I started drinking alcohol in college. One of my friends, he had a frat guy roommate and these parties would spring up around us on a regular basis. My friend and I, we’d be sitting there at his place watching old VHS bootlegs of Doctor Who. Then we’d hear cars pull in to the driveway. We’d hop up, frantic, immediately switch the television to ESPN, try to mask our nerdiness. Humans would proceed to file in. Frat guys, sorority girls, dozens of them. And that was it for the rest of the night, just drinking, drinking.
I was pretty terrified around people. My social delays had prevented me from making friends as a kid and by the time college rolled around, I was only just beginning to make them for the first time. So, this being around people thing: it was new; my anxiety levels were sky high. It didn’t help that I’ve never been able to interpret most non-verbal communication; people for me are these walking generators of confusion. It made parties, with their noise and inscrutable flocking behaviors, a real nightmare.
So that’s when I started to tinker with my head, my sense of self. I drank a little one night and it made me really curious to see if I could push back against all of that anxiety. That’s how I framed it in my mind: “This is an experiment.” I wasn’t honest and/or self-aware enough to put it more accurately: “I am self-medicating.”
Normally, my thoughts feel very repetitive to me. I’m obsessive about things, my interests. My mind will latch onto something…some film or book or piece of music…and that’s it. That’s all I’ll think about for months, years. And mentally, it’s exhausting; my head feels like it’s grinding itself into metal shavings.
And what happened was: I started to drink and the alcohol…for brief periods of time…would change the way my thoughts felt. I’d drink and those old, repetitive thoughts would spark up, really come to life. Suddenly, they felt renewed, more vibrant and magnetic. My head…it still churned, but like an engine, like something charged up and electric.
On an average day, I walk around feeling sort of uncomfortable in my body, disconnected. But alcohol pieced me all together for a bit. My thoughts raced and pulled everything in, every sensation. I felt cohesive for a change, it was pleasant. And when I say “for a bit”, I mean maybe 30 minutes. Not long. I’d drink more and the thoughts would turn fuzzy, difficult to follow. I’d forget what I was thinking about, trail off into one tangent after another. The intensity that I’d felt, it dissipated, yet my thoughts continued to spin…outward, rambling, frayed.
Behaviorally, me drinking was a problem. I’d turn manic. I’d really get into my head and end up talking for hours, non-stop. I’d go and go, reeling off words and ideas. Bulk, endless monologues would ensue. I’d drive people out of the room. I was obnoxious.
I couldn’t see it in the moment, the way people reacted, I was too smitten with the feel of it all, the way my body and thoughts were all wrapped up in these bright, steep ideas. I was too busy generating words to step outside of myself and notice the context.
Hours and hours, talking, endlessly…increasingly tangential.
Then nauseous, then hung over. It was a guaranteed miserable experience every time. I paid for the hour of joy with a full day of sickness (and even more social awkwardness than I usually elicit). It was no good.
Sometimes, when I began to lose my train of thought, I found it hard to manage the energy I felt. Drinking usually ramped up my obsessive thoughts, but once I became too drunk to articulate those, the energy no longer had an outlet. I’d feel wired, restless…out of words. So (this happened a lot during my last semester in college), I’d go running. I’d take off, bolt the party…run until my lungs and legs couldn’t take it.
It was a weird scene, to be on a couch for a few hours, talking about the Marx Brothers non-stop…and to then just stand up. Bloop! And take off running, right out the door. Circle the neighborhood, cut through fields, end up nowhere.
Drinking like that, it didn’t continue much past college. One night, about six months after graduating, I went to a bar with my roommate. Alcohol ensued. My thoughts sparked up, took off. I talked and talked, a real nuisance. And then I decided that I’d crash this elite bar up the street, where you needed a reservation to get in. It was posh, hyper-expensive…a place for the executives. And what bothered me was that, in back, it had this tall, wooden fence.
That fence, it drove me crazy. The way it allowed these people to sit outside, yet not have to see or be seen by the public…the elitism of it, it irritated me.
So I thought it would be pretty funny to hop over that fence and scare the hell out of some rich people. I wanted to drop down, growl, pull my hair…give ’em a good scare. The thought of it cracked me up. I assumed some bouncer…some behemoth in a suit…would pitch me out onto the street and that would be the end of it. All in good fun.
My roommate couldn’t talk me out of it. I walked up the street. Climbed the fence. I climbed and climbed, it was a tall one. At the top, I ran into some trouble. I couldn’t get my leg up and over. I gave it several tries, kicking my leg up a few times. I was too rubbery, though…too far into the drinking. I struggled, kicked. Lost my footing. I fell backwards, cracked my head on the concrete.
I was shipped off to the hospital over that one. Concussion, stitches, bruised ribs, swollen knee. A real mess.
The binge drinking stopped then. It became too obvious that I wasn’t drinking in order to capture some brief moment of joy or physical cohesion. I was drinking because I was lonely and self-destructive and depressed.
After the fall, I could see it all pretty clearly.
Even then, I didn’t try to get my life on track. This was around 1999 or so. I just isolated for a lot of years after the fall; worked a graveyard shift, replaced people with books. (It wasn’t until 2005 that I finally spoke with a psychologist who said, “The lack of body language, the confusion with social cues…there’s a name for that.”)
I don’t know why it took me so long to see the obvious…that I couldn’t do this on my own.
That I needed help.