What's Worse, the Pain or the Hangover?

I’m not sure what I was thinking, but it had to be something I’d never thought before, because here I was taking my first drink. It was days before my 21st birthday and my friends and I were having a small cookout when someone offered me one of those infamous red cups. It may have been the third or fourth time a cup was offered to me, but this time I felt different, this time I felt ready. I had been studying the bottle of that cup’s contents for at least 45 minutes and decided that it couldn’t be so bad, so I extended my hand, raised the cup and downed the adult beverage.

That was my initiation into alcoholism, a full cup of Alizè and a decade long love was affair born. One cup led to three cups and for the next few days I was chipping in $15 for someone to buy me a bottle for the next few days until I could do it legally. Sometimes I think back and wonder how much different my life would be if I never took that cup? Alizè was my drink for all of three weeks before it was on to the hard stuff, the man stuff. First it was Hennessey, then Remy Martin, then Jack Daniels, at times all three, we called them a Triple Threat until we left someone sleep at the bar one night. I was searching for a spirit identity when I clutched a bottle of vodka and didn’t want to let go.

As my income grew, so did my taste in Russia’s finest export; I went from Smirnoff and Absolut, to Grey Goose, flirted with Belvedere and Armadale (because Jay-Z said so) before I met my soul mate. A club owner introduced me and the big homie to Level and that was all she wrote. Everywhere we went Level had to be served or we weren’t drinking! Everywhere meaning bars, nightclubs, private parties, strip clubs, weddings, everywhere! It got to the point where if it wasn’t be served, there was always a bottle within reach or a liquor store close enough that served fine liquor.

The drink became my escape. No, it wasn’t my escape, it became a relaxer for me. I stay so wound up and aware of what’s going on around me that settling down and enjoying the moment became nearly impossible, so a few drinks allowed me to be in the moment and not merely watching it. A few shots allowed me to dance when ordinarily I would play the wall tapping my foot or strike up a conversation with a woman when many nights I’d think to myself, “Damn, I should’ve said something.”

More nights than a few, having a couple drinks allowed me to massage the pain away. All of the hurt, the guilt, the frustration, the disappointment all would disappear in the bottom of a $60 bottle of vodka. And the more I tried to make that pain go away, the more my tolerance for the drink increased. So now it was two shots with every drink that needed three shots and spillage to make (remember that Tee?), two bottles purchased on payday and one on the off week, not to mention all of the Happy Hour and non Happy Hour visits I made. Here I was relaxed and painless, but at what cost? I’m not talking about the thousands of dollars wasted on liquor or the collateral damage spent because of the liquor. I’m speaking of the nights and days spent throwing up, the sweat drenched day after, the angry outbursts at my girlfriend, the drunk texting in the middle of the night to some all –too-willing co-conspirator, and all of the other silly stuff I subjected myself too. That became the real pain.

I lost time. I lost love. I lost bits of my life chasing behind something artificial. A trip to the hospital last January made me pay attention. My cardiologist will tell you that my drinking has no effect on my heart problem and it didn’t play a part in my appendix rupturing. Furthermore, after numerous tests, my liver is completely healthy. It's crazy because on many nights a bottle sat next to me at my desk as I keyed out a few hundred words that begged to be released from my mind and I've struggled at the keyboard many a night without it as my ghostwriter. So perhaps my subject was also my muse...

Luckily, I didn’t need the scare of disease, alcohol-related trauma or jail to convince me to put down my shot glass, but the truth is, someone will, I’m just trying to adjust my mirror for someone else to see what I’ve seen. I still have a drink or two occasionally, but it’s much more controlled, I’m not taking 12 steps or anything like that, just walking at my own my path, realizing that I just may be an uptight type of Negro. I’ve also found other ways to deal with that pain, I bury it in these pages and ask for it to be removed through prayer. I’m still not sure what’s worse, the pain or the hangover...

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