I don’t remember my last drink, but I think it was bourbon.
I was proud of the alcohol tolerance I’d built up through the beer soaked college years and continued to build through my mid to late twenties. I eventually graduated to manhattans and martinis. Or maybe I should say, “Graduated to manhattans and martinis when I was out on the town and also accompanied by cheap vodka hid in water bottles to assist with sleep, stage fright, social anxiety and increasing general drunkenness while on a budget”. I bragged about my high tolerance in the company of friends and they enjoyed trying to keep up with me.
The final night I drank, I was in mixed company and I was hyper-aware of how I did not want to be perceived. Ya know…like an alcoholic. I always counted the number of drinks everyone else had and was careful to have them think I drank the same amount. This often lead to me pre-gaming at my apartment before going out, sneaking to the bar and ordering quick shots for myself while out, and night caps once returning home.
What’s unique about the last night I drank was that, this time, I didn’t plan to get drunk. I spent the entire day cleaning my apartment, fresh sheets on the beds, and I had the wood floors sparkling. I threw back 3 quick beers before I left my apartment and more or less felt the same, just slightly looser. I was off to a house party in my Astoria Queens, New York neighborhood. Since it was sure to be a fairly low-key evening with a few friends, I brought my dog, Walter. He’s a 22 lb teddy bear looking, high energy, must-always-keep-on-a-leash welsh terrier. The party was as expected – chill music and good conversation, but I was mostly managing Walter who was trying to eat the guacamole on the coffee table.
I had no intention of staying at the party for too long. My in-laws would be arriving at our apartment the next morning. Earlier in the day I’d made a trip to the grocery store to purchase ingredients for a crockpot breakfast for the family, and I still had to get home and get that started so it could slow-cook through the night. From the party, I texted my mother in-law, lovingly threatening her to bring donuts from my favorite donut shop, Heavenly Donuts. From the bathroom, I sent my wife, Olivia, a text, “Prepare the bed!” which was our little way of saying, “I’m on my way home!”.
This is the point in the story where if I didn’t know myself better I would swear I was drugged. I have flickers of memories. The kitchen. Alone. Bulleit Bourbon. (The good stuff). Drink. Drink. Empty bottle. How much was in there when I started? Did someone laugh and say, “There’s Drunk Rich!”?
And that’s it. That’s where the memory stops and the full blackout begins.
I remember waking up in our guest bed. I remember vomit. How did I get home? Walter? Where’s Walter? He’s here, thank god. How did I get home? How the fuck did I get home?!? Where’s Olivia? Does she know? How did I get home? Who saw me like this? All these thoughts swirled around my heard while I was still massively trashed. Panic and stupor. Then I passed out again.
This wasn’t the first time this had happened. Or the second. Or third or fourth. But it was the first time it had happened while with my dog. It’s funny how sometimes it takes something outside of yourself to wake you up. This time terrified me to think of all the things that could have happened to him. Forget all the things that could have happened to ME that night. Falling onto the train tracks was an actual and legitimate concern Olivia had for me. I still don’t know how I got home that night. I recognized the great fortune I’ve had many times over in finding my way home or back to hotel rooms on tour during a total blackout.
That morning brought profound shame and embarrassment. That morning brought a massive hangover. That morning brought grace to me that I did not deserve from a wife who told me, “I love you, and I’m so sorry you have a problem, and if you continue to drink we’re done.” That morning brought a real intervention, with letter reading, and tears, and ended with a promise from me that this time, I was for real.
Facing the truth can be a horrifying thing, and I couldn’t even begin to face the whole truth that morning. I couldn’t begin to grapple with the full magnitude of my alcoholism that day, but I could look in the direction of the truth and decide to not drink that day. It was the only thing I could do. The next year I wrestled with the idea of what alcoholism meant, even struggling to self-identify as the dreaded “A” word. I had big ideas that made me want to vomit. I couldn’t take it all in, but I chose to not drink. Every day since that day, I’ve chosen to not drink. I don’t have it all figured out. Sobriety has been awkward and lonely, and fumble-y, but the trajectory is clear. The hindsight is even clearer.
Sobriety is like climbing a mountain – it’s hard but you just keep moving and sometimes you stop and look back and see all the progress you’ve made. So I stand in the direction of truth because I know that growth is rooted there.
Rich Binning is a New York actor who currently resides in Las Vegas with an open ended residency starring in the comedy show “Puppetry of the Penis“, which he has toured the world with since 2009. Throughout his time with Puppetry, Rich has taken breaks from penile puppeteering to pursue musical theatre in productions of Spamalot, Anything Goes and How to Succeed at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina. He is a multi-marathoner, a chess coach, a wedding reception enthusiast, and he proudly has over 3 years of continued sobriety.