How To Shepherd the Weak into Alcoholics Anonymous

This week, Dan talks bad perfume, what climbing instructors wear, and why no one’s ever asked him to be the guy in charge of the barbecue.

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I love being a member of AA. Sitting in a room full of other shitheads who can’t drink worth a dam really charges me up for staying sober the following week. It’s also great fun.

As an alcoholic, you probably find yourself recognizing other alcoholics in your social circle. Whether it be your friend of a friend who you found passed out on the can at some bar you were at, trousers bunched around his ankles, having passed out mid-poop; or your grandma, who, even though she’s incontinent, goes to the bathroom way more often than she should and comes back smelling not like Listerine or hand soap or that perfume she wears that’s two parts potpourri and one part toilet disinfectant.

Like me, if you go to AA and have discovered the many benefits of talking about your feelings with strangers and attempting to listen to them talk about theirs as you focus on the bit of spinach they have between their teeth, you’re probably tempted to try to help that person. You’ve seen the light; you’re never going to drink again; and you can imagine how much more content that person would be without getting shitfaced every morning, afternoon, evening, and night. You may feel tempted to pull that person aside, escorting them to a quiet corner of the room by their elbow, and then attempting to have a conversation with them about how much they drink and what they can do to stop.

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“You drink too much. And while I’m whispering, I probably should let you know your breath stinks… not of booze. I can see how you’d think that was confusing.”

I’m going to give you the best advice you’ll ever receive on this blog, and that isn’t saying much: Don’t.

The reasons are many, and they fall into two distinct categories: 1) the selfish reasons, and 2) the bat-shit-crazy reasons.

Let’s start off with the selfish reasons:

  1. You may want to scream from the rooftops about your newfound sobriety and how good it is, but it won’t benefit you. Now that you’re sober, you’re like superhero. You have a superpower that you need to keep hidden. It might seem like a good idea to let Mary Jane know you can now climbs walls without the aid of a rope or an instructor clad in Lyrca, because you think it might finally get you laid, but it causes more trouble than it’s worth. If you let the cat out of the bag about your sobriety to help that the alcoholic in your social circle, the only good you’ll do is let people know you’re one missed promotion or speeding ticket away from being a shit show on wheels, which is to say you’ll do no good at all. You’ll just fuck your own shit up.
  2. You want as many friends and relatives on your side as possible, and to do that you’ll want to steer clear of judging people. Relationships are easily made, but they’re just as easily destroyed. Pointing out someone drinks too much and may have a problem isn’t akin to letting them know they have a spot of broccoli and blue cheese soup on their chin. It’s pointing out a major flaw they may not have been aware of themselves. There’s a reason people don’t invite their doctor to dinner parties, no matter how well they get on: No one wants to make small talk with someone that in the future may have to stick a finger up their ass.

(Forgive the goofy formatting. WordPress.com is to blame for this shit.)

Here are the bat-shit-crazy reasons:

  1. Talking to an active alcoholic about their drinking won’t motivate them to get sober. Chances are, you’ll just add another reason to the growing pile in their mind for why they should go get another vodka and soda, light on the soda. There’s also a good chance they may punch you or attack you with a closed umbrella—weather permitting.
  2. It will give AA a bad name. When Jehovah’s Witnesses knock on your door, and you make the effort to go answer it, and they’re standing there in their polyester suits, holding out a pamphlet for you to look at while simultaneously trying to have a conversation with you about the benefits of joining their religion, do you think A) wow, how proactive of that person to be spreading the word of God on a Saturday, or do you think B) go away? Right answer. Plus, how likely is it you’re talking to the one person on the planet who doesn’t know what AA is? That alcoholic in your life knows what AA is, and if they were ready or willing to go, they would’ve gone already, or would already be planning on going. Trying to be a promoter of AA is a bit like being a door-to-door airplane ticket salesman: You’ll either end up talking to someone who’s already planning to travel somewhere and has bought a ticket or someone who doesn’t even own a passport. Either way, you’ve achieved at least the minimum requirement for entry into the lunatics’ club.

So there you have it. Does it make you feel better that the best thing you can do is to do nothing, besides making sure your cape doesn’t stick out above your shirt collar? I know it made me feel great when someone gave me that advice last week, which motivated me to regurgitate it to you now in the form of this blog post. But then again, there’s a reason this blog isn’t titled Hilariously Full of Firsthand Wisdom.


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Going Back in Time and Talking to Shitfaced You

This week, Dan goes back in time, to an ill-advised vacation, and talks to himself about boozing.

I step out of the elevator, walk down the corridor, take the key card out of my pocket, and swipe it down the slot on the electronic lock on the door leading to my hotel room.

I enter, and immediately know something’s wrong. My suitcase is open and all my clothes are strewn about the room—though that isn’t unusual. I’ve never been the kind of traveler who unpacks his shit methodically, setting up my hotel room like a miniature version of my home: clothes hanging in the wardrobe, toiletries lined up by the washbasin, etc.

It’s something else. There’s a big-ass bottle of gin lying by my open suitcase, and I’ve been sober for almost a month. It’s a liter bottle, but not the kind you buy from duty free. The shitty kind with some shitty name, and you know it’s going to have an acrid aftertaste that lingers, but you get it anyway, because what kind of asshole only buys 700 milliliters of gin at a time?

Around a third of the bottle is gone. I place it down and see something even more unusual. There’s a disposable paper plate with what used to be a lemon on it, hacked to bits with the type of plastic knife you buy for guests to use at the barbecue you’re hosting.

There’s also a bottle of tonic water. Only a little of this is gone.

“What the fuck…?” I say under my breath, my voice trailing off. “Has some jerk broken into my hotel room so he could get wasted on bum gin?”

Something catches my eye. I look up, and see someone standing outside on balcony. I squint my eyes, not believing what I’m seeing.

That jerk is me! And he has a glass in his hand and is looking over the balcony railing, and not to admire the view.

I knew there was something screwy with that elevator. When the lights flashed on and off, and there was a surge of electricity through the elevator keypad, and smoke was momentarily emitted from it, I thought what anybody else would think: I should’ve checked out the reviews for this hotel on TripAdvisor.

Not for a moment did I think I’d stepped into a time machine. But who would?

I walk up to the French door, lock it as silently as I can—just in case I’m wrong about the elevator and it’s a crazy person out there, who just so happens to look exactly like me from behind—and then knock on the window.

He turns around, and I sigh. It is me, and I’m shitfaced, which goes someway to explaining his response… My response, I mean. I’ll write him so this shit doesn’t get confusing. He says, “Hey, dude. I was wondering when you’d join the party.”

If the guy was wearing a mask or a disguise or some shit, he’d have given himself away, anyway. Only an asshole like I was would describe standing on some shitty balcony, in some shitty hotel, drinking shitty gin on my own, as a party.

He seems friendly enough, but I tread carefully. “What you doing out there, buddy?” I ask, lamely.

He shrugs, and says, “Drinking.”

“You weren’t thinking about doing anything stupid, were ya?”

He frowns. “What makes you think that?”

“I couldn’t help but notice you were looking over the balcony edge a minute ago.”

“Oh that!” He starts fumbling in his pockets, and pulls out a crumpled pack of cigarettes, takes one out, and takes his time lighting one, like it’s a natural pause. He takes a long drag, exhales a cloud of smoke, and then says, “I was thinking about jumping.” And then explaining, though it’s unnecessary: “Down there.”

Not knowing how his killing himself would affect my existence, I rush to unlock the French door and go out on the balcony with him. He looks at me confusedly and asks me if I want a cigarette. I ignore him and look over balcony railing. I’m looking down at an otherwise regular swimming pool, if it weren’t filled with foaming beer. Jeez, that was a screwy elevator. And a really shitty time machine.

Half to myself, I say, “So you weren’t thinking about killing yourself?”

He laughs. “Of course not!”

I stand up right, and turn and look at him. “Then why were you thinking about jumping?”

He shrugs again. “I was thinking about switching to beer.”

“And this is the best way to do it?”

“There isn’t any in the refrigerator.”

“Does this hotel room have a refrigerator big enough to hold regular-sized beer cans?”

“Sure.”

I peek through the glass, shading my vision with cupped hands, and spot it. It isn’t a mini fridge you’d typically find in a hotel room, but a full size.

That was a shitty time machine. Someone should really take a look at it.

I’ve recently been reading about the twelfth step in the Big Book, so I’m aware I need to start helping other alcoholics as part of my recovery. If this guy wasn’t me, I’d let him carry on drinking. That’s if he wasn’t in my hotel room. I take the drink from his hand, and bring it close to my nose so I can smell it. “Jesus,” I say. “How many ice cubes did you put in this thing?”

“I filled it to the brim.”

There’s a miserable lemon wedge floating on the surface. I look at it and feel depressed, and then I take action. I toss the drink over the balcony, though I hold on to the glass, placing it down on the floor. If this time machine is on the fritz as much as I think it is, there could be a whole host of replicas of me walking around down there.

“Hey, why’d you do that?” he asks.

“I think you’ve had enough.”

Having a coherent conversation is difficult for Shitfaced Me right now, as he says, “Of what?”

“Booze.”

“You sound like my dad… Which reminds me, you look…” His voice trails off, and he searches for the right word. “Familiarize. Like me, but an older, uglier version.”

“Almost,” I say. “You were thinking of familiar. And I am familiar. I’m you, from a screwy future where hotel rooms have tiny refrigerators in them.”

He looks at me with one eye, squinting a little. “Remind me why you tossed my drink over the balcony again?”

I slap him, because I’m still figuring out this helping-other-alcoholics gig. “This isn’t a party, guy. You’re standing on a balcony, drinking by yourself.” I pause to look out at the view. “And is this one of the Canary Islands?”

“I think so,” he says.

“This is more depressing than I thought. Let’s get you inside.”

I open the French door, and he says, “Good idea. Let’s get another drink.”

This is going to be more difficult than I thought.

I take the cigarette from him, stub it out, lead him inside, sit him down on the bed, and I take chair in the corner, because I’m not fully comfortable sitting by a shitfaced version of myself on a bed. Then I explain to him that I was just like him, but now I’m sober, and my life, while it isn’t perfect, is way better than the life he’s living now.

And he says, “Good for you, dude. But I’m just going to cut down. I’ve been thinking about it for a while.”

I slap him again, but this time I don’t immediately regret it. “You’ll do that, putting rules in place, but none of it will work. You might succeed for a while, but before you know it, you’ll be back here, out on that balcony, drinking a ridiculously strong gin and tonic and thinking of a really bad way of switching to beer.”

“Are you saying I’ll decide to vacation here again? Is that what you’re doing here?”

“Maybe I’m not explaining myself right. It was a metaphor. I’m saying you won’t manage moderation. You’ll fuck it up a whole bunch of times. And then you’ll get to the place where I’m at now, and a shitload of time will have gone past that needn’t have.”

I pull out my iPhone, and cross my fingers that 4G exists in this screwy future. Failing that, at least 3G. It does, so I open the Safari app and pull up this blog, navigating to some post about relapsing.

I hand the cell phone to him, and he reads it. Then he looks up at me and says, “Whoa. You sound really down.”

I smile. I’m gaining some ground. “I was, but I’m in a better place now.”

There’s a moment of realization painted on his face. He looks down at the carpet, but may as well be looking deep into his soul.

And then it’s gone.

Picking up the gin bottle, he says, “If you’re right, which I don’t think you are, I need to find this out on my own. I just need to make myself another drink first.”

I sigh and give up. He’s right, and it’s the most intelligent thing he’s said since I’ve spoken to him.

As he stands up and starts wandering around, looking for a glass, I make a quick exit. I go out the hotel room, in search of reception desk, so they can get a maintenance guy to fix the screwy time-machine elevator. I’ll be taking the stairs.


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Handing Out Medals to Everyone Like a Circus Clown

Dan tells the story of when he pissed in the face of real achievement.

Around four years ago I involuntarily volunteered at the Oslo Marathon. That isn’t an oxymoron. It was a non-obligatory work obligation that I and my colleagues could volunteer for if we were to continue to be recognized as employees who were enthusiastic and had value. That and we were given a pair of running shoes for dragging our ostensibly enthusiastic asses down there early that Saturday morning.

My gig was to hand out medals to all the kids who competed in what I called the Kiddie Run, which by my estimation was the curious length of around 175 meters. Around a hundred kids competed in each ‘race,’ and my responsibility—along with seven or eight other volunteers, two of which were circus clowns—was to put a medal around their necks after they’d gone over the finish line and to congratulate them.

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“Do you think she’s noticed we haven’t built anything yet?”

These races were scheduled around five minutes apart, which means I handed a shit ton of medals out to a shit ton of kids, all of whom had competed, none of which had been recognized as the winner or a winner.

That kid who half-assed it, sauntering over the finish line as though he were a stoned college student ironically jogging towards an ice cream van, he got the same medal as the kid that ran like he was being chased by a serial killer through dense forestry.

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“Just look where I’m pointing.”

What does this have to do with sobriety?

As with all things pretentious, it’s a metaphor, for how we’re not supposed to judge alcoholics who relapse often, and how it’s okay if we relapse.

A couple days ago, I asked a work buddy what his plans are for this weekend. It was an attempt to be nosey about his drinking habits, and that attempt was successful. I suspect he’s a budding alcoholic, not yet in full bloom, but bulging with potential, and we have conversations like this from time to time, where I whisper to him about how my sobriety’s going and he whispers back about how well he’s doing at moderating his drinking.

He talked about a having couple beers with dinner and then stopping, and how he’d done this a couple times over the last week and that it’s his new groove. His new set of rules.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but that day we spoke, I was a hundred days sober. A round number, unlike 175 or whatever my estimation of the length the Kiddie Run was. A number that’s a landmark in sobriety—my sobriety, at least—even though there’s no hundred-day chip doled out at AA to mark it.

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Two lengths of the pool. Fuck Yeah!

Even if I had realized it, I think the result would’ve been the same. In hearing about his new rule set—a couple beers with dinner, at 2.5 percent ABV, his new limit—my mind started wandering, thinking about if I could go back drinking, and if I could stick to this.

The answer is of course no. That would be like a migratory bird going for a short southbound fly during winter just to see what the fuss was all about.

My instinct would kick in, and there’s no way I could turn around and fly back to brave the winter. I’d find myself drunk on cervezas in Mexico, standing outside a bar and sharing a cigarette with and talking to a young male prostitute about my dreams and accomplishments as he stared at me, eyebrow raised, wondering whether I was going to pay him to receive a blowie, or at the very least hand back his cigarette I was hogging.

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Or I could have taken LSD and witnessed this, so to speak, instead.

When these times occur, when you think about getting off the wagon, you have to ask yourself, “Do I want to be the kid who knew he was going to get a medal and a pat on the back no matter how fast he ran? Or do I want to be kid who’d carry on running like a potential murder victim in a forest even if he shat himself halfway through the race?”

But do so in your head or when you’re alone, so you don’t look like a crazy person.

I’m sitting here a hundred and two days sober, and I didn’t decide I could go back to drinking under new rules, knowing deep down in my liver I’d fail, and that sobriety was something I could achieve at a different place and time.

I’m that kid who’s going to earn his medal, even if we all get one, no matter how much we achieve in our sobriety, and I’m going to run away from the threat of relapse like I’m running away from a serial killer.


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You’re an Alcoholic if…

Here at Hilariously Sober, we don’t like to be all Judgy McJudgy-Judgerson, but we do like to contemplate what it means to be an alcoholic.

Last night I went to my first party since getting back on the wagon. I had hoped that I’d get a metric shit-ton of material out of the experience for this blog or, failing that, at least a blog post.

But it went without a hitch. It only took me around an hour to not feel self-conscious about being one of the few people who weren’t drinking, I had a good time, and none of my male colleagues slapped any female colleagues on the ass or insisted that our boss do the tango with them to the beat of the ‘Macarena’.

So what am I supposed to do, write about how swimmingly and to-plan everything went? Any comedy writer worth his or her salt knows nothing funny ever comes out of good stuff happening. Take Schindler’s List, for example; that’s got to be worst comedy I’ve ever seen.

So in lieu of another super-funny blog post about surviving a party sober or a wildlife-study style blog post about drunk people at parties, I’m pulling this blog post directly out of my ass and onto the screen of your tablet, phone, or, if you’re slacking off at work, desktop computer.

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You’re not fooling anyone, buddy.

Part of my routine for motivating myself to stay sober is to beam sobriety culture into my ears in the form of a podcast. It’s my way of avoiding filling up my time with AA meetings, so I can do a load of fun shit instead.

One of my weekly listens is The Recovery Elevator. The format of the show consists of the host interviewing a recovering alcoholic about their sobriety story. Terms like “journey,” “higher power,” and “spiritual growth” get thrown around like bubbles at a Hilary Clinton rally, but I enjoy it, nonetheless.

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Her manifesto might be shitty, but God damn if she can’t throw a bubble party.

At the end of the interview, the host asks the interviewee to complete the sentence “You’re an Alcoholic if….” I’ll likely never be interviewed on that podcast while I subtly plug my books and social media shit, but if I did, here are my four or five ways to finish that sentence.

You’re an alcoholic if…

  1. You plan your drinking sessions like a military operation

If you’re like me, liberating a people from their tyrannous dictator isn’t enough for you. You want to get their oil and besmirch their religion and way of life, too. And that shit takes some grade-A planning, and coordination with far-right-wing-leaning news organizations. When I got drunk, I planned my drinking sessions like a forty-day trip around the world. I’d eat a light lunch so I got shitfaced faster and to a greater degree, I had the schedule of liquor-based drinks and craft beers mapped out well in advance, and the day’s and evening’s entertainment would be all planned out before I even filled up my glass with ice to leave little room for the tonic. Clearly, this isn’t the behavior of a casual drinker. It’s the behavior of a lunatic hell-bent on ruining alcohol for himself for the rest of his life.

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“The dog’s great and everything, but can you do one in the shape of a beaker minus a couple centimeters… This beaker here?”
  1. You don’t get that one-glass-of-wine-with-dinner shit

If you look around carefully when you’re at a restaurant, you’ll spot someone who’s wholly engaged in conversation with the person or people they’re dining with and who rarely, if ever, glances down at their glass or scans the room for where their waiter is. If this person’s level of detachment from their alcoholic drink situation seems strange to you or, if you’re like me, it outright scares the shit out of you, you might have a problem.

When I got my drink on in restaurants, I got a little panicky. My level of shitfacedness depended on someone who might not care about receiving a tip at the end of the evening, and the people I was dining with might frown upon my waving over the waiter for a refill every half hour like I was helping a jumbo jet land. I could never relax in those places as a drinker. Baby needed his bottle, and he’d be dammed if Mommy or the babysitter controlled how often he got it. If this sounds anything like your dining experiences, drinking might not be for you. Oh, and here’s another link to my books.

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Here he comes… finally.
  1. The only friends you have are drinking buddies

I don’t have many friends now, and not just because I’m an insufferable jerk. After quitting drinking, I realized that most of the friends I have back in my home country* are just pub buddies, like spotters are to gym rats, only without the duty of care and offers of cut-rate anabolic steroids. All we ever did was get drunk together. Now that I’m sober, my criteria for friends have somewhat changed from just sharing alcohol dependence: I need friends who are slightly shittier than I am at squash, who think a café is a worthwhile place to spend their time, and who think that one high-five per evening is more than enough.

*This isn’t a euphemism; I live in Norway and come from England. The reason I don’t have friends here is that I’m thirty-two and enjoy wearing pajamas way too much. Speaking of pajamas and the opposite of what I said…

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Two imposters at a Jason Statham lookalike competition.
  1. You’re debating with yourself whether you’re an alcoholic

At my last workplace, I asked a colleague about her drinking habits. I was interested in getting the perspective of a seemingly balanced young Swedish lady. Her response was, she didn’t get drunk every weekend, never during weekdays, and she couldn’t remember, when pressed, the last time she got drunk. It might’ve been at some party around eight weeks ago. Or not. Chances are, if you’re making an effort to moderate your drinking and failing, or if you regularly talk to yourself in the mirror about whether you have a problem, as the heading phrasing implies, or if you’re the lunatic asking your colleagues about how often they get drunk, then Grandpa’s old cough medicine might be best kept as a medication for the sniffles.

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Stupid science with its facts and whatnot.

So there you have them. Turns out it was only four, and five would’ve been a much rounder number. Shoot.

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Five Types of Alcoholic (and How to Spot Them)

Alcoholics come in all shapes and sizes. As do drinking vessels.

A few blog posts ago, in my Five Signs You Might Be an Alcoholic post, I touched upon defining what is an alcoholic. I enjoyed writing that blog post so much—I had to dry my tears of laughter with the dollar bills I’d made from my comedic mystery series while writing it—that writing the spinoff seemed like a no-brainer.

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“Can you pass me one of those hundred-dollar bills?”

Part of my discovery of realizing I was an alcoholic was having to reevaluate my definition of alcoholism. During that time I came up with some definitions. While sitting on my sofa this morning, poking at my iPad and deciding whether I would wish an old school buddy I hadn’t seen for fifteen years happy Birthday, my brain collated that data so that it fit the “five things” classic blog post format, which you’re about to read.

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Having not being wished happy Birthday by her Facebook pals, this woman was unable to enjoy her birthday this year.

So here goes. Five types of alcoholic (and how to spot them).

  1. The Classic

The Classic grew up with one or both of his or her parents being alcoholic. His normalization of alcoholism continued when he went to college and got shitfaced at dorm parties. But while everyone else moved on from their college drinking days, he decided that every Friday and Saturday night, even if he’s just sitting watching a shit film on Netflix, should be enjoyed with six or seven beers. Now married and with two-point-three children, the Classic struggles to hold down a job, has progressed to drinking hard liquor straight out of the bottle, and only occasionally shaves.

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“Do you think he’ll notice if we take his car keys?”

The High-Functioning Alcoholic

The high-functioning alcoholic is so adept at functioning drunk he can net the brokerage firm he works for millions without breaking a sweat, all the while fueled by lunchtime cocktails. He’s a smooth-talking, well-oiled machine who sees no reason to stop drinking. And why would he? He’s got a penthouse apartment in a trendy part of the city and dates successful middle-management types. He rarely throws up from drinking, and knows his limits, to a point, and seldom falls over while drunk, scuffing his three-piece suit.

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“I’m shit drunk right now.”

  1. The Stealth

The Stealth is ashamed of his drinking. He doesn’t drink socially and is ostensibly a functioning family member. The Stealth doesn’t drink at classy cocktail bars, but in the bathroom, where he keeps his whisky, which has been decanted into an empty bleach bottle. He thinks his family doesn’t notice when he rejoins them at the dinner table, fucked out of his mind on cheap whisky, though they’ve been aware for quite some time that his frequent bathroom breaks aren’t because he’s got a weak bladder. He may occasionally get sober, dragged kicking and screaming by his wife to a rehab clinic, but afterwards he just finds better places to hide his booze and better ways to cover up his whisky breath, at least in his mind.

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Something from the top shelf.

  1. The Professional Drunk

The Professional has decided, “Fuck it! I’m going to get shitfaced all the time.” He may be homeless or live in social housing, and getting a gig or making sure he’s in good health is’t even on the radar because of his hardwired desire to drink. Having a can of super-strength lager with his bowl of cornflakes on a morning is a daily routine, and continuing drinking throughout the day is a given. If he’s to venture to the store for supplies, he does so at midday, when he can drink a can of cider on the subway without having to sit next to someone who might notice he smells slightly of his own urine.

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“Livin’ the dream, baby.”

  1. The Party Girl

Much like the high-functioning alcoholic, the Party Girl is both socially and professionally successful, but the difference between the two is she would never, ever contemplate drinking at lunch time or at breakfast. In her mind, she’s not an alcoholic, just someone who wants to have fun. And she deserves a glass of wine after a hard day’s work being the team manager at a call center. The only times she drinks before six P.M. is at one of her girlfriend’s weddings, and then, of course, she’ll get shitfaced on champagne, because, you know, that’s what everyone else is doing.

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“It’s not alcoholism if it’s classy.”

Which one was I? Over the five or six years I had a drinking problem, I fit one or more of those definitions at one time or another, apart from I don’t have 2.3 children, can’t trade stocks for shit, am not female, and I’ve always managed to pay my own rent.

Thanks for reading!

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Days sober: 55


Jake Hancock, a high-functioning alcoholic private investigator, is featured in my comedic crime series, which you can check out here.

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