The Financial Confessions: “What It’s Really Like To Be A High-Powered, Professional Alcoholic”

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Pretty much every morning now, I say to the mirror that I’m an alcoholic. I’ve been thinking for months that this will be the thing that kicks my ass into gear and makes me accept the truth, but I’ve only gotten as far as saying it in the mirror while I’m doing my hair. As soon as I slip into my blazer and heels, I’ve already gone into “work mode,” which means I get to feel like a totally different person, and not have to deal with the reality of my choices. I am what you would probably call a binge drinker: I can go days without drinking if I absolutely have to, but once I go out to a martini bar after work or open up a bottle of wine with Netflix, there isn’t an end until I’m blacked out and have forgotten my own name. I drink this way because it doesn’t feel like I’m “finished” until I’m at that level, if that makes any sense. There is always room for another drink.

And as you probably already figured out, I have a job that should not allow me to drink this way, but I’ve always been incredibly good at getting my shit together when the occasion calls for it. I can go out until four in the morning, take two Ibuprofen and chug a half-gallon of water, pass out on top of my sheets, and be up at 7:30 AM sharp the next morning and work the whole day.

All it takes is a vigorous scrubbing of my face in the shower, two teeth-brushings, and a makeup/hair/clothes routine that erases all evidence of my debaucherous night. I work as a consultant at a boutique firm that must not be named, so my general professional wardrobe consists of skirt- or pant-suits, shift dresses, and other items that convey “serious, organized woman.” In reality, I’m a 28-year-old alcoholic who constantly feels on the verge of losing her mind, and her money.

I make $137,000 a year, which is a huge fucking amount of money for my or any age, but it disappears basically the second it hits my account. I have high rent, my “going out” costs alone are about $2,000 a month, and maintaining my impeccable physical appearance — manicures, facials, hair salon, even occasional IV drips of vitamins to restore a little color to my skin when it looks like I’ve been on my deathbed from binge drinking — costs more than I can keep track of. On the bright hand, though, since I eat about one meal a day and even then can barely finish it, I save a lot of money on food and have no gym or personal trainer costs to remain a size two. (Ha! Ha! That was supposed to be a dark joke, but it’s true.)

I’m an alcoholic, and I know this, but I also haven’t hit any kind of bottom. I’m extremely good about only getting as drunk as whoever I’m with (and my colleagues are all drinkers themselves, but not anywhere near my level), and finishing up on my own when I get home. Nothing better than a nightcap of a bottle of wine to round out the four martinis I drank with my boss. It’s expensive as hell, and it leaves me feeling like shit (especially when I chain smoke during that last bottle of wine, even though I have no desire to smoke when I’m sober), but I can’t stop. I guess that’s the definition of addiction.

And the fact that I am really, really good at my job, keep getting raises and promotions and being begged to stay because they know I’m constantly getting head-hunter calls and emails, makes it so much easier. I get to keep feeling confident and useful, even though on a personal level, my self-esteem is basically non-existent. As long as I stay at this job, where I can work from home some mornings and it’s not a problem, and there is no conflict between my binging and getting my work done, there seems to be no reason to stop.

Because the truth is that I love drinking. It allows me to go from the nervous, insecure, formerly-fat girl in high school who had no friends and sat at the cafeteria table not eating so she wouldn’t get made fun of (but then binge-eating Hostess snacks in her closet when she got home), to someone you want to party with. Alcohol lubricates me, brings me to life, makes me funny and smart and confident, but then it destroys me every night. By the end of most of my “sessions,” I’m crying alone on my bed while Netflix asks me if I’m still watching Law and Order. But that first part is so worth the second part, or so it feels when that first drink is beading with condensation in front of me.

For now, all I can do is tell myself in the mirror every morning the truth about who I am, and hope that I start to listen. Writing it down helps a lot. Tomorrow might get better, if for no other reason than my addiction is starting to spill over into my credit card statements, and somehow I’m more protective over money than I am over my own basic health and well-being. I need to get better, but I’m not there yet. It takes time, I guess, and it still feels like I have a lot of it, even though I know I don’t.

-Sarah

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  • Jack

    You’re really brave for sharing this. I’ve dealt with alcoholism in my family, and it’s always interesting to hear it from the other point of view… Keep fighting, and I hope one day you can be that funny smart confident girl without needing alcohol to bring it to the surface. Best of luck to you <3

  • Violaine

    I love this article. Thanks for being so honest.
    I had a time in a previous job when I was like this for several months. I could not drink for several weeks if I had to, just like you – if I was at my parents’ home or if I was on holiday I tended not to drink. But I always stopped and bought beers or wine on my way home after work, as a “treat”. After I started going to different shops so the cashiers wouldn’t start to notice, I started thinking maybe I did have a problem! I forced myself not to drink for a couple of days, convince myself there was no problem at all and buy more beers. I was drinking until I was sick and I woke up without any memory of getting into bed. Nobody ever suspected a thing, not even my boyfriend who comes home late from work and would find me already asleep, the beer bottles hidden under packets of crisps in the bin. I didn’t see the point of “one beer to relax”. It was always “enough to collapse”.
    I stopped when I changed jobs. Whatever the reason you are doing this, you might not know what it is but maybe start looking for what you need to escape from and deal with it for real rather than through drinking.
    I say that but I have a feeling you already know that, because you wouldn’t share otherwise 😉
    All the best and hope it all gets better soon.

  • Charlene

    Best of luck Sarah, I hope you pull through. Thanks for sharing.

  • betty

    Sarah, get a therapist.

  • JH

    Hey Sarah – I’ve been there. I also didn’t have an “off” switch with alcohol. I tried to control it for many years, but i just couldn’t do it. I liked (loved) alcohol too much.

    I won’t tell you to quit because that’s a decision that you have to come to on your own – you can’t force it. But I’ll say that now I’m on the other side (3 years sober) I am so fucking glad I stopped. I couldn’t imagine life without alcohol, but it exists, and it’s actually pretty awesome. Yes, I gave up crazy nights out and the social bonding and relaxation that comes with alcohol. But I gained a lot – hangover-free mornings, better mental and physical health, better relationships with friends and family, control over my finances, self respect, and an ability to move forward in my life. I’m doing things now personally and professionally that I never could have done when I was drinking, because drinking kept me stuck.

    I’m so glad I stopped when I turned 30. I hear stories from my sober network all the time about people who waited until they were 30, 40, 50 until they quit, and they regret giving up so much of their life and youth to booze.

    Good luck to you on this journey – I hope writing this essay has helped.

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