An Alcoholic Looks At 40

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An Alcoholic Looks At 40

By Chadwick Easterling 04/21/16

Yes, I’m an alcoholic. But don’t throw dirt on my grave just yet.

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An Alcoholic Looks At 40
Chadwick Easterling

I turned 40 a couple of months ago. Forty is definitely a milestone birthday. However, as my birthday approached this year, I didn’t freak out because I didn’t have my life in perfect order. In fact, it’s far from it. As February 22nd came and went a few weeks back, I was just grateful to be here to see it. “Why’s that?” you ask. Because I’m an alcoholic. And it’s a miracle I’m still around.

I don’t remember the first time I got drunk. It was probably around my sophomore year of high school, having one too many Natural Lights and eventually getting sick. Everyone has that same story, just a different brand. I was no different than anyone else back in the day. There were no red flags or warning signs to indicate I was destined to become an alcoholic. I went to keg parties on the weekend and drank down at the river in the summertime. When I graduated high school, I packed up and went to Florida for a week and partied like a rock star. But so did everyone else. Again, there was no indication that trouble was on the horizon.  

My problems began that fall when everyone went off to college. In high school, I’d been a badass baseball player and the opportunity to go play somewhere on a full ride was almost a given. But sometime during my senior year I got burned out. And with that came a loss of purpose and direction. I had no freaking idea what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go, etc. All my friends had split for one of our state universities. To avoid getting completely left behind, I enrolled in a community college where I could get some coursework out of the way. I muddled my way through my freshman year, maintaining a good enough GPA for my parents to agree it was time to go to State.  

I was in no way mature enough to be on my own. I was at a place of higher learning with the opportunity of a lifetime in front of me. But at 19, I didn’t know any better. All I knew was that I was living on my own and Mom & Dad were three hours away. I rejoined my buddies from high school (who already had a year of college life under their belts) along with making some new friends along the way.

I had the luxury, or the misfortune depending on how you look at things, to be living on a floor of a dorm where the RA was never there. The guy literally lived two doors down from me yet I never saw him. So I basically set up a bar and lounge in my dorm room. I had access to a fake ID and all the beer and liquor my friends and I could want. We’d hang out in my dorm room (which had beds on lofts to allow for a couch, loveseat, coffee table, ashtrays, etc) and we’d party and play cards and get our drink on before ever going out. It started out harmless enough, but then it became a hot spot and I was having friends over three or four nights a week. It was a nonstop party. Two semesters later, the school showed me the door.

Upon returning to my hometown, things progressively got worse. I still had no direction and now I couldn’t go to school anywhere for the time being. My parents were at a loss, just trying to keep me alive and somewhat focused. I fell into a funk and a depression that spiraled into heavier drinking. What was once recreational fun was turning into a way to forget the pain, hide the embarrassment, and just stay numb to it all.  

In the summer of '97, things took a drastic turn with a car wreck that almost killed me. I was out on the second night of a weekend party with some friends from high school. We were driving down a back road and went into a dogleg curve way too fast. All four of us, none of whom were wearing seatbelts, got thrown out the window nearest where we were sitting. The Tahoe flipped seven times. The paramedics arrived, found three of us, and were about to take off to the nearest hospital. Fortunately one of my friends was still conscious and coherent enough to know what was going on and told them I was still out there somewhere. I’d been the first one thrown from the SUV; they found me 100 yards up the road from where the Tahoe came to a stop. I was lying on the shoulder, bloodied and battered and unconscious. Had it not been for that one guy having the wherewithal to remember I was with them, I would have been left for dead.  

By the grace of God not only was I not killed in the wreck, but all-in-all there wasn’t that much wrong with me. I spent the remainder of that summer recovering. I had stitches in several places and had to rehab my knee but by late August I was back to normal. The wreck had put a scare in me and for the first time I realized I had a problem. I began seeing an alcohol and addiction specialist at the hospital where my mother worked. Over the next few weeks I went through the motions. But despite nearly getting killed, I wasn’t ready to quit. Sure, I had admitted I had a problem, but I could deal with it. I didn’t need help and I wasn’t going to AA or anything else. I would cut back, drink quality vs. quantity, avoid liquor, etc.  At 21, I first met denial.

That fall I returned to college. It was a different school in a different part of the state but the results were the same. I found myself back in my party ways, migrating towards anyone who wanted to do some drinking. I soon sank into depression, skipping class days at a time and eventually dropping out. I still had no idea what I wanted to do (other than party) and my drinking was getting worse. I was already a binge drinker but now I was going on benders, two to three day runs where I’d start drinking around noon just to shake the cobwebs from the night before. It soon became a cycle of drink, drunk, repeat.  

My parents were helpless. Don’t get me wrong; they are the most loving people you’ll ever want to meet. They just had no idea how to deal with me. Over Christmas break I decided I wasn’t ready for school. I withdrew again and moved to Dallas. It was a much needed change of scenery and it worked to some degree because I soon realized I wasn’t gonna do anything in life without a college education. During that time I had started writing and found a talent I never knew I had. By June, I’d had enough of the working world and decided I was ready to return to school. I re-enrolled in the summer of ’99 and declared my major: English. I’d write my way out of school.

For the next two and a half years, I busted my ass and plowed through school. I was still drinking (though not as much) and was able to see the finish line. In December 2001, I got my Bachelors degree from the University of Southern Mississippi. I should have been on top of the world, but once again I found myself with no direction. At 25, I moved back to my hometown and started to look for a job. What I soon found was my hometown of Jackson, Mississippi, was not bustling with writing opportunities. Boston or New York it was not. I ended up doing the only thing I knew how to do which was work in the restaurant industry. And with that came long hours and even longer nights of drinking. I was back on the road to nowhere.

This pattern of behavior went on for the next five years. My friends were all meeting women and getting engaged and planning their future. In my mind there was plenty of time for all that; this was the time to live it up! I was still drinking (and drinking hard) as long as I had someone to do it with. I was staying out late, drinking and driving, and carousing with shady people. During this span, I destroyed two good relationships with two different women, both of whom I could’ve married had I quit drinking and grown up—but I didn’t. They both left me and before I knew it I was 30 and alone.  

In the fall of 2006, I got my first DUI. I don’t share this to glorify it, but rather to give you an idea of how hard I was drinking and how dangerous I was. I got pulled over on a Thursday night around 1AM. My luck had finally run out. I took (and passed) the field sobriety test. Hey, I was a pro. But I looked a mess and reeked of liquor and was asked to take a breathalyzer. I blew a .22. This was almost triple the legal limit. The officer made me blow again onsite and again later at the precinct. He said he couldn’t believe I was still standing, much less operating a vehicle. Nevertheless, I got my first taste of jail. 

Two months and $2,000 later, I was in the clear. Around this time I had an epiphany: if I stayed in Mississippi any longer, I’d be dead. So, in January 2007, I packed my truck and moved to Texas. I moved in with a longtime buddy of mine in Austin. Things improved almost immediately. I found a good job, started making some progress, but I was still drinking. I’d hit it hard for a long weekend, feel like shit for a few days, have people say something, then I’d go off the radar for a few weeks, only to resurface for another round with the bottle. This back-and-forth cycle continued for the duration of my time in Austin.  

A job opportunity took me to Dallas-Fort Worth in the fall of 2008. Shortly thereafter, I met the woman who would become my wife (and later my ex-wife). Things were improving for me on a professional level; I was making advances, making more money, and all that goes with it. However, my job industry was volatile and every two years I found myself having to shift gears, update my resume, and move all over DFW. It was a catalyst for my drinking.  The same pattern continued on for the next seven years, eventually costing me my job, my marriage, almost everything. But I still didn’t stop. Twenty years of bad habits proved hard to break. It took a health scare in the summer of 2015 to finally open my eyes. June 21st was my rock bottom. That day I decided it’s now or never. That was my defining moment after 20 years of being an alcoholic.

Sitting here at 40, there’s not much to be proud of. Looking back on my life, it’s been one big whirlwind of erratic behavior, lost friends, failed relationships, shattered dreams, and broken hearts. But by the grace of God, I am still alive today and I’m sober. I’ve also learned a few things about myself. I don’t handle change well. I need structure and careful planning. I have to avoid certain people and certain places. Each day I have to remind myself of who I really am and to take life one day at a time. Despite all that’s happened I remain optimistic about my future. Yes, I’m an alcoholic. But don’t throw dirt on my grave just yet.

Chadwick Easterling is a writer, comedian, & storyteller from Dallas TX.  More of his work can be seen at www.thealcoholchronicles.blogspot.com and www.chadwickeasterling.blogspot.com.  

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