Friday, December 09, 2005

In the Land of Alcoholics, the Drunk is King

I used to have a drinking problem. It's very hard to talk about it. Having read what Michele has said about a former Alcoholic partner, I feel guilt at times. Everytime I see that she had a man like that in her life, I honestly turn red. I feel embarrassed. Why? I don't know. When I drank, I never intended to hurt other people. I was labeled "A fun drunk" by many. In fact, I used to go to a bar in University City every Wednesday and entertain the crowd. The bartender knew me solely on the basis that he sold me drinks, but he once told, before I left Missouri, "You were damn funny, Leab, and you sold more drinks, because you brought more people to the bar."
Yet, for as funny as I was, I was essentially killing myself, and I was damn lucky that I didn't kill myself or anyone else. I chose the wrong way to deal with pain.
I was in a relationship with a gal I really loved. Even believed we would get married. It didn't work out that way. When all was said and done, I was alone with good friend J.D. You know him as Jack Daniels. That was my choice drink. Straight shots of Jack. I would do a few a day. That's right a few A DAY.
I fell into a spiral. I was depressed, so I drank, which made me forget issues (and supposedly made me funny), so I drank more to stay in that state, but then I got depressed (because, and here's some science, kids, alcohol is a depressant or "downer") so I had to drink more to try and feel better. What a nasty cycle.
It was also compounded by a very high tolerance. My father's German, and my mother has everything in her (French, German, Irish, etc.). This means I have a very high (or strong as some say) tolerance to alcohol. My wife has two glasses of wine, she gets buzzed. I have to have a bottle to feel anything. When I was drinking, I needed at least five tall beers to get drunk. On some days I needed four, others it would be six or seven, but five was the ususal. That's alot of beer and a great deal of money, which leads to another problem: Paying for it. It would get to the point where I would stop eating and would instead drink. Thanks to my father, I learned that a Guinness (my usual beer of choice) and a donut would fill you up for a few days. This meant less eating and more drinking.
For a year and a half that's what I did. I did alot of things I'm not proud of:
-I joined the Century Club. That's one hundred shots in one hundred minutes. You do beer for nine and then one hard liquor shot on the tenth. It was bad. VERY BAD. Do not attempt this, kids.
-I got very drunk one night and woke up the next morning with a gal I didn't really know. We didn't sleep together (as I was on the floor fully clothed, and she was in my bed), but it was still bad. She had a crush on me (I was told), so it was the reverse of what usually happens. Instead of sober guy taking advantage of drunk girl, the roles were switched. Maureen Dowd would be very proud.
-I went to classes drunk. I went to play practices drunk. I managed to build a 60 foot wide set for an outdoor show (that ended up having my ex in it in a staring role, so I had to see her ALOT. Guess what that means? MORE DRINKING!). I worked with power saws, drills, and more, all while inebriated. That's really not good. I also managed to sandpaper my own face while drunk. Why? I was trying to show people what not to do.
At one point I gave a now famous (among Wash. U's All Student Theatre) speech talking about how "I don't care if your grandmother dies, or you lose your foot, you WILL show up to strike (taking down the set), or I will come to your home and drag you here. Don't test me. I'll fucking do it!"
It frightened many people, but they showed up.
-I drove drunk, and I was very lucky. On one occasion, I can remember driving a friend home. There was an S curve. Had it not been three in the morning, I probably would have hit an oncoming car and died. (You see, I didn't "curve", but actually drove straight. Not good.)
-I asked my future wife out while drunk. She was coming out of the Scene Shop, and I was heading to backstage. I said, "Hey. Do you want to go grab a drink with me sometime?"
"Umm. No thanks," She responded. "My fiance wouldn't like that."
"He could come too!"
"Well...can I come to the wedding?"
"No. Again, don't think my fiance would like you."
(Author's Note: As we married each other, the irony is that I got invited to the the end.)
You want more? Ok then.
-I learned how to speak the alphabet backwards very quickly (and can still do it to this day). Do it twice a day for 400 days, and you got it.
And the absolute worst moment:
I sat down on a Friday night at a bar with two friends and began drinking. I woke up the next morning on the side of 55 north (which would be on the way to Chicago...where my ex now lived). That means I drank, then got in my car and drove several hours on the freeway. Do I remember it? No. Was I arrested? Luckily no. I took the next exit, turned around and came back. That was the first time I realized perhaps I had a problem. I didn't remember a thing from the night before. There was a phone number on my hand from a girl named "Trish". I never called. There were three bags of chips in the back seat. No idea where they came from. Later, a friend of mine would show me pictures of events which I couldn't recall (including body shots, and more).

So, having reached the end of my rope, I decided I needed to do something. Fueled by the desire to fix myself, to stop being an idiot, and by a rather lovely girl who would not become Mrs. Leab, (remember, kids, at this point in my life, my wife as far as I knew was supposed to marry someone else, and she was not on campus as she was doing an internship.) I started trying to fix myself. No one would help me. I gave all my alcohol to a friend of mine (it totaled around $400 of booze. You figure it out.), and I started looking at Alcoholics Anonymous.
Now, I couldn't stay with AA. The steps bothered me ALOT. I thought it was more about introspection, but upon looking at the steps, it occured to me that (again, at least to me) it was giving up personal responsibility. Let me show you what I mean:
The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous
1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol--that our lives had become unmanageable.

Ok, that makes sense. We have a problem, and we have to admit it. Cool.

2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Umm. That depends on your definition of "Power". Now, the capitalization of power leads me to believe we're talking about God. So, we're supposed to believe that God can restore us to sanity. This is the first problem for me.

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood

Ok this now shows that I was right about #2. "Our will and our lives over to the care of God...." Does this mean God will feed me soup? Ok, to be serious, however, if God is doing the work, then I am not. That's the problem. I believe, I TRULY believe that we have to take the responsibility. Turning it over to God makes me feel as if it's not my problem anymore, but his to fix. As if I am broken G.I. Joe figure. I'm not ok with this, but I want to be fixed, so I'm still sticking in at this point.

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Perfect. Here's another I agree with in principle. Reflect on who you are and figure out where you screwed up. Awesome. That's totally necessary to get better, and, in fact, this aspect more than any other made me get better. I made a list, a full-on written list of everything I had done wrong, and how I was hurting myself. That made me work harder. Plus, you know you did alot of "desperate things" to get drunk. Cough syrup, etc.

5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

Here's another issue. If you define God as the actual Holy Host, then I can't do it. If God is everything and admitting it to myself and another human being means saying it aloud, then it works for me. If I just say it aloud to my friend, then God can hear it.

6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

No, no, no, no. I will not have God remove my defects. No. I will work them out myself. Asking God to do it is the whole Cosmic Bellboy issue. God is not there to do things for me. I was given choice and ability and free-thinking in order to fix my own shortcomings.

7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

No. Again: my shortcomings, my problem. If God, or Fate, or Time, or Vishnu, or some guy named Murray who lives in the sun is really running the universe, then I am not going to waste their time to make them fix me. We are losing our personal responsibilities. "It's not my fault I drink, my dad did it...and God let me do it."
I understand that people need help, and that for some God is their help, but too many people use it as a crutch where if they aren't better, then it's God's fault. That's not how it works.

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

Ok deep breath now to calm down. Ok. Good idea. Hard to remember if you're a blackout drunk, but a very good idea. This also goes along with number 4. You'd think they would be closer together.

9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure
them or others.

This one is a key. You MUST take responsibility. Say, "I'm sorry. It was my fault." Don't make it into, "Well, I wouldn't have done it if I were sober." That's a cop-out. That's like saying, "I'm sorry I hit you with my car, but it wouldn't have happened if you hadn't walked into that crosswalk...when you had the light...whatever...."

10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

Sure. We're keeping up numbers 4, 8, and 9. Those are really the keys to this anyway.

11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we
understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that

Moving back to the problem area for me. Only "Knowledge of His will for us" can really get us through this? Come on. That means that again we are no longer in control and can then shed responsibility. That's not ok with me.

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

The end. Having been "touched" (appropriately) by God or an angel, we know turn around and push this on others. Maybe I'm cynical, but isn't that also how cults work?

Yes, I am knocking AA, but I do understand, before you get all pissed off and try to kill me, that Alcoholics Anonymous works for some people. It never seemed right for me and so I moved away from it.
That's why I call myself a former drunk, not an ex-alcoholic. An Alcoholic seeks help from AA. A drunk doesn't. It's that simple.
I managed to take the steps from AA I believed would help me and fixed myself. I didn't go to God or Buddha for help. I stopped drinking by willing myself. I did meditate, but not on God.
My ultimate issue with Alcoholics Anonymous is the lack of perceived responsibility. God will "remove your shortcomings." YOU won't. He will. Not ok to me. You need to take care of it. You kicked the sheets off the bed, you put them back on.
I have now gotten to place where I can drink wine. I never have beer (unless it was a REALLY bad day and then I only have one and with supervision), and the only time I am allowed hard alcohol is when my throat really hurts (such as getting sick). Then I can only have one shot of Jack Daniels, and again, only in the presence of my wife.
Wine is different. I know some people can guzzle wine, but I have never been able. I have to sip it, which means I drink slower, which means I drink less. And unlike beer or liquor, I savor wine. I feel the taste around my palate. Sure, it makes me sound like yuppie, but...I love wine.

I really would love to open a winery after I retire and do all Shakespeare-themed wines.
What's worse is that now that I don't drink, I am pressured even more. Several of my wife's friends and co-workers are desperate to see me drunk. I don't know why. Actually that's not true, I do know why. I remain very composed around them, whereas all of them have gotten VERY drunk (or worse) around me. Back in October, a large group of us went to The Melting Pot for a birthday party (mine, and three other people's). I was pushed to drink a bottle of wine. Glass after glass was ordered for me. As they got wasted, I felt nothing. Part of that was tolerance for alcohol, but alot of it was also being annoyed at being a sideshow.
"Hey, let's get the former drunk REALLY drunk so we can see how he used to act."
It's no secret among Mrs. Leab's co-workers that I don't drink anymore. The reasons aren't known, but it is clear to them: He has the occasional glass of wine and that's it.
I am not condemning people who like to drink. Like I said, I still drink wine. I am also not going after people who choose to use Alcoholics Anonymous. The group has helped many people and that's wonderful, but it was not for me. I felt I needed to fix my problem, not (as I perceived it) have someone do it for me.
So there you go. I was asked about "the Lost Period" I mentioned and that's how it materialized. While it was mostly a negative period, it did make me into a better person.


Anonymous said...

Who cares?
Why are you on Mnspeak?
You suck.
This is too long and no one cares.
Maybe you should go back to drinking.

Suzie said...

Wow. I totally disagree with anonymous. I thought this was very well written and interesting. I don't know that I could reveal that much about myself. (Probably why I've deleted my blog three times!)