The Cheapest Therapist: A Somewhat Intense Piece About Using Alcohol to Cope with Anxiety and Life.

2 years ago, I was lying on a Manhattan street looking at the stars with puke all over me. Not on the street, the sidewalk, outside a pretty decent Greek restaurant. This very nice couple offered to call my wife and arranged to have me get into a car and back home to Brooklyn. I wish I could say that was the lowest, or the last time I was on the pavement. It wasn’t the first and It wouldn’t be the last. A few months later in Astoria, Queens, I was on another sidewalk. I’ve been drinking for about 7 years now across two states. I’ve been praying I get home safe for about six years now. And I am most proud that I have never wet myself in this time. I am really proud of that last one. The people who know me, know me as the life of the party. I like to have fun and drink, sometimes a lot. How was I to see the convergence of anxiety and alcohol. They cover for each other.

It’s always curious that we spend so much time telling kids to stay away from drugs and alcohol. I understand that they have not yet matured and may not realize the damage that it can do to their systems. However, I find that the message is badly needed for adults, like me. I stayed away from “controlled substances” for most of my life. So I was very surprised to find myself using them as a means of escaping as an adult dealing with immigration issues, family issues, unemployment issues and identity issues. Looking back, I can see patterns of behavior that allowed me to cope, that are now destructive on this side of the bridge. They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but oftentimes, you are left with habits and coping mechanisms that are more destructive and harder to fight.

In NY, I began drinking my last year in college typically Port wine and sherry very bougie. Also Coronas, because they were cheaper. I remember on occasion, dumping different kinds of liquor into a water bottle and chugging on the steps of the Brooklyn Museum or in Prospect Park. If it was liquor, I was ready to drink it. The period from the last year of college through 2012 was the most emotionally stressful I have lived through, so far. I was undocumented, shut out of the job market, and isolated.  I did not drink a lot, but I drank often, to escape my helplessness. There was so much instability that I could not handle life. I moved from place to place, jobless and useless. I felt like a loser at life. 

When I moved from NY, the drinking followed behind the resignation. In a suburban wasteland far from the city, I drank myself to sleep many days because I didn’t have any alternatives or outlets. I was dealing with depression and loneliness, all the while surrounded by family. I cried all the time but it wasn’t enough. I masturbated all the time to distract myself. But that wasn’t enough. The first and only time I tried cutting myself was because there was no more alcohol. I still have three scars on my upper elbow that I created with the pin of an earring. I was going insane like that woman in The Yellow Wallpaper, being swallowed up by the room. There was no alcohol, nothing to take away the edge of emptiness. Of hopelessness. I paced the house that night trying to shake the feeling of losing control and spiraling. I failed. I looked in the mirror and could see the despair that was looking back at me. I had to escape. I cracked the window and stuck my head outside the room, and took a few deep breaths. I wanted to roll out the window and lie on the cold snow.

I remembered a scene I had seen in a movie where this white girl was sad because of her parents’ divorce and so she cut herself with a protractor. I had never understood the thinking that led to cutting. Honestly, I had felt it was stupid to cut yourself over your feelings. I thought it was a pretty Caucasian thing to do. I’m not sure why other people cut themselves but I did, because it was the only thing I could control at the time. I dragged the earring pin across my upper arm. I wasn’t trying to commit suicide, merely trying something that I had seen to know if it would work. It didn’t produce any mitigating feelings that I expected. However, the severity of harming myself woke me up a little. It brought me back to myself. I’m not going to pretend I now understand cutting, I still don’t. After that night, I made sure I had alcohol before the stores closed.

I felt like everyone could see the mess that I had become. I truly believed people pitied me during that time.  I downed drinks in bodegas just to be able to return home without losing my mind. I sat afraid that I’d be arrested for public intoxication because I was unable to stand in Grand Central. I lied in bed and drank glasses of vodka. It was sad to look at the poor, motherless drunk, drinking his problems away.

When my immigration situation improved (DACA), the drinking did not. I stopped drinking in solitude and began to drink socially. It helped me to feel free in social situations. I was always ready to down shots and cocktails. Was I making up for years of isolation and depression? Yes, I was. I was also dealing with stress, job dissatisfaction, and anxiety issues. Alcohol provided relief from the constant cycle of thinking in my head. I felt different when I drank. People liked me more when I drank. Over the last 3 or 4 years, I have experienced the highs and lows of drinking culture. The happy hours and the last calls. The train kept speeding, until I was drinking 4 times a week in excess. I sometimes drank at work, or at lunch with co-workers. I’ve been undressed in my bed (by my wife I think) more times than I can remember. I was having “fun” everywhere I went. And then the fun stopped.

Now, my anxiety sometimes becomes worst after drinking too much. I have a hard time dealing with the lingering feeling of uncertainty following excessive amounts of alcohol consumption. I have had other minor health issues that made me rethink this portion of my life. I no longer have the capacity to drink endless amounts of liquor without having to deal with the mental and physical consequences. This forced me to rethink the way I drink and the why. I am no longer able to escape completely into alcohol as before. I had to learn to deal with the underlying things that lead me to drink in excess, work, stress and identity issues. Sometimes, I am not sure whether or not I am an alcoholic. I don’t crave liquor. Not in the way I did before. But I think I did. And I think maybe I was self-medicating for years. Alcohol helped me deal with my anxieties. I used to feel more normal when I drank. I didn’t have the incessant thinking and constant self-awareness with a glass of liquor. I knew what it was like to be free. Now, I try to deal with my anxieties and issues in a healthier way like writing or therapy. I aim for a different kind of freedom through honesty, acceptance and self-love.

I still drink, and like to have fun, but I TRY to stay aware of the mental and physical consequences of alcohol consumption. I try to stop, switch to water and then continue drinking based on how I feel. I try to count my drinks. I try to drink once every week or once every two weeks. I try not to binge drink. I try to tell my friends, ‘No, I’m good’, (which can be the hardest part). Alcohol itself is no longer an escape, but I can have fun with a drink. Loving yourself is a continuous journey. Keep fighting!

– Anxious Brother


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