What I Learned From Spending An Entire Year Of My Life Drunk

I may have been present, but I was never really there.

woman drinking cocktail SunKids / Shutterstock

When my grandfather on my father's side rolled his car into a ditch for what was easily the 12th time while driving home drunk one night, the cops, and friends of the family, showed up and gave him an option.

"Benny," said the officer who got there first, "You either have to quit drinking or quit driving."

My grandfather handed the keys over to the officer and never drove again.

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That was back in the 1940s; I don't think things would've gone so smoothly these days.

I come from a long line of drinkers on my father's side. Besides my grandfather, my father has struggled with his own alcoholism in his youth, and that's even before we touch upon the aunts and cousins on that side, where alcoholism put one in the grave far too young and another one behind bars for decades for hitting a cop after being stopped for a DUI.

These incidents are also why my father cut ties from that side of the family, especially since he cleaned up his act when he had a family. 

But while my father could cut ties to a degree, he couldn't change the blood that we all share.


I was late to the party when it came to drinking. I didn't drink in high school all that much because I preferred weed.

By the time I got to college, I was drinking but only on the weekends and I rarely got drunk. Once I started to feel out of control, I'd back off. At the time, I feared being out of control so I never let myself get that way.

It wasn't until I moved to New York City that I began drinking. A lot.

I started dating a bartender shortly after I arrived, so that made for easy access to lots of alcohol. When you're banging a bartender, you drink for free.

When that fizzled, I got back on track. I had become bored with drinking and couldn't be bothered with the hangovers that were sucking up the life force of every weekend I had.


But then I got bored with not drinking and started it up again. It was also at this time that I met Lars, a coworker who like me, loved to drink.

What I didn't realize was that having Lars in my life  the two of us feeding off each other's bad behavior — meant that I was about to be drunk all the time.

At first, it started innocently enough: Happy Hour with the co-workers. But then it spiraled into another territory.

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When the co-workers went home to sleep it off, we continued on well into the morning.

We'd be the last ones standing at bars, the ones who were so intoxicated that the bartender would actually have to point out that the lights had been turned on, our cue that it was time to leave.


Before long, Lars and I were drinking almost every night of the week except for Mondays and Tuesdays.

Mondays and Tuesdays were designated days to sober up, sweat profusely, and shake our way through work, swearing we'd never drink again.

But by the time Wednesday rolled around, we'd be back at it.

And by Sunday night, we would've binged non-stop from Friday night all the way to late Sunday night, often into Monday morning, with the hopes of sobering up a bit before work.

On the weekends, we'd start as early as 8 AM and wouldn't stop until the last call or when one, or both of us, had passed out.

It got to the point that even when we weren't together, we were drinking all the time.


Suddenly, Monday and Tuesday were no longer days to sober up but days to drink to make the sobering up process more bearable.

Whenever I went out with my friends, I was always the one to drink the most, and eventually, when I visited my family they'd hide the alcohol from me; they knew that if I found it, I'd drink it, even if it wasn't something for which I particularly cared.

I'd rather drink than eat because I knew on an empty stomach I could get drunk faster.

And then by the time I was drunk, I'd be too full for food anyway.

When my family tossed around the word "alcoholic," I scoffed.

All my friends drank, every single one of them, and the majority of them drank every single night, too.


I lived in a city where you don't just go to brunch, but you go to "drunk brunch" or "boozy brunch," because there's always alcohol lumped in with the brunch options. If that was the case and I wasn't the only person partaking, how did that make me an alcoholic?

But then, just when things probably couldn't have gotten any worse, Lars and I had a falling out.

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It was just a matter of time because two people who are "just friends" can only be drunk and sleeping together for so long before there's a problem. There were many problems, and the alcohol wasn't helping.

As a means of coping, I sublet my apartment and left New York City.


I went to Europe to dry out, re-evaluate things, and come up with a plan of how to tackle my life when I returned.

I had given up my day job before I left and had been freelance writing a bit, and since that had always been the dream, I knew I needed to get my sh*t in gear if I was going to make anything of myself.

So I put the booze on hold. When I did, I realized that I really did have a problem.

It wasn't just that I'd spent over a year of my life totally drunk but that it had severely damaged me mentally.

It was only when the alcohol was gone that I was able to see just how much it was feeding into my depression, making it even worse.

I also realized that I had lost friends who, in my drunken haze, I was content to lose.


But when I sobered up, I was forced to understand that some behavior and comments, even when you're drunk, cannot be forgiven.

It wasn't just that I had been an alcoholic during that time in my life but I'm an alcoholic and it's something I'm going to have to monitor for the rest of my life.

I still drink, but compared to my days with Lars, I don't consider it "drinking."


I'll have a couple of glasses of wine with friends or even do shots with them if the mood strikes, but the latter is pretty rare and the former is only a few times a month.

Knowing that I can't say no to alcohol and once I get started it's all downhill, I choose to take myself out of situations where there will be alcohol.

When I do drink, I also make sure to pace myself, and when things start feeling too good I back down and reach for water.

Granted, I shouldn't be drinking at all, but at least I'm making strides and it's nice that I can still surprise myself with my ability to be capable of change.

I don't regret those months and months of being drunk because I believe somehow they taught me something, but it does sadden me that I wasted so much time missing out on things. Yes, I may have been present, but I was never really there.


My memories are cloudy and blurry, even the stuff I wish I could remember.

It's like a chunk of my life was permanently removed and I can't get it back.

But I only have myself to blame, so I accept it. Because that's what you do in life when you mess up: You accept it and move on.

And that's what I'm trying to do.

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Amanda Chatel is a writer and essayist whose work has been published in Shape Magazine, Bustle, Glamour, Harper's Bazaar, The Atlantic, Forbes, Livingly, Mic, The Bolde, Huffington Post and others. Follow her on Twitter for more.