Last week, the news reported about a drunk airline baggage handler who fell asleep in the cargo hull of a plane, and woke up in Chicago with a 737-sized hangover. May get a chuckle out of some people, but this a great example of what happens when drinking takes over your life — you could end up way off course.
Alcohol has been nicknamed “liquid courage,” and I can attest to that. Unfortunately, I’d rather think of alcohol as giving a “false bravado.” Drinking makes people say and do stupid stuff because the alcohol tends to mess with your rational thinking. You can feel invulnerable, overly confident and powerful, yet be way off base. When drinking gets out of hand, you get your own version of a reality TV show that goes haywire. You begin to think everyone else has a problem.
Here’s one example from No More Vodka in My Orange Juice, that I’m not proud of but glad to share with you because it’s the truth.
(Excerpt from chapter three, titled “A Family of My Own,” of the Second Edition, No More Vodka in My Orange Juice, by Justin Daniels, Copyright 2018. “***” Refers to condensed material)
While the boys were little, much of my time was spent enmeshed in work. When I wasn’t working, I wanted to drink. I never drank in front of the kids, but I would go out to drink or drink after they went to sleep. Sitting in front of the television, I could easily polish off a bottle of vodka and still get up to go to work the next day. Soon after my second son’s birth in 2000, I went to a doctor about my anxiety problems, and he tried me on different antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs: Zyban, Zoloft, and BuSpar. You’re not supposed to drink at all when you’re taking antidepressants like these, but of course I didn’t think that silly rule applied to me. Actually, I thought it was cool that it intensified the effects of the alcohol. I could get drunker than ever now that I had these brain pills. My doctor had told me that the combination was dangerous, but what have we learned here? I was the exception!
Nothing bad could ever happen to me. I could drink forever and no harm could ever come to me. Of this, I was certain.
Robin wasn’t a drinker at all; she’d nurse one drink the whole night. But she didn’t, at first, object to my drinking. We liked to socialize together, and that involved alcohol more often than not. We joined a country club and went to cocktail parties. For the most part, we had a lot of fun together—but there did come a point when the times I embarrassed her outnumbered the times I didn’t.
When I drank too much, I was mouthy and unruly. I would turn into a brazen braggart, boasting about how successful I was in business or sillier things, like what a good pool player I was. And worse, I’d mouth off to our friends in disrespectful ways, yelling at them or challenging them. Sometimes I even broke things. I was slowly becoming that drunk on the barstool who I once pointed and laughed at.
One day at the country club, I showed up to meet Robin wearing nothing but a wet bathing suit and a towel. This was a formal atmosphere: People wore suits and dresses, and there I was sidling up to the bar with my bathing suit still dripping behind me. Of course, I was drunk.
“I’m leaving,” Robin said.
“Go ahead,” I told her. And she did.
I stayed at the bar, getting more obnoxious by the minute. I started smashing glasses on the bar while people were trying to have dinner just a few feet away. Eventually, a manager told me it was time for me to go.
I was not pleased to be told that I had to leave—and particularly not pleased to be told I was cut off from my alcohol. As they escorted me out of the club, I took solace in the fact that I knew I had plenty more stashed at home.
While I was driving home—yes, I did drive—one of the club managers called Robin and said, “You need to get him under control.
We’re about to kick him out of the club.” She was waiting outside for me when I pulled into the driveway and started to lay into me.
Two of our neighbors, both college professors who we never really spoke to, were outside. That’s when I decided to urinate, right there on the front lawn in front of the neighbors.
“What are you doing? Get in the house!” Robin yelled.
“I don’t give a f__k what that guy thinks of me,” I said back in typical drunk behavior.
Another time, we were driving down a country road and Robin told me not to have another drink, and I tried to jump out of the moving car because I wanted to keep drinking. That’s how crazy I got.
There were times like that when Robin tried to get me to cut back on my drinking, but she didn’t tell me to quit altogether. Just as I didn’t want to believe I was an alcoholic, Robin didn’t want to believe that she’d married an alcoholic, either. It was as if each incident was a separate problem rather than an overall addiction. She thought that maybe if I just stopped drinking hard liquor and stuck to beer and wine, it would be okay, or if I would just stop at two or three drinks instead of finishing a bottle.
So that’s what I told her I would do . . . and then I didn’t. I told myself that’s what I would do too, but lying to myself was no big deal. I didn’t tell Robin how much I was actually drinking. When we were out together, she didn’t know how many refills I had, and when I was by myself, she didn’t know how often I drank in the car or stopped at the bar before coming home.
I remember a weekend we spent away when I told her I was just going to go to the bar for one drink, and she said, “Okay,” but while I was standing there, I pounded three drinks. We clashed about my drinking that weekend . . . I’d spent most of my waking hours wasted, ruining the little vacation we were supposed to enjoy together.
Increasingly, she’d ask me to cut myself off at parties. We liked hosting parties in our home, and there would inevitably come a point in the night where I passed the fun-loving guy stage and hit the jerk stage. This was the point where I would get belligerent with Robin and aggressive with everyone else.
“That’s enough,” she’d tell me, but I’d just argue with her in front of everyone.
“No, that’s not enough. Leave me alone. I’m not done drinking and it’s time for you to just be quiet about it.”
Our friends would sometimes get uncomfortable and try to leave, but I’d pressure them to stay well into the night. I was just getting started! “No, stay and play another round of pool,” I’d say. “You’re not going anywhere yet. Put down your coat.”
“Justin, it’s time to let them leave,” Robin would say.
“You just stop talking. They’re fine. They want to stay.”
After one such Saturday night like this, a couple of our friends stopped by early the next morning, along with another friend of theirs who I vaguely knew. His name was Bill, and he was in recovery. We stood out on my back patio and talked.
“We’re worried about you,” one of my friends said. “You’re drinking a lot, and you’re not yourself when you drink.”
I could see where this was going. So, okay, I got a little mouthy last night, I thought. It’s really no big deal.
But unlike when I wanted them to stay the night before, now they wouldn’t leave until I said something to get them off my back. They wanted me to go to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting with Bill that night. I agreed just to appease them.
The meeting that night was in Harrisburg, and I found every reason to tell myself that it was ridiculous.
I’m not like any of these people, I thought. Their problems are much worse than mine.
I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. After the meeting, I had a heart-to-heart with Robin where I explained to her that, yes, I understood that I was drinking a little too much, but it really wasn’t a problem. It was just because I was stressed and not talking to my family and the antidepressants were amplifying the alcohol, and every other excuse I could think up. I told her it wasn’t an addiction issue but just a stress issue and that I’d cut down my drinking. She agreed. She bought it.
Addicts are a bunch of liars. We lie to others and we lie to ourselves. Sometimes it’s hard to remember exactly when I realized I was lying, but it was somewhere right around there. Somewhere deep down, I did know I had a problem. I just didn’t want to quit, so I figured out ways to make it sound more palatable and reasonable than it was.
Having my friends tell me that they were concerned about my drinking was a little embarrassing, and I did think about it. I tried to convince myself they were wrong, but it at least ignited the question in my mind about whether or not there was any validity to what they were saying.
It didn’t actually make any difference in my drinking, mind you. A few months later came my first major wakeup call. It was the weekend after my birthday, and we’d just gone out to dinner with friends. After hanging out at our house until one a.m., they headed home. I had been drinking quite a bit, but I wasn’t ready to stop.
Robin, meanwhile, just wanted to go to sleep.
“I’m just going to go out for a little while,” I told her. On my way out of our driveway, I hit a light post and knocked off my driver’s side mirror. Undeterred, I drove on. The friends who had just left our house lived a few blocks away, so I drove over there and asked, “Hey! Do you want to hang out some more?”
“No,” they told me. “We’re going to bed. It’s late.”
I left and hung out at the local bar until it closed. At this point, I sensibly decided that the logical thing to do was find a bar that stayed open later. I drove around, and the lights were off at all the local bars. Eventually, I gave up and figured I’d head home. Shortly after making that decision, I stopped at a red light. Now, the rule is that you can usually make a right turn on red, but I was drunk and confused, so I made a left turn on red.
Right away, I saw the flashing lights in my rearview mirror. “Have you been drinking?” one of the cops asked me after pulling me over.
“I’m not going to lie to you. Just a little bit,” I said. At least a bottle of wine, five margaritas, three or four screwdrivers, and a couple of Zimas. You know, nothing much.
It was beyond clear that I was in no shape for driving, so they arrested me, stuck me in the back of the squad car, and drove me to a special area of the local emergency room for a blood test to measure my blood alcohol level. There, they read me my rights and told me what was about to happen. At first, I argued and told them I wouldn’t do it. “You know if you refuse to take the blood test, you automatically lose your license for a year,” one of them explained, trying to reason with me.
“Okay, fine,” I said. By that time, I figured the alcohol would have dissipated somewhat from my system, so I would be safe.
My blood alcohol level was .38, which meant I was a hair shy of unconscious. By .4, most people are passed out, and by .5, they’re typically dead.
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