I wrote this blog more for myself than anything else, please feel free to come back and read my thoughts and reflections as I set off on this journey into the unknown.

Disclaimer: Aside from my wife Jen, I will never print any names of anyone involved in any of my stories. If you feel compelled to comment, please respect the privacy of anyone you may know to be involved in any of my stories.

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