What the hell was I thinking?
Editor’s note: This powerful account of an alcoholic binge contains graphic images and language that may be disturbing to some readers. For some, it may also provide inspiration to change. The author’s name is a pseudonym.
By Jack Craig
Believing even a little that I’m just like those fun people I‘ve seen drinking in television commercials is like masturbating: I’m only fucking myself.
Watching a movie on Netflix would be much easier than writing this piece, but it’s time to fess-up. After months, not years, of sobriety, I went back out drinking for about a week-and-a-half — although the actual length of time is a little hazy.
Here’s how my two part alcoholic binge began:
At opening time, someday in the second week of October 2013, I bought two 2-litre bottles of Andres Medium Dry Sherry — a 22% alcohol-rated bargain, a steal at $15.99 — from the liquor store in the University Village Mall. It was on sale, a dollar off the regular price. I was living in a shared house a half-hour walk away. When I got back to my basement apartment, I decided two bottles would never do. I made two more round trips and purchased six more bottles. I had now saved eight dollars. My alcohol addiction had resurfaced quietly and ravenously, after months of hibernation.
Just before noon on that sunny day, I began a cycle of drinking, passing out, and coming back around again, one I’ve been through many times in my 66 years. I poured the contents of the 2-litre bottles of sherry into my mouth the way I drink from a soft drink tin can. I fell into an unconscious-conscious state throughout the next three days and nights. I didn’t keep track of the number of times I peed the bed or vomited into a plastic pail.
I had had a run with diarrhea the previous four days before I started drinking; a lower intestine virus was the doctor’s diagnosis.
During one of my passed-out sessions, I had one or two minor bowel movements that soiled the bed. I presume the sherry triggered the resumption of the diarrhea. The lower-intestine after-shock was uncontrollable. I woke up, semi-consciousness, and attempted to get to the bathroom in time. I didn’t.
Returning to the 3am or 4am darkness of my bedroom a few minutes later, I slipped on a line of diarrhea and fell onto my feces- and urine-soaked mattress. A half-empty bottle of sherry rolled into me. I embraced it to my chest; I caressed the bottle as I would a lover. That I remember.
I resumed the cycle for the next 14 or 15 hours. On the third evening around 6pm, I was disturbed by voices. It was chatter from the other three cohabitants of the house, on their way downstairs to check on me. I had disappeared from the face of their world — at least in their minds. What they found, when they pushed open my bedroom door, was horrific — something they were not prepared to see. The trio of young women gagged in the foul stench and became nauseous. They quickly went back upstairs, choking, making “cacking” noises. One was crying.
The diarrhea returned and drained into my jeans. I stood up from the bed and tucked the jean cuffs into my socks so it wouldn’t run out. I recall doing that, my only act of civility during my alcoholic run. My next memory was laying on an ambulance gurney violently vomiting into a white plastic bag.
I was admitted to hospital. A nurse helped me shower. I think the sickness and diarrhea stopped because of medication a doctor gave to me. I was released the next afternoon at my own request. I was beginning to have flashes of events from the previous few days and wanted to get back to my bathroom and bedroom to clean them up. Paranoia settled into my mind. I feared what might be waiting for me back at the house. Confrontation? Violence? Humiliation?
I went back to the shared home. The front door was unlocked — I suspected it was left that way for me. They might be hiding, waiting for me, I thought. I went downstairs to my bedroom. I glanced sideways as I passed the open bathroom door next to my bedroom not wanting to take ownership of what I had done. I looked in. It had been cleaned up.
A rolled-up towel was stuffed into the space under the closed bedroom door. I pushed the door open. The bedroom still had shit all over. The words “Oh! … My God!” dropped from my mouth. I scrubbed the filth from the carpet with soap and water, and bagged up the bedding. The house manager came down from upstairs. I had already given my notice weeks prior and put almost all of my belongings into storage; but didn’t intend then on doing what I did now. I told her I was leaving earlier than I had originally planned. She said she was keeping my damage deposit to replace the mattress and have the room professionally cleaned. She turned and left without saying another word.
I moved into a Nanaimo motel for a week until I could take occupancy of my new accommodations in the Ocean View Apartments. I stayed sober while I was in the motel for a good reason: I was driving a rented panel van in a few days to transport my personal stuff.
By November 1, 2013, I had been sober for eight days. Not that big a deal, really. I’d had eight days before and that didn’t last. From my rented storage locker, I loaded up the rented van with all my belongings (no furniture) and moved into my apartment. I worked hard over the next 12 hours, from 8am until 8pm. My helper never showed. However, I managed to unload the complete inventory of all my stuff into my ninth floor bachelor suite.
When I moved in, I chaotically dropped everything into the middle of the apartment floor: Black garbage bags, beige cardboard boxes, dozens of grocery store cloth bags filled with food and clothing. I leaned my computer and desk, printer, guitars, and keyboard, and more stuff against the pile. It looked like I was building a large bonfire.
I was amazingly exhausted, but still with enough determination to celebrate my personal “move-in” victory with two of my old friends: A couple of 2-litre bottles of Andres Medium Dry Sherry that I purchased from the liquor store in Port Place Mall. I was away again.
I lost a good portion of the following week. Gone. I do recall, on the Monday and Tuesday mornings, walking to various liquor stores to buy two or three bottles at a time of my much-loved sherry. Then I must have blacked out.
I was still functioning but had no memory of where I went or what happened to me on Tuesday afternoon or all day Wednesday. I made it back to my apartment; I don’t remember how or when.
On Thursday, I called a Nanaimo taxi company and asked if they could deliver four bottles of Andres medium dry sherry to my apartment. The cab driver arrived clutching two white plastic bags. That I remember. I drank myself into oblivion and, again, my memory of the next two days is gone. I was a hell of a mess — physically, emotionally, and hygienically.
On the first day after oblivion, I entered a state of greyed semi-consciousness. I began scrounging through the boxes and bags massed in the middle of my place, looking for toilet paper and found only scratchy paper towels. I searched for bottles of Gatorade, tetra packs of fruit juices, clean underwear, and clean tee-shirts. I knew they were in the pile that resembled garbage left after a tsunami, but I couldn’t find them.
I quit looking.
It was on Sunday afternoon or Monday morning, eight days after my initial celebratory bottle of sherry, that I crawled around on the floor, sopped up the remaining dregs from the insides of sherry bottles, and inched myself up to the kitchen sink to fill a pot with water. My parched mouth’s dryness was unquenchable. Of course, like any heavy drinker, I knew that water is the hardest liquid to keep down, but it was wet and cold. I had emptied everything else. I was so thirsty. The nausea began without mercy.
Monday afternoon my sickness peaked. If I stood, I vomited. If laid on my side on the floor, I vomited. If I crawled too slowly, waves of nausea hurried me back to my foam mattress; that’s where my blue recycle-bin had been recycled into a barf bucket, and I vomited.
Early Tuesday morning the sickness eased. I was at a crossroads in this particular drunk: I was well enough to have a taxi driver deliver a few more bottles of sherry — or — I could reach out for help. I felt a sense of giving up inside me and it was getting stronger. Keep drinking. It’s all I really do well, I thought at the time. I felt no remorse, no shame, no guilt. My brain had become disconnected from life. I pictured it floating in my skull. I’ve thought of my mind like this before, several times before.
Finally, the water stayed down — tasted sweet when I drank it. I still felt ill; I could stand for a few minutes before the need to lie down downed me once more. I began linking with the real world again — the world I had departed from a week-and-a-half earlier. I grabbed onto my window’s ledge and pulled myself up from the floor and looked outside at the workers across the street.
I thought I could hear my name attached to profanities in their conversation. I was having auditory hallucinations. I watched the traffic on Terminal Avenue. An ambulance weaved in and out between vehicles; its siren screamed. I heard my name in its whine. I watched people walked along Wallace Street and into Tim Hortons — for the first time in days, my stomach groaned in hunger. I wished I could get over there for a bowl of thick vegetable soup. That would be good for me, make me feel better, I thought.
And then I thought, they’ll never serve me, looking and stinking the way I do. “You’ll have to leave, sir; people are complaining about your presence,” a manager would say. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been asked, more like demanded, to vacate a business for that same reason. But my hunger, and the thought of a meal at Tim’s, brought me back to the decision before me — get drunk or get help.
I decided to reach out to people at Vancouver Island University, whom I knew and who knew me as a student, but I couldn’t leave my apartment to face them in person; I was too wobbly — on the verge of falling whenever I moved or even stood still. I needed a wall or a door jamb nearby to grab in case I started going over. I didn’t want to take a tumble on the streets of Nanaimo or the steps at VIU.
I sent out emails to two instructors whose classes I had missed and a counsellor at VIU who I have had appointments with over the years. I fessed up to the lie I had been living since coming to VIU six years earlier. I expected disapproval, and worse. Several times, in employment situations, I had been read the riot act, told that if I missed another day of work because of my drinking, I’d be fired. But that which I feared the most — sitting in the corner of a small office, hearing the vocally stern lecture and facing humiliating damnation: “How stupid could you have been, man!? What was going on inside your head!? What the hell were you thinking!?” — never materialized. Instead there was caring and compassion.
The VIU counsellor advised me to go to the Walk-in Crisis Centre at the Brooks Landing Mall in Nanaimo. I did, on the Wednesday of this new week. The nausea had almost disappeared. As I sat in the lobby waiting for a worker to see me, I kept telling myself, “I must do this. I have to do this.”
Again, I waited for a shameful scolding and verbal assault. It’s what I deserved, I had earned it, but it didn’t happen. A Registered Psychiatric Nurse escorted me to a session room. I told her the story you have just read. She voiced no judgement other than to tell me that sherry drunk in large quantities is one of the worst alcoholic beverages for my health. I have no idea what her notes said about me. The notes probably weren’t as bad as I thought they might be; I’m still out walking around unsupervised. We talked about Alcoholics Anonymous; I’ve attended AA meetings since the session with the RPN.
My story is deeply personal — private and hurting — honest and appalling. It’s from my mind. I feel I owe that much to those individuals directly involved in my drinking binge, though I don’t remember precisely what was going on in my brain at the time.
I estimate that I’ve had an average of four, one-to-two week binges a year for 25 years, maybe more. I figure that this has happened to me at least a hundred times before. What the hell was I thinking? I have no idea except that, each time, I was not thinking reasonably. My guard was down, making it easy to lose my sanity and hypothetically my life.
I usually don’t drink when I’m angry or depressed. I seem to drink mostly when I’m happy and contented with life, like moving into my apartment without help. I began thinking of buying a couple of bottles of sherry as a reward for the great moving job I was doing . . . half-way through the task. That’s all it took. After the first bottle, I was away on my alcoholic run. There was no escape.
I didn’t physically injure myself this time. I’ve not always been so fortunate. The scar under my right nostril is from tripping on a curb and falling to the sidewalk when I lived in Victoria in 1984, and yes, I was drunk. My glasses smashed; a broken lens sliced my skin I told people who asked about the cut that it was a floor hockey injury.
The scar on my left bicep is not a bullet wound, as I’ve told past friends and workmates. I lived in a flop house in Victoria in the middle of winter, 1985. I had drunk the last mouthfuls of two-40s of vodka and passed out on the floor. I rolled into a portable electric space heater sometime during the night, trying to keep warm I presume. The heater burned through the old velour sweater and two flannel shirts I was wearing and sautéed my skin down to bare bicep muscle. I don’t know how much later I woke up. I was still drunk. I have no memory of the next few hours, other than getting a wad of toilet paper, putting it over the two-inch by three-inch wound and using masking tape to hold the make-do bandage in place. What I do know is that I should have burst into flames and fried.
I could tell other near-death stories, but they would just be a drunkard’s vague recollection of facts and anecdotes . . . so I won’t bother with them. I’ll save them for my next Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
There is a quote that says that the doors of AA swing both ways, in and out. I don’t remember going “out”; it was many years ago. I’ve only recently come back through the “in” door. I’m not glorifying Alcoholics Anonymous as a save-all, but the program makes sense and it did work for me that first time — for a while. But after a few months of AA sobriety, I thought that I could be like so many people who can take “a drink” and then put the bottle down. I thought I was in control over alcohol, not the other way around.
The first step in the AA 12-step program states:
We admit that we are powerless over alcohol — that our lives have become unmanageable.
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Those are the words of the alcoholics’ serenity prayer recited at the end of an AA meeting. There’s also an add-on that asks the alcoholics to “keep coming back.” It’s tough living those words: “Keep coming back, keep coming back.” My addiction has conditioned me for life to “keep coming back” — to the bottle. It’s so easy to do. Sobriety, on the other hand, is not so easy. In fact, it’s damn hard. Change is hard.
But “keep coming back” to AA meetings? Yes. I have the wisdom now to know what I can and cannot change, and what I can change, is me.