But before I go into the final reason, I feel it necessary to give you a little description of what it was like to be "Drunk Donny", my former alter ego.
I can pinpoint the weekend that I became a full-blown alcoholic; someone who continued to drink despite all the bad things that happen as a result of their drinking. I had been out partying both Friday and Saturday night until all hours of the morning, and woke up with a slight hangover to attend the wedding reception of a friend on Sunday, March 20th, 2011. At this point in my drinking career, I didn't really have bad hangovers anymore; my body had gotten used to the abuse. What replaced the hangover, which I discovered the day following this wedding reception, was much worse. But we'll get to that in a moment.
I went to this wedding reception stag, as I was a single guy and had been for a few years. I didn't know too many people there, so I awkwardly floated between tables to talk to those I did know. Soon, I became bored and decided to grab a drink. They didn't have my usual drink of choice, Jagermeister, so I ordered a Bacardi and Coke from the bar, which I then had little experience with. I drank it pretty fast, and realized that I liked it. Rum was not a bad-tasting liquor.
I had no appetite due to all the liquor I had guzzled the previous two nights, but I tried to force down some of the food at the reception. I ate probably a third of what was on my plate before tossing it in the trash. I knew I should've eaten somewhere near fifty plates of food, but I just couldn't get anything down. The thought of eating was making me ill. So I returned to the open bar to fill up my drink.
I remember going outside the reception hall and calling my mother on the phone to chat, as I ususally did every Sunday. The only thing I remember of the conversation was me reassuring her: "Don't worry, mom. I won't drink too much." The truth was that I had had too much already.
I returned to the bar and started ordering shots of whiskey, using my newly refilled Bacardi and Coke to chase the shot. I was doing these shots alone, without anyone else. They weren't celebratory shots with the groom or anything; I simply was bored and figured getting drunk would remedy that problem. I remember thinking, "Man. I'm a pro! I sure can handle a lot of liquor."
That was probably the peak of my tolerance with alcohol. They say that an alcholic's tolerance, over time, is more like a parabola than an ever-rising slant. I had reached the peak of that parabola and had no where else to go but down.
I left the wedding, still bored, and went out to another nightclub and probably had 4-5 more drinks. I don't remember much about the rest of that night. I didn't do anything too terrible, or make an ass out of myself or pass out in a public place, I just drank too much. I woke up securely in my bed the following morning, but I had this weird feeling of nervousness that I couldn't seem to shake.
I was normally off on Mondays, but decided to go in to work to do some prep work, as I still worked in the kitchen at this point. I tried eating while I was there, but still couldn't get any food down. I remember I then started pacing back and forth in the kitchen, nervous. My mind was spinning and I started having difficulty breathing. I thought a cigarette would help calm me. Nope! Spinning a little more, I went inside and poured myself a shot of Jagermeister. I took a sip and almost gagged. It was immediately after this that I felt this "snap" in my head and decided to run for my car and drive myself to the hospital. I was pretty sure I was about to have a heart attack and die. It was the scariest moment in my life.
My first panic attack. A major turning point in my drinking career.
Luckily, as I drove into the parking lot of the hospital, I had calmed down enough to turn back around and go to a friends' house to chill out for a bit. I couldn't figure out exactly why I had a panic attack. I thought I was just exhausted from a rough weekend of partying and that I didn't eat enough the few days before.
From then on out, I started having panic attacks on a regular basis. They would creep up on me out of nowhere. At work. Bam! Panic. At home, laying on the couch watching a movie. Bam! Panic. In the shower in the morning. Bam! Panic. It was starting to interfere with my normal functioning in life. I took a friend's advice and eventually went to the doctor and he prescribed me some anti-anxiety medication.
I soon realized something: I only seemed to have these panic attacks after a night of heavy drinking. A quick Google search informed me that people going through alcohol withdrawals were prone to panic attacks. So was that it? Was I having daily alcohol withdrawals? I decided to test the theory and didn't drink for a few days, and the result was what I had expected: I felt fine if I didn't drink. Did that mean I had to quit drinking? Ha! Hell no. I could never quit drinking! That was for old guys that found their marriages and jobs falling apart because of the booze, or for middle-aged ladies who had gone through five wine-fueled divorces and had blown through all their money gambling. Quitting drinking was for the weak. The people that couldn't handle their lives. I was a single 27 year old guy that had his whole life ahead of him, filled with parties and sex and drinking and drugs and rock-and-roll. I just had to cut back how much I drank. I could totally do that and be fine. Right?
After discussing my discovery with my doctor, I made a few naive and futile attempts at changing my drinking habits. I stopped drinking Jagermeister. I remember announcing this to all my friends and coworkers as if that was the cure to all my problems and expected a pat on the back for it. I was quick to show them that I was only drinking beer and only having 2-4 drinks a night. Look guys! I'm only drinking 4-6 Captain and Cokes a night. No big deal! It was okay, guys! I could handle 8 drinks right? Even if they were shots of Jameson backed by a swig from a Newcastle. I had this under control. I was gonna sip that scotch and rocks and take that shot of cinnamon whiskey and chug that nut brown ale all at the same time and do it all over again in about ten minutes, with a Irish Car Bomb in between. Totally fine. Got it. 15 drinks a night was my limit.
No one cared about these vain attempts. They had watched me become a nervous wreck. They were slowly subscribing to the idea that I should quit drinking completely, as I was quickly becoming a problem drinker right in front of their eyes.
I was nervous and panicky, and coming into work smelling sour, sweating profusely, and looking like shit. I was dirty and un-bathed with shaky hands and dark rings under my eyes. I would come into work in the morning after a night of heavy drinking and have them make me another drink, and I'd probably have three before going home to pass out to get rest before my shift started at 5 pm, which I became increasingly late for. My coworkers would hear reports of me passing out at bars or getting kicked out of bars or pissing on myself while at bars or having to be wrestled into my own car so someone could drive me home from bars. Every day, it seemed my car had a new dent in it from where I had backed into something because I was so fucked up and so determined to show them all I could drive home myself.
It was pitiful.
But who were they to judge? We all worked together at a bar and we all drank when we got off work until the early hours. I was no different from them. I would just have a little too much sometimes and pass out. So what? What was the big deal?
After each one of these episodes, with or without anti-anxiety medication, I would have a full blown panic attack or come close to having one, unless I had a few drinks to calm me down. My solution at the time was that I would just stay drunk. Having my brain swim around in an alcohol bath was the only thing that prevented these attacks. If I could just start drinking in the early hours of the day, and find ways to keep the booze flowing, I'd be fine.
My life for a little while went just like this:
I'd wake up, feel nervous and blank. Curse myself for whatever it was I did the night before that I couldn't remember doing. I'd see that my car wasn't in the driveway, meaning someone drove me home, meaning I had gotten way too fucked up. I'd get flashes of things I said and did the night before and cringe with guilt. I'd lay in bed and smoke about 5 cigarettes and frantically text my friends to ask them what happened the night before. I'd then get dressed and walk down to all the local bars (I lived in the vicinity of about 6 or 7 different bars, including the one I worked at) until I found my car at one of them. I'd drive home, feeling even more nervous. I'd get home and pace around my house for an hour or two, chain-smoking, feeling terrible. I would think about how I was lying to everyone I'd loved about my drinking habits, and became very secretive about my drinking. The shakes would come on and I'd be on the verge of another horrible panic attack. If I didn't have a bottle of liquor at the house I'd pop a Klonopin or two before work. Sometimes I would drive to a bar before work and have a few shots to calm my nerves. I'd show up to work half drunk, fearing the 8 hours without a drink. So I started keeping a bottle of Fireball in my car and I'd go out to it throughout the night and sneak shots. I'd get through my shift, anxious to do last call so I could sit openly at my bar and take more shots and then go to another bar afterwards and get even more fucked up. It was around this time that I would be operating in full-black-out mode. I'd be having what can barely be described as "a good time", ordering another drink, and then all the sudden BAM! I'd wake up in my bed. The cycle would then continue, usually for days at a time.
I should be dead.
I found myself broke, about to lose my job, my friends, and everything I had worked for in my life. I would wake up and consider suicide. I didn't know how I was going to get out of this cycle. I was not only a chain-smoking terrible alcoholic, but allowing an addiction to anti-anxiety meds to creep into the mix. I couldn't stop drinking though! How would I be a good bar manager if I didn't drink anymore? How would I do a good job at making the bar I worked at a great place to be if I was sitting there sober all night. Sober people were boring people with boring lives, after all. There seemed to be no way out.
It's funny. I had always imagined that if I ever had to quit drinking, I'd throw this great "farewell" party and everyone would attend and it would be one of the funnest nights we'd ever have. My friends would all wish me good luck at my new venture of choosing sobriety over a self-destructive lifestyle. There'd be confetti and girls and party streamers and we'd all drink and be merry into the early hours of the morning, upon which I would just simply say goodbye to alcohol and go forward as a sober man. It would be a momentous occasion; a time to remember.
The reality is, I took my last shot of alcohol in a bar I hated because no one there knew who I was and didn't mind serving me. I had no friend at my side. There were no party streamers and pretty girls launching confetti bombs into the air. Shitty music was playing in the background. It was a hot summer day, and I felt like shit. I didn't even know if I still had a job. I was given a final warning at work and had pissed off everyone there and had lost all respect as a manager because I had let my drinking affect every aspect of my life and showed no signs of slowing down. I was a mother fucking wreck. It had to end.
So I took control and it did indeed end.
I took that last, pathetic shot of liquor and walked home. I tore into my house and threw away every empty bottle of alcohol I could find (of course they were all empty. I'd drank every last bit). I looked up the locations of all the nearby Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and printed it up and put them on my fridge. I had decided then and there that I would quit drinking forever. This would not be an attempt to "fix" my problem so that I could one day look forward to some moment where I could drink again. This decision would stick, or I would most certainly die. There was no other alternative. This was it.
The rest, is history. And I have not had a single drink, or panic attack, since that day.
So when someone asks how I stay sober or why I don't drink, I tell them my personal motto:
I would have to be drunk to drink again.
Think about it. I would have to be completely out of my fucking mind to ever pick up another drink. To do so would certainly catapult me back to the life I described above. Who would ever wish that on themselves? Who would wake up every day and continue to do that? It was insanity. I would never, ever want to return to that cycle. I wasn't living. I was dying!
The sober mind is usually a sharp mind with good judgement. So as long as I don't drink again and taint that judgement, I won't drink again. Sounds a little funny, but it's as simple as that. And if I ever feel a temptation coming on, or consider for a second that, "Hey, maybe I'm cured now! Maybe I can drink like a normal person," all it takes is for me to look back at those couple years that I was living in a viscous, virtual hell, and say, "Nope."