Last Valentine’s Day, as many people walked around in a love-drunk state, I stumbled around campus in, well, a drunken daze. I wasn’t drowning my single-related sorrows in red wine so much as I was honoring the spirit of the holiday: Valentine’s Day provides a time for those in relationships to celebrate their love for each other. Some people had other human beings; I had alcohol.
Of course, ours was not a recently developed dalliance like the connection between so many of my peers, but a long and volatile relationship that could only be described as a bad romance. I began drinking in eighth grade in the basements of suburbia, because sipping our parents’ stolen liquor greatly surpassed drinking Mountain Dew as my childhood friends and I watched movies.
Suburban middle school gave way to high school in the city, and with it, easier access to alcohol and more opportunities to experiment. I remember my first blackout — or, rather, completely forgot an entire drinking experience for the first time. It was jarring in the beginning but gradually became common, tolerated by peers and labeled as a necessary escape from a high-stress, high-pressure academic environment. Weekends brought alcohol, but life’s struggles — we all have them, whatever they may be — added emotional undertones to drinking. What started as a distraction from suburban boredom morphed into a form of emotional coping. Exhausted from a sleepless week? Drink. Bitter about your parents’ divorce? Drink. Confused about your sexuality? Drink. And, most constant and bewildering of them all: Can’t escape that nagging sense of hopelessness? Drink.
This behavior continued in a thrillingly predictable pattern. The settings changed, and for fun, I might cheat on alcohol, my first true love, with other substances — marijuana, ecstasy, cocaine. But the cycle remained the same. Encounter problem. Self-medicate. Experience temporary relief while exacerbating the problem in the long term and compounding it with whatever additional problems created while state of mind was altered. Repeat, increasing frequency and intensity over time.
I wish I could say that I simply woke up one day and admitted that my drinking problem was just that — a big, life-influencing problem. But while I had occasional moments of clarity, my epiphany did not take place until I followed my abusive behavior into dark, dark places — both in the physical and the mental realm. It took stopping what doctors called obsessive suicidal ideation; it took a stay in the psych ward; it took looks of pity from fellow addicts in support groups; and it took confronting a lot of painful thoughts to realize and, more importantly, to accept that alcohol could never cure emotional instability and personal discomfort, especially in a person with addictive tendencies.
Inducing generalities from individual experiences is problematic, which is why I am not proposing universal sobriety. It’s much simpler than that, really. What little advice I have boils down to this: Be wary of using a seemingly innocuous, short-term coping behavior for whatever long-term demons you may battle. Substance abuse, binge eating, overexercising or (in a twisted spirit of the holiday) an unhealthy relationship with a partner — the poisons are plenty; it’s unimportant which you choose. Imagining your future divorced from your crutch may prove frightening, but the reality of your lives together might be even worse.
And yet, no matter how much I repeat this conclusion to myself, I can’t help but feel a twinge of sadness, nostalgia and fear. For me, moderation is not a realistic option: I must break up with alcohol for good. But not drinking means being unable to escape from myself. It means being unable to manufacture euphoria. It means having to come face to face with all parts of my mind, no matter how dark they may be.
This notion can be scary and overwhelming. Still, I know that it can’t be any worse than what I have already put myself through. Because not drinking means other things for me, too: It means no more stealing blocks of cheese from GHeav, no more breaking into random houses, no more blacking out at a bar and driving home.
It means being sober and clear-minded for the longest time since the age of 13. It means, finally, being happy to be alone on the year’s biggest celebration of relationships. It means being single on Valentine’s Day.
Eamon Ronan is a sophomore in Davenport College and taking this semester off. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .