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Alcoholism Was Death by a Thousand Cuts
I didn't realize how badly my drinking habit was interfering with my life.
One of the easiest ways for an alcoholic to justify their drinking habit is to compare it against the drinking habits of other alcoholics. I used to do this all the time back when I was still a drinker.
I’d hear about a friend who got a DUI and think “well, at least I’m not as bad as them.” Or, I’d watch a homeless man spend his spare change at the liquor store, and think “that’s what a real alcoholic looks like. I just drink a little too much.”
I was the quintessential “high-functioning” alcoholic. I never lost my license from driving drunk. I never got fired from work for drinking on the job. I never woke up inside a jail cell.
In fact, when my addiction was at its very worst, I was enrolled in one of the top law schools in the country. And I wasn’t just passing my classes, I was hitting the Dean’s list every semester and racking up prestigious recognition and awards.
At the time, I really thought I had my life together—even though I spent every single evening getting drunk by myself in my apartment.
I knew that I was drinking too much. The cost of daily drinking was adding up, and for the past few years, my weight had been skyrocketing. But, even as I started to consider getting sober, I still hadn’t realized that alcohol was impacting far more areas of my life than just my wallet and waistband.
My alcoholism never led to a giant cataclysmic event. I didn’t ruin my life through a single drunken mistake or end up in the hospital with liver damage.
Instead, my alcoholism was death from one thousand cuts. It hurt me again and again, day after day, in small, nearly imperceptible ways, that added up to a life in disrepair.
For example, when I was in my early twenties, I used to hang out with my friends almost every day of the week. However, as my addiction progressed, I spent more time drinking by myself. Eventually, I was actually turning down nearly every invitation that I got because I didn’t want to cut into my drinking time.
A single declined party invitation is no big deal, but these decisions add up. Without even realizing it, I went from someone with a great social life to a man who isolated himself in his apartment every single night.
I never had a big falling out with my friends. There was no argument or disowning. I simply drifted away from them, floating down a river of booze.
It wasn’t just my social life that faltered—I neglected my health too. I was too drunk to care what I ate and ended up eating nothing but junk food most of the time. My alcoholism also got in the way of exercise.
Throughout my twenties, I often tried to start running regularly or doing some other kind of workout. I couldn’t stick with it because I spent all of my free time drinking.
When I planned to run in the evenings, I’d end up blowing it off to get drunk instead. When I planned to run in the mornings, I’d end up sleeping in because I had stayed up drinking the night before.
These negative effects of alcohol are hard to notice because they operate so subtlety. It’s not that alcohol was sending me straight to the emergency room every week. Instead, it was just getting in the way of building healthy life habits.
It might sound like I’m building a mountain out of a molehill, but the simple truth is that all of these apparently “minor” effects add up. It’s exactly because each one seems like no big deal that they end up being so innocuous.
The worst effect that alcohol had on my life was how it damaged my mental health. I had struggled with depression even before I started drinking regularly. In fact, I think that one of the factors that led to my addiction was my poor mental health. In some ways, I was using alcohol as a form of “self-medication.”
However, there’s a reason that doctors don’t prescribe alcohol for depression: it doesn’t work.
Although my drinking habit did a good job of temporarily masking my depression—helping me to forget about it one night at a time—it didn’t actually eliminate it. Quite to the contrary, it actually made my depression even worse.
I didn’t notice my depression worsening day by day, but when I stepped back and looked at my mental health year by year, it was undeniably getting worse. I can’t begin to imagine how bad things would have gotten if I had kept drinking for another decade.
It’s always strange to look back on my final years as a drinker because my mind was all over the place. Some days, I’d blame alcohol for every problem in my life, and promise myself that by getting sober I’d turn it all around. Other days, I’d tell myself that I didn’t have any drinking problem at all.
I’m not sure what I really believed. I think that the most likely answer is that I held all of these contradictory views at once. Addiction can make us think in incredibly illogical ways.
What I do remember clearly is that ultimately, my motivation for getting sober was totally superficial: I wanted to save money and lose weight. I didn’t fully realize how badly alcohol had been interfering with my life until after I quit drinking.
As I’ve stayed sober, my mental health has improved, I’ve started exercising more, my isolation has been replaced with connection, and my life has changed for the better in more ways than I can count.
It now feels so obvious that alcohol was damaging my life, but I think I had to see the alternative first-hand before I could recognize it. I’ve been sober for over five years now, and I’m still discovering new ways that my alcoholism had been holding me back.
Sobriety didn’t transform my life overnight, but year by year, I’ve gradually managed to repair the damage alcohol had done and found a happier, healthier life than I ever expected.