My First Drunk
It is St. Patrick’s Day—my eighth consecutive sober St. Patrick’s Day. But with all the boozing that has been misidentified with St. Patrick (and the Irish) I am brought back to the boozy honeymoon of my first drunk.
Drinking fascinated me before I ever drank. I used to collect Absolut Vodka ads and drape them to the walls of my bedroom. I sneaked sips here and there from a discarded beverage. I drank a warm Budweiser that I found in the garage. But it was when I was twelve, and sleeping over at my best friend’s house that I experienced my first drunk.
We had it all pretty well planned: the James Bond marathon on TBS gives us an excuse to sleep in the TV room where the bar is. We steal from the clear liquors and refill what we take with water. We’ll drink, chew lots of gum, then go to sleep.
A little after midnight, with no light but the glow emanating from Sean Connery racing in a speed boat, we stood in front of a liquor cabinet filled with sweet liquid rebellion. We knew to mix Absolut Vodka with Tropicana Orange Juice to make a screwdriver.
After we forced a highball—half-vodka, half-orange juice—down our gullet, my friend suggested we stop. I informed him that we weren’t drunk yet. “Watch.” I put my arms at either side, and toe-to-heel, with tightrope walker concentration, walked a straight line on the broad carpet back to the liquor cabinet. “You’re drunk if you can’t walk a straight line. Haven’t you seen Cops? We’re not there yet.”
I wanted us proper drunk; but at some point that night, I overshot the mark.
I woke up in the basement, face down on the carpet, with a Nintendo controller imprinted on my forearm and the Super Mario Brothers inviting me to “Press Start.” A strange joy came when my friend told me what I couldn’t remember. I felt I had arrived by reaching a state of mind where I could act without thinking. In the conflicting bouts of identity formation, this is paradise—a refuge from inner-criticism and awkward inhibitions. I was someone incarnate, some stranger in my skin who behaved without the burden of self. He was a person others talked about, and I wanted to meet him again.
And I did. Blackout-drinking became a typical night out for me. Only I began waking up in strange places with strange people. I once woke up with my jaw broken. The uninhibited stranger wielded a sledgehammer and smashed up my life, my relationships—my sanity.
It wasn’t until I first admitted I was an alcoholic that I began to feel comfortable in my own skin. And I’ve found as long as I honestly accept who I am—an alcoholic and drug addict—there is no stranger gnawing at my bones to be set free.
Wholly me, I can experience the miracle of the mundane: spending time with my children, or listening to early spring rainfall on the rooftop. Tonight I welcome back my wife and kids from their four night trip.
Tonight, when I tell my son how much I missed him,
there will be no stranger in my skin trying to crawl out the door.