Why I Almost Drank Myself to Death
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Most everyone agrees, at this point, that addiction is a disease.
Or at least a genetic abnormality.
In fact scientists are damn close to isolating the specific gene.
I know in my own case that it’s clear how that predisposition manifested itself the first time I ever got drunk. My friend and I were 11 years old. We stole alcohol from the bar of a rented ski cabin up in Tahoe, mixing small amounts of the different liquors in a Snapple bottle so the grownups wouldn’t notice any was missing. For me it’s an old story at this point—practically a legend. I drank some, he drank some. He hated the way it tasted and stopped. I loved the way it made me feel and drank the whole goddamn thing—and then I puked for like an hour.
Something in my brain was turned on that night after feeling the very first effects of that alcohol. Some switch had been flipped.
And, as I would come to learn later, that “switch” would get flipped on whenever I took drugs or alcohol into my system.
Because once I started, I couldn’t stop. There was no getting around that.
I believe it is the direct result of my congenital alcoholism. My grandfather drank himself to death. And, on that side of the family—a bunch of Arkansas rednecks (with some Native American thrown in, most likely not, in any way, consensually, I’m ashamed to admit)—there are alcoholics going back as far as anyone can possibly remember.
So it makes sense that I would have this whole alcoholism thing.
That is, it makes sense why, because of my genetic make-up, once I start drinking or using, I find it nearly impossible to stop.
But from what I can tell, my genetic abnormality shouldn’t be able to make me start drinking or using again.
So then why was it, that after suffering devastating consequences—the devastation of my family, the loss of literally everything I owned, horrible infections, excruciating detoxes, having to abandon all my hopes and dreams for the future—I would continually make the conscious decision to start using again, knowing damn well what I was getting myself into?
I guess the only answer is that I honestly didn’t care anymore.
I wanted to die.
That is, I wanted to use and then die.
Or use until I died.
After all, I told myself, it was better to live a short life blissed out on drugs than a lifetime of pain and misery.
Those seemed like the only two options for me.
Because I was, truly, in a tremendous amount of pain.
I mean, I really was.
But why was that?
Why, when I wasn’t getting high, was my life so full of that pain and misery?
In some ways, that seems to me the only question worth asking—both for myself and for every addict of every kind.
Because it’s not just about drugs and alcohol. It’s about anything we, as human beings, use to avoid feeling the pain of our own existence. Acting out compulsively with sex, relationships, video games, TV, gambling, food, exercise or whatever else stems from the desire and need to escape the very real and deep-rooted sorrow in each one of us.
And certainly there must be a tremendous amount of this sorrow and pain in people because addiction, in one form or another, has reached epidemic proportions. It touches, at least by proxy, most everybody (or pretty close to it).