My Winning Streak Continues. But Just Barely.
Sep 23, 2021 Ed Harrison
2nd Place Co-WinnerEach morning in the predawn darkness of my bathroom, I get the help I need to keep from having a drink in the day ahead.
My precoffee mind is busy with a preview of the day’s problems—some critical, some trivial, many theoretical or entirely imaginary, a low hum of doom occasionally broken up by a jarring memory or oddly specific piece of sports trivia on a perpetual loop.
We’re definitely getting fired by [client name redacted].
And [employee name withheld to respect their privacy] is definitely quitting.
Remember the time you passed out in the lobby of the Omni Atlanta after a day of drinking and your wife called hotel security to find you because she thought you might be dead?
K.C. Jones really should have played Reggie Lewis more his rookie year.
As my wife, sons, and small dog slumber, I sneak over to the sink, cup my hands under the faucet, and use the lukewarm water to swallow a large white Antabuse tablet. This simple ritual helps ensure I won’t have a drink today.
Sometimes it takes two or three tries—swallowing large pills is the latest on a growing list of things that are harder to do in middle age.
There are rare mornings where I am present enough to briefly acknowledge the choice I am making, swallowing a pill initially created to cure scabies and intestinal worms, to help me manage my drinking problem.
Most mornings, though, it’s unconscious. I open the week’s pill case (each compartment containing a handy, mostly worn-off letter signifying the day of the week—M, Tu, etc.) and take one of the tablets I spill out in advance every Sa.
At that moment, Predawn Ed is doing Future Ed a solid. No drinks today. For with the Antabuse in my system, a drink would lead me to experience a collection of truly awful symptoms, including but not limited to “flushing, throbbing headache, breathing problems (e.g., shortness of breath, fast breathing), nausea, vomiting, dizziness, extreme tiredness, fainting, fast/irregular heartbeat, or blurred vision.”
To me, this is still only theoretical, only because I have been afraid to find out for myself.
Medical professionals call it aversion therapy. My therapist tells me it takes alcohol off the table. Some days I think it’s cheating—helping me to avoid doing some of the hard work as I manage this disease. I know others who prefer a less draconian approach, using drugs like naltrexone to curb alcohol cravings. Or going to AA meetings. Or white-knuckling their way through life.
For me, cravings for alcohol have wormed their way deep into my psyche, so I went right to the nuclear option.
It takes a lot of effort to circumvent Antabuse, because the drug stays in your system for up to fourteen days; that level of advanced planning doesn’t always mesh with the impulsivity of addiction, although that doesn’t mean the thought of skipping the meds in advance of a business trip still a fortnight away hasn’t crossed my mind.
Because on the road, away from guardrails like my family, it helps me.
What Happens in Vegas, Etc., Etc.
“I’ll have . . . a . . . Shock Top, please?”
There’s definitely a question mark at the end. Even when I drank, I didn’t like Belgian white ales.
I panicked, but the bartender at tonight’s Vegas Golden Knights NHL game doesn’t seem to care.
It’s the tail end of a business trip for a client user conference—back when we could regularly do such things—and I have six hours to kill before getting on a red-eye back to Boston.
There are a few things working against my sobriety: I’m tired, I’ve spent three days politely refusing drinks with my client without getting into the details of why, I’m alone and I’ve got time. The beer will help me sleep on the plane, and even if I show up at home tomorrow morning with a hangover, no one will be home other than the dog—who is by nature quite forgiving—and I can sleep for a few hours and shower before anyone returns.
I’m not sure there are many cities worse than Vegas for an alcoholic—maybe New Orleans—although sometimes it doesn’t matter all that much (I’m looking at you, Detroit!). I do a lot of planning to avoid situations like this. The formula for success is pretty simple: compress the trip to involve as few overnights as possible, book a return red-eye or last flight out, and spend time before departure doing anything other than sitting at the airport, because airports have bars. Usually I look for a movie or maybe a record store; tonight it’s the Golden Knights taking on Chicago.
And as I belly up to the bar, I acknowledge that my strategies are not working.
The Golden Knights are a new hockey entity, and the city has embraced the team and its glitzy game presentation, which includes Elvis impersonators and showgirls, both on ice. I don’t like hockey that much—I couldn’t explain icing if my life depended on it, other than I know you’re not supposed to do it—but it seems like a good way to kill a few hours; by avoiding drinking here, rather than at a casino or the airport, at least I’ll have something to watch. Next time I want to kill time on the road, I’ll pick a sport I actually understand.
It has been a long week. I need this. I deserve this.
No one is going to know.
I want to drink a goddamn beer just like everyone else.
How sick are you going to get? Let’s find out.
You don’t need this. Just walk away.
You’ve worked too hard on this.
Do you really want to go back to day zero?
You have to call home before you get on the plane, and they’re going to know.
You are going to get so sick if you do this. And then everyone will know what you did.
The bar is busy and the order is taking forever—in hockey time, maybe a full power play? I believe that’s something that takes a while, so, sure.
Instead, I wait and try to make small talk with the gentleman from Chicago next to me. How ’bout them . . . Blackhawks?
And now there’s a beer in front of me. A terrible beer, but a beer nonetheless.
I took an Antabuse this morning—like every morning. And at this moment, I’m not sure it matters. I can feel myself getting flushed before I even bring the glass to my lips.
I hold on to the beer for what seems like forever. This is normal, right? I’m a guy from Boston in Vegas about to enjoy an ice-cold beer—even a gross orange one—while I blow off some steam and talk hockey. There are thousands of people around me doing this right now—why should I be any different?
I deserve this.
This is normal. Totally normal.
Go get some ice cream, and we’ll never speak of this again.
Current Ed tips his hat to Early-Morning Ed for taking the pill.
I don’t drink it. I put it down and walk over to the guy selling vanilla soft serve. What’s your largest size? I’ll have that. I inhale the cold, delicious ice cream and leave the arena before I can change my mind. I guess I’m going to get to the airport early.
The Golden Knights go on to win 4–1, and I beat that Shock Top 1–0.
Did the Antabuse keep me from choking it down? It certainly helped. And there have been more than a handful of similar stories, before and since, where I’ve actually held a drink in my hand, put it down, and walked away.
My winning streak continues. But just barely.
This essay co-won second place in our 2021 employee writing contest and appears in our book, Aren’t We Lucky? Stories of Resilience from the Inkhouse Community. Download your copy here.