I used to worry I was an alcoholic. Sometimes, the question still crosses my mind.

“Alcoholic” is a very taboo term for 20-somethings, because a lot of folks abuse alcohol and are secretly worried “I have a drinking problem” without any real answer.

I never really drank alcohol growing up, I started drinking in college. It wasn’t much — some beers here, some mixed drinks there. I rarely got “drunk,” and the times I did I did so unintentionally, through my own oversight on how much I could handle. I didn’t want to get drunk, and I regretted when I did. I enjoyed having a few drinks here and there.

When Kimi and I were engaged, my therapist suggested I take a break from drinking until the wedding, as a good practice of restraint. Aside from a champagne or two at a wedding or celebration, I went about 8 months “sober,” which I was very proud of.

Since I’ve been married, my drinking behaviors have gone up and down, sometimes in irresponsible ways. When I was working in sales, it was incredibly stressful and I definitely had 1 or 2 drinks as soon as I got home every day. Sometimes, all I could think about was opening that first beer when I got home. It was made normal because a lot of co-workers around me were thinking the same thing, and would frequently get drunk throughout the week. When I was in that mindset, I couldn’t help but wonder if I was an alcoholic, or least if I had alcoholic tendencies. It sucked.

Last night, I was struck by the thought that I don’t really “need” alcohol anymore, to make myself feel better or to make myself have a better time.

The past few days, I’ve been at home with Kimi, and we’re watching TV or hanging out, and my mind automatically prepares to crack open a beer, to make the scene “complete.” But even after I opened one, or two, I might feel a little buzzed, or not, or whatever. The alcohol wouldn’t increase the experience in any significant way, which was unusual, but also welcome.

I think I’ve arrived at a place where I have enough priority on self-care (journaling, praying, seeing a counselor, honestly talking to people about how I’m doing, being honest with myself, my feelings, and my fears) that using any kind of substance to numb any “bad feelings” has become irrelevant. I want to stay in this mindset, and avoid falling back into where I used to be. When I was drinking to numb myself (from anything), I always knew what I was doing, and it was kind of scary.

I think us 20-somethings should talk about this more. In reality, I think a lot of people around my age struggle with using alcohol and other substances to get them through whatever they’re struggling with. What makes this entire process insidious is when we (commonly) and gradually make alcohol a crutch, no one talks about it, leaving us isolated and afraid of our behavior, to be numbed even further down and unaddressed.

I’ll just say it — I’ve used alcohol as an unhealthy coping mechanism, in alcoholic-related tendencies. That doesn’t mean I’m an alcoholic, or “bad;” it just means I need better self-care to get back on track.

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