January 01, 2008


By Garth Elliot © 2006

I suffer from blackouts. The first one I can remember having was when I was eighteen years old. A bunch of friends and I gate-crashed the birthday party of some guy one of us knew distantly. They had a keg on tap, and we proceeded to drink as much as we could. The last thing I remember was running down his back porch as I went to puke in the bushes. The next thing I recall was someone putting a blanket over me; apparently I had remained upright for quite some time, drinking and carrying on like nothing had happened until someone decided it was time to put me to bed. I woke up on the floor of a friend's house, completely disoriented, as I thought I was still at the house where the party had been held. It was a strange feeling.

Once or twice a month I experience another blackout. Usually I wake to find myself lying on my bed, still in the clothes I went out in, shoes and all. Other times I've woken up curled up in some park somewhere. More than once I have come to on a beach, usually when I am on vacation. On the rare occasion I wake up in a stranger's bed. In every case I experience the same moment of disorientation, though I have learned to try and get over that fast. The next step is to work out where I am, and how I can get home as quickly as possible. After all, I'm probably expected at work a couple of hours after I regain consciousness.

Nothing bad has really happened to me when I've been in this state. Sure, I’ve occasionally woken up with less money than I would have expected in my wallet, or a few bumps and scrapes. One Tuesday morning I woke up to find that I had two dislocated fingers, but that's as bad as I have suffered. Maybe I've been lucky. Maybe I was just unlucky. Some people get angrier and surlier as they get drunker. I've known more than one person who goes from happy-go-lucky to psychopathic in the time it takes to drain a handle of Jack Daniels, but not me. No, I'm the happy drunk, the guy who is happy to chat to anyone and everyone, but who is also happy to sit at the end of the bar and contemplate everyone through the bottom of a glass.

Because I like to drink. A lot. Now and then I might meet someone who likes to boast about how much they drink, but trust me, they are amateurs. Not that I boast about how much I drink, far from it, but I know this to be the case. Most people I know are aware that I am a heavy drinker, and I am happy to leave it at that. If most people discovered my normal consumption of the stuff they would probably fear for my safety.

They are probably right. I hold no illusions about what I euphemistically call "my lifestyle decision."

The World Health Organization has a screening test used to "identify persons with hazardous and harmful patterns of alcohol consumption". It is comprised of ten questions which, based upon your answer, gives you a score of zero to four. The questions are things like "How often do you have a drink containing alcohol?" and "Have you or someone else been injured because of your drinking?". The WHO suggest that a score of 0-7 merits "Alcohol Education", a score of 8-15 "Simple Advice", 16-19 "Simple Advice plus Brief Counseling and Continued Monitoring", and 20+ "Referral to Specialist for Diagnostic Evaluation and Treatment". I score a 34. And that's mainly because I usually don't feel guilty about my drinking, or else it could be higher.

I don't feel guilty because I regard my drinking as part of who I am. If you read the literature, and trust me I have, you are meant to think of alcoholism as an illness, a condition. I don't, I consider it part of what makes me me.

And have you ever actually looked at the Twelve Steps that Alcoholics Anonymous uses? Seriously, have a look some time. It's all about looking to a "higher power", and admitting that your life has become unmanageable. Complete bullshit, and that's without delving into the whole religious thing (they try and say that it's not necessarily religious so they don't turn off atheists like me, but they aren't very convincing). Sure, there's some good stuff in there. I mean, wouldn't you benefit from "making a searching and fearless moral inventory of yourself," or "making a list of all persons you had harmed, and become willing to make amend to them all?" Well, unless you're a politician I guess, in which case you're screwed and going to hell anyway.

My point is that even though I recognize that my life pretty much revolves around drinking, I'm comfortable with it. I still hold down a good job, I'm not penniless, I don't kick puppies. So I'm an alcoholic. We all have our problems. What are yours?

Garth Elliot is a poker player and writer originally from Australia.

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