Chris Walter: Originally an empowering tool to open doors, booze eventually became so much more
I never thought of myself as an alcoholic, even when my addiction to street drugs began to rage out of control. I was no hopeless wino pissing himself under a bridge in the wrong part of town, and so what if the cooking wine and the mouthwash wasn’t safe when I ran out of whisky? I often dragged myself to work with a blinding hangover and did it again the next night, except when I phoned in sick.
I almost never started fights and only vomited on rare occasions, so how could I be a drunk? Sure, I had a little problem with anything I could suck into a syringe, but alcohol was different. After all, booze was the elixir of life and I’d probably still be a virgin if it weren’t for beer.
With a drink in hand I found myself intelligent and witty, irresistible to women and well-regarded by my peers. Without alcohol, I was awkward and shy, not at all the sort of scallywag who entertained guests by dangling empty cases of beer from the Prince Albert piercing on his dick. Booze was no crutch, but instead a tool to open doors and put the right words in my mouth. I made that silver-haired gent in the Dos Equis commercials look like a bum.
Although booze didn’t lead me directly to my doom, the drugs finally caught up to me in January of 2001. I had a newborn son I was supposed to be watching, but one day I thought it would be okay to shoot a little cocaine while he napped. He started crying when he woke up, and I was too paranoid to let a friend into the apartment to feed him.
After a very unpleasant week in detox, I checked into an East Vancouver recovery house. Narcotics Anonymous meetings were mandatory, and I was less than receptive to the notion that some “higher power” could save me from myself. Would I ever be ready for “God to remove all those defects of character”? Hell, I was nothing but a collection of defects, and without them I would be nothing.
I also resented having to share a house with a bunch of other drug addicts, even though I’d been doing that for decades. It was less fun without the liquor and drugs. We didn’t even have a stereo.
I went to meetings and watched fellow addicts relapse and die but managed to stay clean and sober. I didn’t crave booze the way I longed for drugs, and had only quit drinking because they frowned on that in the recovery house. Sure, a few beers made phoning my drug dealer seem like a good idea, but that was hardly alcohol’s fault. I simply needed to put drugs in the rearview mirror and then it would be safe to drink again. I was happy enough to leave the recovery house and move back in with my girlfriend and our son after five long months. Most of my roommates had already relapsed, so I’d defied the odds.
Money was tight but slowly a new normal emerged, one without booze and drugs. I realized how close I’d come to losing my family and that made it easier to walk the line. Having penned several shitty novels before the train went off the tracks, I devoted myself to writing. The books went by and I eventually began to make a little money. Not real money, mind you, but enough to trick myself into thinking that writing was something I could do.
Fifteen years passed and our son grew up without watching me hoist empty beer cases with my dick. The urge to do drugs slowly disappeared and I knew it was okay to drink again.
My return to booze took place at a dive bar on Hastings where I was launching my 2016 book, Liquor & Whores. This was no slip or relapse but a calculated decision to drink again. This time I would take it easy and not do drugs. What could go wrong?
I began by drinking very moderately, sipping bourbon but rarely to excess. The years went by with no trouble but a warning sign appeared when I was too hungover to go for my morning run one Saturday. Deep in my mind I knew I wasn’t like everyone else, but I adjusted my drinking and kept going.
It wasn’t until we moved from East Van to New West in 2017 that I began having a cocktail every day at 5pm. It seemed so civilized until I realized I was drinking every day, especially on weekends. I quit the daily cocktails but found myself making up for them on weekends.
I knew I was in trouble when I started waking up at 3 or 4am on Saturday mornings to drink 100-proof vodka from the bottle hidden in my desk. I was sliding downhill and couldn’t stop.
One Friday night I started drinking and kept going all week, finishing my collection of high-end bourbon and everything else within reach. I was a total mess by the next Friday, but the worst thing about it was the knowledge that I’d completely lost control. It hadn’t been my intention to drink all week and I couldn’t understand how that had happened.
With blinding clarity I saw that booze was no different from other drugs and I had no choice but to quit for good. In a way it was almost a relief. I’d known in my heart that I was on the wrong path and was almost happy that shit had gone sideways. I’d cleaned up before and could do it again.
I spent a night in the hospital this past February with a hangover bordering on delirium tremens but a few of their pills saved me from the worst of it. My partner picked me up from the hospital and I could see the hope in her eyes when I got into the car. It hadn’t been easy for her and my son to see me drink like that. I was never abusive but they knew I was speeding down the road to oblivion and, along with everyone else, they were worried. I had to make things right.
I was in for a bit of a surprise when I got home. I’d posted a drunken and desperate plea for help before I’d left, and Facebook responded by banning me for a week. Although I didn’t like it when other people aired their drama online, I knew I wouldn’t be able to back out if I told everyone what was going on. Sitting there, I was amazed to see hundreds of private messages from friends sent offering support, but I was banned from Messenger and couldn’t reply.
I was truly humbled and genuinely surprised that anyone gave a fuck. Bif Naked even sent me a comfort parcel with a touching card. There was no turning back.
I’ve been sober for more than 60 days at the time of this writing and life is good again. Although the peer support I received at NA was helpful, I’m not doing meetings this time because my family and friends around the world are here for me.
Sunday breakfast with the family is my favourite part of the week, and my new book Homeless in the City will be out in late June. I’m still amazed shit got away from me the way it did but I accept that reality..
Who knew the smug bastards at NA were right about booze being a drug like all the rest?
Damn their hides.
Author Chris Walter is closer to the end than he is to the beginning, but also feels as if he has just begun. Writing is the glue that holds him together. Check out his work here.