A Vow –
Oct. 15, 2020 – Alcohol had long been a respite for me. During high school and into college, I drank heavily to cope with anxiety. Part of me knew this wasn’t a healthy approach, but it seemed to work. When I discovered a love of geochemistry, I eased up on my drinking. On weekdays, I chose to study rather than go to the bars. I still enjoyed drinking on weekends, but it was social drinking—nothing I was concerned about. Throughout grad school and my early years as a professor, I still sometimes drank too much. But it didn’t cause problems.
That started to change roughly 11 years into my faculty position, when my father died. Devastated by his loss, I began to suffer from depression, which in turn led to weight gain and sleep apnea. I became chronically sleep deprived and could no longer think clearly, which made it challenging to meet the intellectual demands of my job. I suffered from a short temper and strained relationships. I started to self-medicate with alcohol, which reduced my anxiety in the short term. But eventually I became so depressed that I no longer tried to restrain my drinking. I took up mixology as a hobby and started to drink cocktails every night. Years passed, and I still felt deeply unhappy. I decided to see a psychiatrist, who began to treat me for chronic depression at first. It took me several more years to recognize I was an alcoholic.
An important clue came one morning when I awoke after an awards dinner at a conference feeling so hungover I wasn’t able to co-chair a session that morning as planned; I had to ask colleagues to go on without me. I had vowed not to drink too much.