I Quit

It’s time I stop playing with fire.

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If you’ve been following my journey to this point, you already know I grew up a fairly troubled kid. Not so much in the sense I was disruptive to others, but more so a disruption to myself (who knows, I probably disrupted plenty of people — just way too in my head to notice). Life was merely something to bear; not to actualize or truly experience to its fringe.

The home I grew up in was quiet, which was fine for me as I quickly grew accustomed to spending most of my time alone. I had a few close friends growing up but naturally, I shied away from reaching far enough to expose my deep desire for human connection and instead remained focused on my safety and protection above all else.

With my family, I didn't exactly keep my feelings in a holster and ready to share. They were repressed, bagged up, thrown into a closet or blind alley, never to be spoken of again. Perhaps it was the fear of setting my father off, or causing my mother to break down into tears. Either way, after years of that shit, you become pretty numb to what’s happening in front of you.

Like so many others, I come from a lineage that’s been through more than what’s comfortable to share, all of which I remained aloof to as I grew older (and not exactly wiser). At the source of it all, if you trace the pedigree back far enough, it begins and ends with alcohol.

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I vaguely remember my mother sharing a story or two — a Reader’s Digest version essentially — that provided a brief rationale as to why things were the way they were. Don’t get me wrong, we had more than enough growing up. I lived in a beautiful home, consisting of everything I needed and then some. Whether or not there was any financial strain, I would never know — we had it all.

Yet, I couldn't ignore the inconspicuous but ominous undertone that appeared to plague our expression of love whenever we’d get too close. My family meant the world to me, but I hit a roadblock every time the words “I love you” were about to roll off my tongue. I assumed the problem would work itself out and I was simply stricken with another gem from the wondrous time-period we know as adolescence. I hoped, at least.

It wasn’t until my parents split up that I began to connect the dots: even though I couldn't see it, I knew alcohol was somewhat responsible for the pain and separation unfolding in my household. As the oldest of three, I vowed in that moment to be the example for my brother and sister, leaning heavily on the framework known as “ignorance is bliss”. Unfortunately for me, ignorance is ignorance, and I didn't know what I didn’t know.

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I endured until 25 years of age without a legitimate alcoholic beverage. By that time, the numbness had escalated into a full-blown departure of self-awareness, blaming everyone and everything but myself for my trials and tribulations. My relationship with my father had careened off a cliff and my relationship with my mother was on life support. Blind to it at the time, it was every bit my responsibility I repeatedly glossed over. Once again, I didn't know what I didn't know.

The grandest struggle on my radar, however, was my inability to produce real and unabashed self-confidence. No matter how hard I tried to fake it, how much muscle I gained, how many steroids I pumped myself full of, it was clearly a facade to hide the frightened little boy that lay beneath it all. I simply didn’t measure up to who I — and everyone else — knew I could be.

As I continued to trip over my own shoelaces, the propensity to test alternative routes for getting through life grew stronger. Reality was shit, and other than a few glimmering but fleeting moments of hope, I didn't want any part of it.

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After much careless deliberation, I threw back my first alcoholic drink in July of 2015 — a Woodchuck Hard Cider, as my taste buds were beyond warped from a refusal to eat anything other than chicken nuggets and cereal throughout childhood. Three weeks later, I would quit my job in Arizona with no notice, bullshitting through an excuse that I needed to return home to Tennessee when really all I wanted to do was get drunk and be who I never thought I could be.

Under the influence, I was free — you know how it goes. The inhibitions and reservations disappear. The insecurity and doubt vanishes. The clever yet cutting remarks brush off you like the foliage falls from the trees in November. In my mind, I was finally the unstoppable force I always wanted to be.

The weeks began on Friday and ended on Sunday — I could care less what happened in between. I acted like a complete fool without an ounce of remorse. Each week that passed by — presuming I walked away with another feather in my cap — would embed my denial a little bit deeper, reinforced by my unadulterated self-expression and addiction to attention. Whatever it took to affirm my status as the normal, traditional, straight male I assumed I always had to be.

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What began as a light fog rapidly transformed into a noir-like haze. My income revolved around partying — as long as I had enough to blow on drinks every Friday and Saturday, I could care less what happens to the rest.

This went on for two years and change, with the apex reached upon taking out payday loans to have money to go out and attempt to surmount my insecurity once more.

This couldn’t continue. I couldn’t distinguish who I really was, as I was operating with (at least) two selves. I was already an alcoholic by scholarly standards, consuming far more than 14 drinks over a week’s span (actually, more like 3 days, as my fragile and falsified self-image I was so desperate to uphold wouldn’t allow me drink during the week).

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And so, the epic stare-down was in order. My inauthentic, broken, ego-driven self against my unrealized, caged, lucid self. F.O.M.O. ran through my veins far too deep to quit cold-turkey, so I started pulling back slowly. Driving myself nothing short of batshit crazy in the process, one at a time, I started logging in a few Saturday nights in.

Momentum started to build and one night turned into a weekend behind closed doors. Week by week, brick by brick, the F.O.M.O. began to fade and my true sense of self began to awaken from within me — overtly thankful for the break from the toxic wasteland I had been allowing my body to serve as.

I was doing great. I would limit myself to two to three drinks if I went out, which actually wasn’t very often at all. I could confidently sip a beer with dinner knowing afterwards I was going straight home at 8:30 on a Friday. The desire to go out and “rage my face off” dwindled as the life began to emerge from the darkest crevices of my soul. It’s no mystery the past six months have been the happiest of my life with alcohol no longer serving as the main event.

But such is life, we’re not perfect. A relapse was bound to smack me harder than ever across my unsuspecting and overconfident face — and it happened at the most inopportune time.

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Entrenched in my first authentic courtship of an incredible human who I absolutely adore, I took my eye off the ball. I gave up all that I had worked for to “let loose after a long week” and irrevocably negate all I had built with this person to become an unhinged college freshman for one night only.

She was devastated. I was devastated. And despite my effort, knowledge, commitment, and positive intent, I returned to ground zero.

It is with great humility, I surrender here tonight. There are many people who can enjoy a casual drink to unwind after work. There are people who can go out and have a blast with their friends, responsibly monitoring their drink consumption.

I’m clearly not one of them. Not at this point in time, at least.

I’ve worked too hard, warded off too many demons to allow my own darkness to engulf me once again. My life feels so fragile right now because I’ve finally learned to appreciate it. I’m so thankful the pain has subsided and I’m being the best version I know myself to be, I find myself frequently moved to tears at the drop of a hat. It is with this in mind, I leave nothing to chance.

We had a lot of fun Alcohol, but I can’t choose you right now. There’s too much on the line. There’s too much buried in my family lineage. There’s still more work I must complete within myself to reinforce the icy ground I stand on today.

To anyone I may have disappointed by my insatiable need to relish in the nightlife, I am truly sorry. The world doesn’t revolve around me and my mood, and it’s time I respect this truth with far greater honor. It’s time I cut off every possibility other than being my best.

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To be clear, this isn’t a judgment on alcohol — this is a judgment on me. It’s not something I’m equipped to handle and still meet my own standards as a human being, so I have to let it go. I both respect and envy those of you who are able to enjoy alcohol the way it’s meant to be, and maybe that’ll be me someday.

But for now, I close that chapter. I’ve hurt too many people — namely, myself— by thinking I could transcend my heritage.

Let’s see what I can do with a clear mind and a clear heart.

Onward.

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