I’ll Just Have One

By Catherine Northington 03/29/18

Where can a struggling person go for support once they’re scorned in a support group? It made me want to rip into a handle of Tito’s more than anything else I’d encountered in the past several months.

A serious woman holds a drink outdoors, with friends.
I felt like I needed to drink to enhance the experience, to “live it to its fullest.” This was incorrect.

There is always a reason to drink. Every minute. Friend-got-engaged drinks, pissed-at-coworker drinks, Sunday Funday drinks, feel-like-we’re-doing-something-when-we’re-actually-not drinks, cleaning the kitchen drinks. In a certain sort of brain, beer can make any moment a party.

I stopped drinking all of those for a while. In fact, I hadn’t had any booze for about 110 days. Then the Super Bowl happened.

I don’t pretend to care about, like, or even tolerate football. I see people who care enough about it to tip cars, and that’s plenty of reason for me not to get involved. As someone who already lives a life of potent and fitful emotion—the other day I teared up at rack of baby shoes at DSW—I simply cannot afford the investment. I need to be choosy when it comes to caring about things—people, sports teams, you name it. I just don’t wanna be burned.

This year, my city’s home team made it to the Super Bowl. And for the first time in their history, they won it.

This article isn’t about that, though. I don’t care if you hate the Philadelphia Eagles or you love them; honestly, I don’t pay it much mind myself (aside from the emotional arcs: underdog team, underdog city, scrappy spirited players with hearts of gold, yadda yadda). If I’m being honest, part of me preferred the comfortable stasis of Philadelphia teams sucking, an admission for which I will be tarred and feathered upon my next visit home.

I watched the game with a small group of friends in Philadelphia. We laid out the usual fart-inducing Super Bowl spread: dips on dips on dips, pulled chicken, beer. Lots of beer.

I quickly ceded to having a few sips of my boyfriend’s IPA, with all the familiar, justifications that go along with that decision: It’s not MY beer so it doesn’t count; this is an unprecedented moment in Philadelphia history; etc., etc.,

When the game finally ended—it was interminable and miserable and I was sick throughout it, GO TEAM!—I mechanically filled a Solo cup with my own pour of IPA and followed the other celebrants outside to Broad Street. Fireworks, screaming, crying, singing.

After about ten minutes of osmosing the city’s frenzied joy, taking in the beautiful sight of City Hall and all its attendant nostalgia, I remembered something vital about myself: I fucking hate crowds.

A crowd is a crowd is a crowd, Super Bowl win or no Super Bowl win. The heaving and jostling quickly grew intolerable. I felt maternal concern mixed with a hearty dose of schadenfreude when I saw a reveler fall off a lamppost (he was fine). My boyfriend gallantly invited me to climb onto his shoulders for a better view; I lasted about two swaying minutes up there in acute petrifaction (he had to beg me to unclench my hammies because my Onatopp-ian grip was cutting into his air supply).

There was adrenaline, yes, but there was mostly stress. And the beer I was sipping throughout didn’t help it. But, as many seasoned drinkers know—once you start drinking a beer, that asshole voice in your brain emerges: “Aw, poor baby. Not having fun? Drink 3 more. Drink 6 more. THAT is where the fun starts.”

There’s a kernel of truth to that, of course—people wouldn’t drink if it didn’t have the potential to be fun. But that night I didn’t drink more, and the voice miraculously shut up.

On the train ride back to New York I was a tired, emotionally battered mess. I wanted to feel more excited than I did—Philly! Winning!—but I was exasperated and impatient with myself. I’ve run away from friends, jobs, relationships, and entire parts of the world due to struggles with depression—depression, knotted up tightly with alcohol abuse—and here I was now, adrift in the same sudsy waters that had repeatedly failed me in the past.

Amidst all this, I couldn’t help but see the irony of fretting to this extent over 12-ish ounces of beer, when just several months ago 12 ounces was like a prelude to a prelude to a prelude to a night of boozing. Not only would those 12 ounces have gone down like water back then, but there there would’ve been about 144 more coming down my gullet right behind them. Rinse, repeat.

When I woke up on Monday, I was spent. Physiologically, I felt leagues behind the previous week. I slept late and felt hungover in every sense of the word. It’s unlikely that 12 ounces of beer could have such a substantial impact, but I was winded by the mental gymnastics of it all. Quantity aside, that drink made me question myself in ways that I hadn’t in several months.

But a part of me—the part who knows that I spiral, spiral, spiral when I start getting into those “You fucked up” thought patterns—elected to look for the victory in it. To acknowledge the beer-drinking decision for what it was, and extricate some mote of positivity from the experience: I drank the beer, I heard the voice telling me to get blitzed, and I told the voice to fuck off.

I was pissed at myself for “breaking a streak,” but I wanted to reframe the situation as optimistically as possible without denying it had happened. I had said no to beer two; better late than never. I still couldn’t shake the self-doubt, so I turned to an online support group.

I’m not a big “ask for help” person, but this weird world of teetotaling isn’t easy to navigate alone. Sobriety groups can offer perspective. At first it feels weird visiting them, like you’re tattooing “I AM A RAGING ALCOHOLIC MESS” on your forehead. Really you’re just typing some shit into Google.

On these groups I’d read many stories like my Sunday misstep—the ol’ “I had one, it sucked, I’m recommitted to quitting.” Those stories helped me. I made an account and posted my own version of the thing, asking how to combat my shame. I noted that I was proud of myself for having stopped after one beer—that the world hadn’t shattered by virtue of the bad decision, that I had picked up the pieces, that life went on.

Someone hated that post something fierce. They rattled off a profane, sarcastic comment. To paraphrase: Drinking a beer and feeling proud of it is a disgrace to alcoholism. To imply moderate drinking is a solution is reckless and farcical. Kinda like that—and a valid enough point—just way, way meaner.

My first thought was: I will kick my foot so far up this loser’s ass they will taste the dog shit I stepped in outside my apartment building this morning. My second thought was: Where can a struggling person go for support once they’re scorned in a support group? It made me want to rip into a handle of Tito’s more than anything else I’d encountered in the past several months.

Support group dynamics are their own unique topic, a topic that could cover 10 or 100 recovery thinkpieces. The comment in question was obviously abusive, and flagged as such, but it caused significantly more pain than the beer-drinking itself. And it left me asking different questions, less worthwhile ones: Did I frame my question wrong? Did I sound too optimistic? Did it sound like I was advocating brew-crackin’?

The answers to those things are no, but the answers also shouldn’t really matter. Because when is a virtual AA meeting ever the forum for a beatdown?

That hellion hater’s tendrils are slowly loosening their grip from my psyche, but I’m continuing to dissect the root question behind it all: Why did I drink that beer? (And why am I writing a got-damn 1,500 word thinkpiece on it?)

I drank it to feel like a part of something. I felt like I needed to drink to enhance the experience, to “live it to its fullest.” This was incorrect. I became too enmeshed in my negative swirls of thought to fully engage with the citywide party around me.

The problem isn’t the 12 ounces themselves; it’s what they represent for me. Alcohol makes me feel worse about myself; it makes me question my judgment. Alcohol makes me a sadder, more self-hating person. It makes me think maybe things, like life, aren’t worth trying anymore.

What scares me most about alcohol is that I know these things about my relationship with it—and yet I still want it. I still believe it necessary to be a “part” of specific moments, such as a Super Bowl win. That is why, for the first time in 110 or so days, I made a conscious choice to drink it. If you couldn’t already tell, it was the wrong choice.

Most alcoholics draw a firm line in the sand between DRINKER and NON-DRINKER. This episode has reminded me why that model works. I said no to the second beer, but it has quite obviously driven me close to insanity in the days and hours since. Even if my Sunday could be counted as a win, it certainly doesn’t feel like one.

If drinking one beer is what it takes to reaffirm what I wish I’d already accepted—that I can’t put up with this whole drinking game any more, Not Even One—then I’ll accept Super Bowl night for exactly what it was: Not a laugh in the face of alcohol abuse, not a jab at faithful abstainers, nor at the many, many people who live perfectly happy drinking lives. Just a Philadelphian dumbass falling off her own shaky lamppost, brushing herself off, and hopping on a train to leave the whole scene behind.

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Catherine Northington is a creative nonfiction writer from Philadelphia. She is currently seeking her MFA at Columbia University, and can be reached at [email protected].