I’m in my 20s and I enjoy drinking. I’m a fan of long nights spent in good conversation, interrupted with the sounds of corks popping from new bottles of wine. I love the energy of bars, the smell of old beer sloshing on the floor as I sway to live music.
I love exploring countries through their specific alcohol traditions, sampling moonshine brought back to me from dear friends that went abroad. I love witnessing the version of myself that exists only under intoxication, a less inhibited version who makes friends easily and talks without reservation.
And, as most people who enjoy drinking, I love having a drinking buddy, a close friend that bonds with me during heart-to-heart talks. I had one in particular, an old roommate and family friend, who loved to share glasses of wine with me as we nibbled on cheese and laughed at silly jokes.
It was a habit that I found light-hearted and fun until recently when it came to light that this friend was actually an alcoholic.
In theory, it was something I had always known, but never faced. Perhaps it was too uncomfortable to recognize that I had graduated from a drinking buddy to an enabler, someone who supported her unhealthy addiction. Perhaps I was just afraid of losing her as a friend if I confronted her demons.
When I lived with her, it was clear that she drank every day and I did too. Every day at 5 PM, I would walk to the local liquor store to purchase a cheap bottle of white wine, always under ten dollars. I would come home and we’d share it over dinner and TV, our laughter growing boisterous the more we drank.
Our habit wasn’t all that strange to me. I was only twenty-two at the time and most of the friends I had were big drinkers. And my friend and I were both Eastern European and loved to joke about the tradition of drinking within our heritage.
When I moved away from our home, my drinking habits slowly subsided. My daily glass of wine slowly shifted to a routine that happened only on the weekends, then only at parties and live music events. I returned to being a social drinker, noticing a huge shift in my tolerance.
This change within me did not highlight the unhealthy patterns in my friend. I visited her often, pouring glasses from the boxes of Franzia she kept stocked in the refrigerator.
“This is disgusting,” I’d tell her, making a face as I took a sip.
“It’s cheap,” she said.
She mixed wine with juice, and this became a reason to have it more often in the day. Sometimes, her drinking would begin as soon as she woke up, sipping a mix of orange juice and wine as she did her makeup and prepared for the day.
It was something we joked about, something I thought was a quirky aspect of a friend I loved. She was high functioning and earned a 6-figure salary in Manhattan. She took hikes and worked out at the gym. She was materialistically successful.
Perhaps that’s why I ignored the signs. I noticed how her face began to swell, but said nothing. When she fell into the drum-kit of a band we were seeing, I pulled her up and muttered a quick apology to the band members, but said nothing. I watched her open her trunk and refill her water bottle with wine while at a family gathering, but said nothing.
I witnessed all of these things, but I thought oh that’s just her. That’s how she is. It’s not a big deal.
Writing it now, it all seems so obvious, but when the truth is uncomfortable, our mind does unbelievable acts to keep it hidden from our own awareness.
What made me open my eyes?
When she crossed a boundary that severed most relationships in her life, mine included.
It was then that I realized the crucial importance of confronting our friends with honesty, and of confronting ourselves. It was then that I realized the importance of uncomfortable conversations. I realized that there are some things that cannot slide, some judgments that need to be openly made, some consequences put into action.
And though we may lose a friend, this is what a real friend does.