March 9, 2010

Alcoholic, Anonymous

Print More

This is a cowardly thing that I am doing, hiding behind a pseudonym  because I am too scared to be completely open, too frightened to come completely clean. For one thing, my relationship with the good folks at Gannett and the Judicial Administration has been, at times, tenuous, and I would prefer to not jeopardize it further.  In addition, while there are many people is my life who have lost faith in me, my baby sister, who periodically Googles me back home, is not one of them — yet — I would like to keep it that way. What I write in this column is deeply personal, but I believe it is also relevant to our student body. Nothing I write should be construed as the “only option,” or the “only story.” But it is my story.

We’ve all heard it said, or perhaps said it before, “OMG, that kid’s such an alcoholic.” Or how about the old adage, “enjoy it now because after you graduate, it’s alcoholism.” We say it with a smirk and a wink. And we all get the joke.

In college, drinking is a culture unto itself. It’s our collegiate national pastime.  And while there are many students who make the decision not to drink during their four years here, the majority do. Most of these students never take it to a level that is inappropriate or dangerous. But there is the sliver of our population that does. I should know. I’m one of them.

And there are others like me out there, suffering in silence, or maybe not. Feeling like lost causes or screw-ups or maybe still lost in the haze of denial that has proven time and again to be so unbelievably dangerous. You’ve probably met one of us. We can be found in bars across Ithaca, at sorority crush parties, fraternity mixers and Collegetown houseparties. We might seem funny and cool at the beginning of the party — taking shots like a champ, dancing on tables — but you probably won’t see us when you leave. We’ll be too busy puking in the corners or collapsing beer pong tables in the kitchen or becoming belligerent with long-suffering best friends as they try to carry us to bed.

Alcohol abuse is not funny to me anymore. It is not silly, or macho, or daring or cool. It is not a joke or a punch line. I know of one sports columnist in particular who will no longer run her column under a moniker that pokes fun at a certain 12-step program. If, after reading this, you think you know someone in a similar situation (including yourself), I urge you to take a step back and look hard at the behavior in question. Because life is too short and too valuable to waste in the manner that I have been wasting mine. Because if it is not too late for me, it is not too late for you.

The signs of abuse can be subtle, or they can be obvious. Being carried home from a party by strangers is obvious, so is getting thrown out of a bar or puking on the living room couch. Other signs are easier to overlook, and easier to hide, like passing out at a strange party unbeknownst to your friends, or buying a bottle of wine and drinking it secretly in the middle of the day. But no matter how hard drinkers try and hide their behavior, no matter how many convincing protests or excuses are made, sooner or later, the truth will come out. The trick is to do something before that truth turns around and bites you in the ass.

At first, my friends thought my binge drinking was temporary. They made excuses: It’s just a stupid phase. All freshmen go through it. It’s a rebellion against conservative parents or crazy mothers or repressed childhoods.  And I believed them. But the supposedly “freshman” phase dragged on. I thought I’d change after turned 21. But my birthday came and went, and I was still blacking out most times I went out. I was still waking up in strange places, missing chunks of memory and articles of clothing, vomiting on the sidewalk as I gave a whole new meaning to the infamous “Walk of Shame.”

If I had only been hurting myself, it would have been bad enough. But like a smoker, I was not simply filling my own lungs with carcinogens; I was poisoning the air for everyone close to me. My behavior was inexcusable and reprehensible and outrageous. But more than that, it tore apart my relationships. It shredded everything that was most important to me. I became a ghost in the company of my closest friends. This is a loneliness almost impossible to put into words.

This irony is, I work so hard to try to earn the respect and trust, and maybe even love, of my peers and coworkers and friends. And I do earn and deserve it — during business hours. But when the weekend comes, or a special occasion or, let’s be honest, I don’t even need much of a real reason anymore, a switch flips and I become someone who is not only undeserving of any sort of respect, but who actively works to lose it. I don’t know who this other person is, this Jekyll of my nightmares who I’ve never actually met. By that stage in my night, I wouldn’t know Barack Obama if he sat down on the barstool next to me and bought me a beer.

The next day, the apologies begin. By now, many of these people have heard my apologies so often, they don’t mean very much anymore. They shrug off my text messages and emails and shame-faced morning-after explanations. And they have a right to do so. But the cycle must stop now.

And now we come to the point of this column. The point is not that I am really sorry for my actions, because while this is absolutely true, I know that a (semi)public mea culpa holds no more weight than my truckloads of past apologies. Today, in writing, I am pledging to stand up and be an adult for once. I am 22 years old, and have already made, by my estimation, a 45-year-old’s share of mistakes. Today I acknowledge that I have a problem, and I pledge to deal with it. Today I refuse to allow my life to be taken over, and systematically taken apart, by a monster of my own creation. I owe it to myself, and I owe it to my friends, to finally make the change. I know it will be difficult, and I cannot promise that I will never make mistakes, but I will climb out of that goddamn hole if it kills me. Before it kills me.

I know I have the strength to do this, and I know I have the support of friends waiting in the wings if I stumble. But for others, I realize that calling in outside help may be a more effective alternative. To that end Gannett and the University have many programs for exactly this purpose: to help students overcome substance abuse, many of which can be accessed through the Gannett website. It is their job to help people like me. But while I have chosen not to accept their help, I know it is available. Deciding how and with whom to seek help is a vital step in the recovery process, but it is one that only you can make for yourself.

Now, as someone who has absolutely no right to ask for a second chance, I am going to be pathetically selfish here, and make that request for the last time. I will understand if you have no more chances left to give, or if you think it’s not worth it since I’ll probably just blow it anyway. But what if, finally, I just don’t?

Original Author: Jane