By Bill Fountain
I will always remember the look of my hopeless eyes in the reflection of the mirror that chaotic night I finally accepted that I had a problem with alcoholism.
I recall decades back when I was just a kid and learned I had a cousin who had three DUIs. My ten-year old mind could not comprehend this; so you decided to drink and drive, only to get caught and go to jail, and then you decide to drink and drive AGAIN? You get caught a second time, and then you drink and drive A THIRD TIME?! What sort of moron could possibly place himself in such a ridiculous predicament? The cousin I'm describing was always such a mild-mannered, seemingly respected member of his family. I was quite shocked by this juicy bit of relative gossip but still couldn't understand the thought process leading him to these terrible decisions.
Fast forward to age 21, and I am enjoying my first experience of purchasing a beer at a restaurant, and the freedom is exhilarating. I ensure that I don't drink too much, because when I was 17 I got nailed with an extreme DUI. I would party every weekend and always be the driver- not giving a care in the world about the danger I was inhabiting on myself and others. I felt so comfortable and confident when I was hammered behind the wheel, and the rush was euphoric. There was a not a worry in the world as I would speed down the boulevards, creating my own laws. I just kept a close eye on potential cops and felt the world was in my hands. My worries, insecurities and all my fears were tucked securely and unconsciously at the backburner of my mind as I would brake-check other cars on the road in an effort to flex masculinity for my laughing friends. I must've drove 80 times before one night when I was driving down a curvy residential road, paying too much attention to finding optimal music rather than mindfully observe the road. I side-swiped a parked vehicle, and trust me- I tried to run. But the control rod of my car, that allows the steering to work, was apparently busted. I couldn't run. In retrospect, there were plenty of James Bond maneuvers I could have pulled to avoid being arrested, but I chose to call my parents and throw up the white flag as a neighbor called the cops on me.
Back at the restaurant for my 21st birthday celebration, my friends and I decide to drive over to a bar to meet with some other friends. It is there that we decide I should leave my car overnight and then we will be free to get as shit-faced as we can. I never did make it to that bar, as I was pulled over by an undercover cop who alleges me of swerving. Before I can even realize what's happening, I'm in cuffs in the backseat of a police cruiser as the cops question my friends. I am 100% certain that the cop will decide to let me go. This is all just another crazy spot I put myself in, but the cop will see the undeniable kindness in my eyes and will let me go free.
Of course, I was hit with DUI #2. For my first DUI, among the surprisingly low fee of only hundreds of dollars, I had to do 24 hours of jail, I had to install an interlock device in my car to be maintained and calibrated on a monthly basis, and months of drinking classes. For the second one, my public defender notified me that I will be looking at a minimum of 30 days in jail. I had heard of peers from school getting hit with DUIs, and their parents would spend thousands of dollars on lawyers, only to get about the same punishment as those who didn't buy one. After discussing matters with my parents, we decide to just go for the public defender and pray for the best.
The second one was a near-identical punishment; I plead for only 24 hours in jail, two more years of the interlock device, and of course more fees and classes. This felt like a win for me, and I made sure to ALWAYS use a designated driver when drinking, or at least ALWAYS have a plan for keeping myself from behind the wheel.
Months later, I would find myself drinking alone, and wanting to go somewhere. I would get the euphoric recall of the rush and security I felt behind the wheel. I honestly never believed I would get caught, and knew that I'd be fine if I just made small trips here and there. I then picked up an even more anti-social habit, where I would drink heavily, take some benzos if I could find them, and drive to the casino with a thousand dollars in cash. I knew that I was addicted to gambling, and I also knew that drinking made it impossibly fun and sometimes incredibly profitable. I would gamble online as well, and drink away until I lost it all due to reckless betting. It was in these times of drunk despair that I would realize I had more cash, and could go to the casino. A horrifying thought occurred to me- I am a ticking time bomb. There is no stopping me from driving tonight. When I am drunk, and want to go somewhere, the risk of getting a DUI is not strong enough to make me avoid the decision.
I walked into my bathroom of my parent's house at around 3 in the morning, stumbling through my drunkenness. I turned on the lights and looked at my face in the mirror. There is no stopping me. If I drink- I will drive. I am powerless.
A week later, I was at work at a pizza shop, high as fuck on Xanax bars, when a co-worker corrected me on something, and this was the straw that broke the camel's back. I thanked the GM for the opportunity, and walked out of that job, never to return again.
I hated my life. I hated everything about everyone and everything and every day and everything about myself. It occurred to me there were only two things that kept me from killing myself. The first one was- I could play another poker tournament; I'm only one tourney away from fixing all my life's problems. The second one was- I really wanted to know what was going to happen at the conclusion of Breaking Bad. But other than these things, I hated myself and life with a passion.
A couple months before then, my therapist first began talking to me about a 45 day-treatment center. I still remember the first thing I thought when he gave me that brochure- "There is no way in HELL I will ever go to this place."
But my life was in chaos. I kept bottles of wine under my bed to keep myself constantly drunk. I remember talking with my mom in her car as it was parked outside the therapist office. She wanted to take me to that treatment center right then and there. It was only 4 hours away, and she wanted us to leave right then.
No, mom. Please. I don't want to. It's too scary.
But as I sat waiting for my father to pick me up after I rage-quit my job, I sat there high as fuck on Xanax, feeling not so afraid of the treatment center anymore.
Whatever it is like there, no matter how terrible and awful and awkward and boring it is... it can't POSSIBLY be worse than how I'm feeling today.
The next day, I texted my Xanax dealer and asked to buy four bars. He dropped them off, I let them all rest under my tongue until they dissolved, and a few moments later, I went up to my parents.
"Okay, I'm ready. Let's drop by the bar so I can take some shots, and then I want to go. Today. Now."
I wanted whatever new experience was waiting for me. And I finally made the choice to do it. It was the best decision I've ever made and arguably the greatest forty-five days of my life. I took home so many tools, and a network of people to keep me recovering. I proceeded to stay at a sober living home as the treatment center suggested.
I had to bottom out to realize I was powerless. I don't believe it always has to happen this way, but for me it did. I knew that if I continued doing whatever I wanted every day, I would end up institutionalized, in jail, or dead. I knew for a fact that if I were to take another sip of alcohol, it doesn't matter if it would be that night or another night. I would end up with a third DUI, just like my cousin.
I will have nine years of sobriety in February, and though my struggles are still apparent, I am on a path where I feel serenity in the present, and joy for the future. I am powerless over drinking, and will never underestimate its cunning and baffling ability to destroy my life.