There is always that one moment that changes everything. Some call it a light bulb moment, some a moment of truth, or a moment of clarity. Whatever you want to call it, it is fierce and usually unexpected. It comes down to a realization about yourself, your choices, maybe even your future, and it is hard to deny and impossible to ignore.
I learned a frightening truth one day in an act of sheer desperation and fear. I was at work doing my usual thing, tending bar, entertaining my regulars, serving their drinks and dinners and making everyone happy. My hands were shaking uncontrollably, my head was pounding and I was sweating like crazy. I had stayed up drinking all night and my hangover was a force to be reckoned with. I drank every day, a lot, so my hangover was more a severe withdrawal after not having a drink for some hours. As I cruised up and down the bar, making jokes, clearing plates, flashing a smile at everyone individually, I felt like I wouldn’t survive another moment.
At the end of the bar was a huge cooler. It housed all of the kegs of beer and a dozen bottles of hard alcohol that were best drank chilled. I crept toward the door, already feeling guilty for what I was about to do, as I opened the door I felt the cool air rush over me and I had a sense of safety knowing that my suffering was about to end. I closed the door behind me. I had to go in that cooler many times throughout the night to retrieve things so if anyone were watching it would not appear strange for me to go in and close the door. I had to make sure the door closed all the way behind me, because if it stayed open even a little bit then everyone would be able to see what I was really doing and I would be found out for what I really was. I stood for a moment contemplating the sadness in what I was doing. I looked around the cooler, the shelves, and the booze with a sense of hatred and craving. This simple liquid appeared so innocent and colorful, cheerful and safe. But for me it was solitude. It meant my head would stop hurting, my hands would stop shaking, and I could feel normal again. I glared at those bottles wanting so badly for them to solve my problems, at the same time resenting them for controlling my life. Then I grabbed a bottle. As I lifted it to my mouth I thought about what a failure I was, what a fraud I was to all of the people that cared about me and believed in me. When the rim of the bottle hit my lips it was so perfectly cold and comforting. I knew in an instant that solitude was coming. I felt the liquid go all the way down my throat, through my chest, and into my stomach and I felt as though my life had been saved. It was like alcohol was a blessing and it instantly killed the pain, removed the anxiety, and refreshed me like I was brand new again. I put the bottle back on the shelf and started to remove my hand from its neck when compulsion struck me and took away my choice. I grabbed it again, this time with anger. I brought it to my mouth fast and gulped. I had to make sure I drank enough. Many thoughts were swirling through my head, fear that I wouldn’t be able to get another drink for awhile, I wouldn’t be able to sneak back in the cooler, or what if the bar got busy and I couldn’t get a drink and I started shaking again? I had to gulp again to feel as though I had enough for that moment. I couldn’t bear the thought of not having enough. Then I went back out the door to face the crowd, a whole new person. Calm, cool, and collected, confident, capable, with a blinding smile. In that moment I knew, for real, I am an alcoholic.