Friday, May 13, 2011

Driving Me to Drink

It took me a while to post this after writing it because I wasn’t sure how people would respond. Hopefully by “putting myself out there,” I’ll be able to reach at least a few people that are on the same self-destructive road I was. –D.J.

I’ll be the first to admit that I like to have a few cold ones (or glasses of wine) every now and then. The problem occurs when it’s more than a few and it starts happening with increasing frequency. Such was my life last fall, as I’d work all day (and occasionally through long nights) at my job, and then come home and look to “blow off a little steam” by drinking…a lot.

I never thought it was truly a problem until I started waking up with horrible hangovers, trying to piece the previous night together, at times feeling bad for something that I may have said or done the night before. Before I knew it, I was drinking fairly heavily about four or five nights a week, and feeling horrible because of it. I started to put weight back on after trying to lose it for so long (no P90X yet), and just felt miserable. It didn’t interfere with my “job” at all, but it did interfere with my “work,” as I was unable to write nearly as much as I wanted to in my limited off-hours.

I just thought this was the natural progression of my life. I went to schools where the ability to drink a lot at night, then put yourself together in the morning was viewed as the ultimate goal, but I think I was largely under control while in school. In the working world, with tons of disposable income, I started to lose some of that control.

I take full responsibility for my drinking habits. I was never an “alcoholic” in the "chemically-dependent" sense in that I can quit whenever I want. I was an “alcoholic” in the sense that I felt compelled to drink away the dullness and mindlessness of a day that could have been better spent doing something I loved. 

Make no mistake that I take every drink. It’s my decision. I do think, though, that far too many lawyers out there turn to the bottle in times of great stress. Let’s face it, for a few hours, it makes that upcoming motion seem not so bad, or that tongue-lashing you received at work fade blissfully into the ether. Alcohol dulls the mind to a level that can cope with the mindless work put in front of it, and as an attorney, there is plenty of mindless work. Jack and Jimmy and Johnny become your new friends—they’re familiar, they’re reliable, and they make you feel better. Better than that depo you have to take in the morning. And the sleep! How else could you silence the voice in your head, running at a mile-a-minute after a busy day? No, far better to have a few belts and slip into a nice, easy coma for a few hours before waking up the next morning, hungover. The hangovers eventually become almost pleasant, a greeting that lets you know you did something other than work last night. Then you get in, start up the computer, and start the cycle all over again.

Occasionally, your friends are able to hang out, and, what the fuck, why not just get shitcanned with them, too? “Just a few” turns into “grab me another” as the good times keep rolling. You’re having fun for once, right? Must be the booze! Keep it flowing, stay up later, enjoy the fact that you have some time to spend with friends. Then, before you know it, you hear that awful noise that signals the start of another day—the shrieking bitch that is the alarm clock. When you don’t like what you’re doing, it’s the worst sound in the world. 

Life should not be lived this way. You shouldn’t dread morning, you should revel in it—the new possibilities it brings, the good you can do, the mark that you can put on this crappy little planet. 

Unfortunately, I was the exact opposite.

After I made my big decision to quit, though, something weird happened—I lost my desire to drink away the nights and evenings. Oh, sure, I still have a few drinks with friends occasionally in the evening, and I of course still enjoy getting bombed when the occasion calls for it, but I don’t feel the urgent need to just get drunk after a day of writing and working on projects. I’m not sure if it’s the work itself, a new outlook on life, or the sense that I’m doing something that I want to do, but whatever the reason, this change has been good for my overall health. Even when I’m with my friends now, I don’t feel the need to keep putting ‘em back to the point of becoming utterly tuned, proving that my problem wasn’t peer pressure. Something was wrong with me, and now I feel “fixed.” I’m back in control of my life. It feels great.

Anyone have similar experiences or worried they might be on the same path? Let me know in the comments, or send me an e-mail (

D.J. Gelner is a writer, entrepreneur, and recovering attorney in St. Louis, Missouri. You can e-mail him at Follow him on twitter @djgelner. Friend him on facebook here.

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