Binge drinker, or alcoholic?

2 Jul

6:46 pm

I’ve been reading a lot of posts lately that are asking that same pesky question: Am I really an alcoholic?

I’ve written about it here, and there. And, like a lot of things, my idea of what the answer to that question is has changed over the course of getting sober. One thing, however, has remained consistent in my mind: It doesn’t matter. If you were running around town with a bleeding abscess on your leg, would you spend your last hours trying to figure out what it is, or would you stop running around and bandage it up?

If I only binge drink, am I truly an alcoholic?, I used to ask myself. I know plenty of binge drinkers, and I’m sure you do, too. Not all binge drinkers are the same, though. I was a binge drinker who blacked out and did and said crazy-belligerent things. Did I ever drink more than two bottles of wine? No. I’d drink a full bottle, and was blacked out either before or no later than the end of the second. Might someone consider me a “binge drinker” but not a “full-blown alcoholic?” Probably.

I remember feeling like a fraud at AA, when I’d leave meetings after conversations with men who drank like, WAY MORE than I did (one guy said he could drink 40-something shots and still be standing). However, whether or not I binged, sipped, skipped days, never drank before or after this, that, and the other–I used wine. I drank it compulsively (with a powerful, distracting psychological “need”), and it turned me into a crazy bitch with hangovers from the veritable Pit of Satan.

It was only after I left the rooms, after I cleared out the noise–the steps, the labels, the comparisons–that I was able to see a glaring fact: I drank alcoholically. Maybe I was a binge drinker, or an alcoholic, no matter. I drank alcoholically. Maybe I’ve simply been a lightweight my whole life? Maybe not. It doesn’t really matter. The point is, I was drinking to blackout almost every night, and I needed to make a change.

That’s not to say that binge drinking isn’t a common thing. Most–or at least, many–people simply GET TO THE POINT QUICKER, as the comments in this story at Jezebel suggest. They realize that the tradeoff for getting buzzed simply gets to be too much, unbearable, and/or unmanageable. How is that different for any of “us?” We’re not that different from others, actually. We use booze to fix shit, just like them. We bounce around finding the best ways to not have hangovers, or to avoid debilitating ones after we turn 30. The difference seems to be, we don’t stop using booze even when the tradeoff gets to be too much.

I am a binge drinker and therefore, I binge drink. I am an alcoholic, and therefore… What? The closest I’ve come is: and, therefore, I DRINK ALCOHOLICALLY. Each and every one of us, however, has to define exactly what *drinking alcoholically* means. For me, it means that I drink to fix, to numb, to avoid. To excite, sure, but it’s become more of a psychological crutch than a way to get high. At some point, the fact that I was using wine instead of food, or whatever, stopped being as important as my growing need to start living better, stronger, freer.

Here’s the thing, though: at 100-some days, and, minus a few slips, over a year of sobriety; I no longer give a shit to define “what I am.” Who cares? Drinking makes me feel “good” for about an hour, and then it makes me feel tired, fat, unhealthy, hungover, remorseful, etc. Drinking almost always leads to me blacking out, which is not uncommon, but which is cause for concern for anyone, whether a once-in-a-while drinker, binge drinker, or “alcoholic.”

I don’t have any apologies left, which is why when I’m around people who are drinking, I don’t care who’s got questions. I’ve got answers, though. Why don’t I drink? I don’t want to feel like ass the next day. I can’t drink AND go running. I literally don’t have the time. Why should I consider these excuses rather than simply pretty good answers? And, should I turn it around and ask, Why are you drinking? It’d be interesting to sit back and watch most people find it difficult to avoid the obvious: we’ve all been socially indoctrinated with the idea that it’s not only encouraged, but advised to drink to fix, to celebrate, to numb, to have “fun.”

I think what I’m saying is, it just doesn’t matter what you “are.” You don’t have to “be an alcoholic” to stop drinking alcoholically, or, to stop drinking, period.

19 Responses to “Binge drinker, or alcoholic?”

  1. losedabooze July 2, 2013 at 11:43 pm #

    Great post…. Food for thought for sure. We know the answers – we just have to fess up to them and make the choices that make us feel better.

    • Drunky Drunk Girl July 3, 2013 at 3:10 pm #

      Exactly! The labels don’t matter as much as the new choices we’re making to improve our lives…and to get past ruining them all the time by drinking!

  2. Katherine July 3, 2013 at 12:50 pm #

    DDG…great post! I could relate to “Drinking makes me feel “good” for about an hour, and then it makes me feel tired, fat, unhealthy, hungover, remorseful…etc…” Sometimes I miss that first hour of being relaxed…but then I think about the rest of the evening and it just gets worse. It was like the “mood enhancer”…which wasn’t always a good thing. If I drank to escape/relax from work shit, then it would come out even more and make the problem 10x worse. It was also the ‘truth serum’ and I’d say shit that I wished I wouldn’t have to whoever I was with or I’d call someone to chat with and say WAY more than I should have. I would remember some of what I said…but it was the shit I couldn’t remember that worried me. I don’t miss any of this…especially the remorse, guilt and shame!!! Life is less drama filled now….boring in comparison….but I’ll take simple and boring over what used to be! You too?

    • Drunky Drunk Girl July 3, 2013 at 3:17 pm #

      Totally! I’ll take sober and boring a hundred million times over the blackout nights of cooking while unconscious, 30 drunk dials to an ex, lost sweaters and purses and glasses and phones, fights with cabbies over $7 fares… And, you know, those bored moods pass, they just do. I wake up, draw that first sober breath, and think, wow, if being bored for a few hours is all I have to worry about compared to how it used to be? YES, please, sign me up!

  3. Christina July 3, 2013 at 2:24 pm #

    I LOVED this post. It hit so many chords. I loved when you suggested throwing the question back, “…so that’s why I’m not drinking. So tell, me…why ARE you drinking?” I think it is a great question given how many times we are asked about our choices. I find that telling people that I cannot drink like a normal person so it’s easier for me to not drink at all than to count drinks works for me. I think a lot of people ‘get it’ and I have been told, “That’s great. You deserve credit.” Obviously, I’m not abstaining for the positive reinforcement (although it doesn’t hurt) but I think people understand that it must be difficult. For me I find that it’s easier to just ‘come out with it’. The label isn’t nearly as important as the decision moving forward. Great post!

    • Drunky Drunk Girl July 3, 2013 at 3:24 pm #

      It’s just easier to come right out and say it, isn’t it? I mean, it’s not like I yell it from the rooftops–I can feel weird and awkward for a moment. But, I don’t ever feel ashamed; if people are wondering or thinking about WHY I quit, good for them. I don’t have to be burdened with what’s going on inside their heads! It’s just not that big of a deal, especially with strangers or less than close friends; and the longer I stay sober, the MORE and MORE I see just how many people don’t drink–for a variety of reasons, definitely not always because they were a binge drinker or alcoholic! Good for you, Christina! Sober unicorn parade, comin’ through. 😉

  4. markwars1972 July 3, 2013 at 2:53 pm #

    Early on in my quit I grasped at these labels. I also grasped at the term “alcohol allergy” to describe someone like me – someone who simply could not stop drinking once they took one drink…as if an allergic reaction made me keep going.

    That description fits me. My disease is such that I once I take that first drink I continue drinking until I run out of booze. If that meant that I drank a case of beer, whatever wine might be in the fridge and kill a bottle of something much stronger then so be it. No matter what was in my house it was ALWAYS empty by morning. I could not remember anything past that initial twelve pack of beer, but the evidence never lied. Lots of drunk dialing. Lots of falling injuries. Lots of shame every post drunk morning.

    And something inside me knew that this wasn’t how I was supposed to be living…I called it “unleashing the beast” and my friends all agreed. I went from fairly quiet guy to hilarious life of the party in three beers and my circle of friends always encouraged “the beast”. As much as I hated that guy the next morning I was always willing to let him loose again. Why? I think it was simply a habit more than anything else. It might of numbed some emotional pain. It might have let me forget some painful crap from my childhood, but for the most part I hated the control that my habit had on me. I had to do so much planning to do anything. There had to be contingencies for me to get drunk if I traveled. EVERY Friday and Saturday night were always spoken for because I HAD to unleash the beast. And every Monday morning I would get up, go for my morning run and pray that God would give me the strength to simply leave that all behind. And I felt that resolve until Friday morning. During my run on Friday I would already be working out when and where and how I was going to get drunk. And I did. Every week since I was about 15. That’s 25 years of failed weekends.

    I am 108 days into my quit and I feel liberated. Most of my angst comes from the fact that I wasted so much time, effort, brain cells and calories on alcohol. I resent what it did to me and I resent my own weak will that allowed it to happen. My friends and family think I am someone with amazing willpower, but I know the truth. The beast knows the truth too. Alcohol owns me…simple as that. I am not jealous of casual drinkers. I don’t want that. What I am discovering is new and frankly exciting. I am finally putting on my “big boy pants” and it’s long overdue. This coming week my wife and I will be on vacation and I can’t wait. I am not worried about being tempted to drink…I’m looking forward to experiencing a vacation that I will remember for the first time since we’ve been married.

    Things aren’t easy, but they are getting better. Each day is a new breath that I take and savor. Things are on my terms. And shame is not part of my weekly diet.

    • Drunky Drunk Girl July 3, 2013 at 4:10 pm #

      Yes, unleashing the beast! I was like that, too, but it was more like, unleashing the bottled up emotions, ideas, and person that I AM, that I was afraid to release while sober! Or course, all that came out messed up and distorted.

      I get that allergy idea; for me, I came to the conclusion that it wasn’t that I couldn’t stop after one, it was that I didn’t want to! I never wanted to. It was SO HARD to convince myself to stop when I just didn’t want to. Compulsion! And, that is why taking the first drink now, and then stopping, is just horrible: I’d rather not even bother because I know that the buzz is going to be replaced by that want to drink more.

      You’re doing GREAT. We can get really down on ourselves in those first few months, mainly because we see all the bad stuff we did, or are just starting to feel it all and think it all through. Sometimes, I think habits are ingrained a lot deeper than we think: for me, I had some sort of emotional attachment to drinking. It was like a personality disorder, where I felt, deep down, that if I didn’t binge drink on the weekends, somehow I wasn’t living life to the fullest, or trying that hard. When I quit, I felt like I wasn’t as fun, or smart, or imaginative anymore. That’s all nonsense, but that’s how I FEEL, and it really makes it difficult to keep staying sober.

      In the beginning, it seems to me that not drinking is a rational process and wanting to drink in spite of this is an irrational one: thoughts (I will not drink, I cannot drink) vs. feelings (but, I really want to drink, I need to drink).

      Have a great vacation! You deserve it… xx

  5. carrieonsober July 3, 2013 at 8:58 pm #

    Love this post, totally agree. Better, stronger, freer, I choose this way and now it makes total ssense…doh!
    I know I have the disease of alcoholism in me, what I chose to do about that is my business and works for me. I have decided to be a bit more open and proud too of my desicion. Next time someone who knows me asks when I am going to drink again, or how my health kick is going…I’m gonna tell them that I’m done! I feel as confident as I am ever going to feel and if I slip and make a right tit of myself by saying that, so be it! I always go so far as to say I would never do drugs and I don’t intend to, so how is it any different? And I’m going to ask your question right back at them too…brilliant!
    Proud,sober parades all round x

    • soberjournalist July 4, 2013 at 8:04 am #

      Great post. Like most of us on here, I think about this stuff a lot. To start with it can help to have some kind of label. Personally I was so reluctant to give up drinking I needed to see the evidence, the proof, that I had a problem. I wanted to fill out a form and for someone to say “ah ha! A bottle of wine plus a few shots and a beer or two? In one sitting? Yes that’s definitely a problem. Oh wait, but sometimes you just drink the wine? Well that’s ok then…” Anyway fast forward a bit and you start to realise it’s not that simple. It’s not really about amounts we drink but how we drink … I was always scared to keep booze in the house because once I started I didn’t stop until it was all gone. I really related to what you said about booze making you feel good for an hour and then shit afterwards. I was always chasing that feeling….

      arrgh just thinking about all this stuff reminds me how much more straightforward life is without it! xx

      • Drunky Drunk Girl July 6, 2013 at 4:04 am #

        Totally! I think more than I like to admit it (because I still want to drink, want that buzz–I do), it is simply WAY easier to skip the whole mess and not take that first drink.

        For me, I think I’ve come to understand my “powerlessness” as this: when I drink that first drink, I don’t want to stop. I WANT MORE. I CAN stop, but I don’t want to; therefore, effectively, I am powerless (call it a lack of dopamine, a lack of serotonin, a sensitivity to both, I’m not sure). And then, after two, or three, my rational brain shuts down and I drink to blackout. Now, I think that is self-harm, but aside from that truth, my powerlessness lies in the fact that my DESIRE for more is just so…strong. It exists beyond my willing it away, or, I never don’t want more. So, after that first glass, it’s just the chase, which at times, has been really more irritating than pleasurable.

        AA and blogs have helped me to see that drinking “alcoholically,” I like to call it (not sure if that’s technically kosher), is definitely not defined by the amount you drink, or the type of drink. I mean, I regularly blacked out on less than 1.5 bottles of wine. Two was my max, and it was only shit wine that allowed me to NOT black out on two.

        Anyway…so much easier to skip the whole mess–even if we don’t understand it all just now. We will, it comes the longer you simply don’t drink and keep looking inside yourself… xxx

    • Drunky Drunk Girl July 6, 2013 at 3:39 am #

      Good for you! Yeah…it’s not a big deal, really, to most people. Unfortunately, right? I mean, we make it into such a big deal–cuz it IS to us–but a lot of peeps couldn’t care less. Anyway, yes, loud and proud and sober! xx Unicorns and glitter balls coming your way…

  6. eileen July 6, 2013 at 8:26 pm #

    i want to scroll backwards and read a whole bunch of your posts, i especially like this one (which is only the second one i’ve seen) BUT i want to be working on a painting (see what one day of team 100 is doing for me?) so… having been a binge-y blackout-y drinker myself, i can totally relate and appreciate.

    • Drunky Drunk Girl July 9, 2013 at 3:54 am #

      Stick around Team 100 (or, 100-plus by now!) and you’ll see yourself in all of us! “Binge-y blackout-y”=my new favorite awesome term! 😉

  7. la July 20, 2013 at 3:18 pm #

    Well written. And thanks, you just made me feel better

    • Drunky Drunk Girl July 22, 2013 at 10:51 am #

      GREAT. That is why I write this rambling blog! Glad it made you feel better… 🙂

  8. Clare July 27, 2013 at 3:20 pm #

    The leg wound analogy is incredible. You have perfectly articulated my relationship to booze here too.

    • Drunky Drunk Girl July 31, 2013 at 1:23 pm #

      I just followed your blog! A+! LOVE it. I can’t wait to read more…

      (btw, your post about your 20s is fantastic; and, even though your 30s go REALLY fast (i fucking cannot believe i am 39–simply cannot believe it), they are SO WAY WAY BETTER than your 20s…)

  9. abijam April 24, 2014 at 5:20 pm #

    I have been searching to read something that describes how i drink; and this sums it up. Im frantically trying to put a label on my drinking and decide whether I am an alcoholic but I totally relate to the term ‘drinking alcoholically’. My last drink was 4 days ago and I am going to try everything to stay sober. The way I behave when I drink on the weekends leaves me feeling alone and so ashamed. Thanks for this post, its really helped.

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