I enjoy a good pee. It puts a smile on my face. Not only have I peed in some rather unusual places, like my boss’s potted desk plant, but I have literally been in a pissing contest. When I was a high-rise window washer in my early college years I had a supervisor who bought three of us each a thirty-two-ounce Big Gulp, prohibited us from using the bathroom for two hours and then took us to the ledge of a nine story building at night to let it rip. The challenge was to see if any of us could launch a stream of urine that could hit the ground without breaking apart. Thanks to my mighty bladder I prevailed. It was a good victory.
However, when it comes to pissing contests in twelve step recovery, I can’t compete. Such contests occur spontaneously when folks get on the topic of how young they were when they first started drinking. If Jim says he started when he was eight, Dave will one up him and claim that he was a wee lad of seven. Ellen then plays the trump card and states she had just turned five when she started to drink. I suspect I will one day hear the tale of deliberate alcohol ingestion in infancy.
Regardless, when I was five-years-old alcohol was the last thing on my mind. All I cared about was getting away from Gina Stover. Gina was intent on kissing me straight smack on the lips. It made kindergarten a hostile and threatening environment. I didn’t have enough imaginary cootie spray to deal with actual lip-on-lip contact.
However, it wasn’t long after that the seeds of self-centered fear were planted that would one day blossom into raging alcoholism. You see by the second grade kids were starting to pick teams when playing sports. Unable to shoot a hoop or chase down a. football completion I was picked last every time.
My clumsy little fingers and ragged nerves even compromised my ability to shoot marbles with the kids who opted out of organized athletics.
As the politics of the playground began to prevail, I withdrew more and more from my playmates. I was usually found on the swings, alone with my thoughts. (Not that, today, I would have it any other way. What might be thought of as a mild neurosis brought on by not fitting in actually made a dreamer and a thinker out of me-a positive form of mental health, it turns out, in an era that only acknowledges the empty pursuits of fame, fortune and power.)
Though I navigated the playground in solitude, most of the time I was smart enough to hold my own in the classroom. But by the sixth grade my naivete knocked me for a loop. About halfway through the school year we were given an assignment in which we were to illustrate and complete the caption “Love is ... “. I drew two mice kissing and captioned it “Love is watching mom and dad make love.” My intent was to say that my parents were loving towards each other, not copulating. My more worldly classmates had a good laugh at my expense. For the rest of the year I was a mocked loner in a crowded classroom.
I was the ripe old age of fourteen when lady liquor first caught my fancy. There was no external peer pressure. No wild party. No gang of pass-the–bottle-in-bag hooligans. Just a boy who had escaped elementary school only to suffer through two long and lonely years of junior high.
Seventh and eighth grade were the pinnacle of my awkward years. New to glasses, unfamiliar with the nuances of cliques, and clueless as to what was fashionable. To the best of my recollection, not a single girl spoke to me in two years. Even Gina Stover had moved on.
I can’t say that I repelled girls. I had no way of knowing if one ever cast a glance my way. For two years my eyes were either staring straight down at my desk or straight down at the lunch table. It was a gnawing, persistent, unrelenting plague of shyness. I didn’t give myself a chance.
(The common thread running through every potential alcoholic is self-centered fear. What is shyness but intense focus on self-what are others thinking about me?)
Though I was raised in a house where alcohol was not present, the thought of getting drunk appealed to me. I had just endured two years of awakening hormones that attracted me to the fairer sex but was crippled with a shyness that denied me even a flirtatious peek. I needed a drink. Ironically, the inspiration to imbibe was triggered by a movie played in health class that was intended to scare us sober.
The film showed a goldfish in a fish bowl. He circled his bowl world every five seconds. As the narrator spoke of the evils of Lord Alcohol, two shots of vodka were poured into the bowl. The little guy started moving erratically, bumping into the side of the bowl and ultimately swimming upside down. Sign me up. That looked like a carefree existence to me.
The first drink was just like my last, I went straight for the hard stuff. I scored a half pint of whiskey from a classmate who had snuck a big swig and then watered it down to dupe me into thinking I was buying a full bottle. I held on to it for days waiting for just the right moment to partake.
The time finally came. It was Saturday night. My parents were out of town and my older siblings were out and about. Not really knowing how to drink myself into a stupor, I invited two friends over. I had every intention of being a social drinker. To Be Continued…
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