When our drinking is out of control, we can blind ourselves to the indications that we need help. Looking back, I can identify real signs that I had a drinking problem long before I admitted it.
Have you ever wondered if you had a problem with alcohol but then shooed away the thought? Maybe you picture people with a “real” problem as very different from yourself. “Real” alcoholics swill Listerine to stave off the shakes or get hauled off airplanes for trying to fight a flight attendant; they lose jobs and spouses … right? Maybe you see yourself as not that bad because you haven’t faced any severe consequences.
Even after I quit drinking, I mentally distanced myself from those “real” alcoholics. I used to describe myself in recovery meetings as “high functioning.” Until one day a wise woman said to me, “You drove drunk with kids in the car. Not that fancy.” That’s when it hit me that a drinking problem may look different for different people but we have one main thing in common: drinking makes our lives unmanageable.
Here are a few signs that show although I appeared to be functioning, I definitely had a problem with alcohol.
Lying about how much I drank
When I would go to the doctor for a physical, I would never be honest about how much I was drinking. I knew if I marked the box that indicated I drank more than 7 drinks a week it would raise a red flag and I certainly didn’t need to be questioned about my drinking by some judgy doctor! I mean, I didn’t smoke; wasn’t that enough? Other than the drinking I was a healthy person! I went to the gym, ate a few servings of vegetables a week, did I mention I didn’t smoke? I was pretty sure that balanced out all the wine. I just told myself that no one keeps it real on these things anyway, marked 2-4 drinks a week, and kept it moving.
You’d think a hangover so bad I had to head to the emergency room—asking the cab driver to pull over on the way so I could vomit by the curb—get an IV of fluids, and almost miss my own book signing would be a good indication that drinking might not be working out. You’d be wrong. And you’d think that by the third or fourth time I had to go to the ER, I’d be re-examining my relationship with alcohol right? Nope.
Looking for any excuse to drink
I was certain I definitely didn’t drink the way alcoholics drank. I didn’t drink alone, first thing in the morning, or all day long. Unless, of course, a drinking opportunity presented itself! Then it was game on. Brunch with a friend at 10 a.m.? Gotta order mimosas! Lunch with a coworker? Why not get a glass of wine or three? When I threw my oldest daughter’s 4th birthday party at a local ballet studio on a Saturday morning, I got some weird looks when I insisted on serving champagne to the parents. I just assumed everyone loved an excuse to drink.
Someone tried to talk to me about my drinking
Although I knew I was drinking a bit too much and, let’s be honest, taking Xanax daily and popping a Vicodin left over from my C-section here and there, I figured no one really noticed. But one day my sister-in-law, who had been coming over in the evening to help me with my colicky twins, pulled me aside and told me she was “worried about me,” that I seemed to be “checking out” a lot. I felt a little defensive because she saw what I was dealing with! Two endlessly screaming infants! She could leave and go home. I was home. But over a year later, when I’d finally quit, I was grateful to her for planting the seed.
I know now that having blackouts after a night of drinking isn’t normal and is an indication of alcohol use disorder. But for many, many years I thought waking up with no memory of the night before was just what happens to everyone when they drink too much alcohol. Duh, science right? Blackouts led to some of the most shame I felt about my drinking. Once in my 20s, I literally had no idea if my car would be parked in its designated parking spot behind my apartment building because I had zero recollection of the night before. It took me 10 minutes to work up the courage to peek through my blinds because I knew that if my car wasn’t there, I would never see it again. It was there, and I continued to drink for another 20 years.
Never thinking I was drunk
One of the hallmarks of my drinking was that when I was drunk, I was convinced that I was fine, or, at the very least, 100% not drunk. In fact, this was my common refrain when people would ask me if I was okay to drive. “I’m fine!” I’d say, too loudly, and I would mean it. I felt great! Completely sober. Which is what led to the aforementioned drinking and driving with my kids in the car. Driving drunk (especially with my own children) was a behavior I would have sworn on a stack of Bibles I would never do in a million years. But in the moment, I truly didn’t think I was driving drunk because, like I said, I felt fine.
My search history was littered with phrases like, “Am I an alcoholic?”
Back before I made the decision to give up alcohol, I often asked the Internet for reassurance that my drinking was “normal.” I typed in searches like “Is drinking two bottles of wine too much?” and hoped that some “expert” would tell me that, sure, if a glass of wine is good for cardiovascular health, a bottle is better!
The truth is that I was full of nagging doubts that my drinking was normal. Maybe you’re full of those doubts, too. Maybe you even found this article from Googling about your drinking. In that case, hello! Me, too! You’re in the right place.