I’m full of questions this week…. Here’s one I’ve pondered from time to time: what is alcoholism?
Let’s start with me stating my position in terms of the wow-look-how-green-the-grass-is patch of sobriety where I stand.
I know one thing for certain, an irrefutable fact. If I take one drink – a tiny sip is enough – I cannot stop drinking. In this day and age where we all get to decide what and who we are on any given morning we wake up including gender (a grande, skinny mocca with almond milk and non-binary, please), I consider myself to be a straight (ish) woman in her best years and an alcoholic (no ish about it). To me it is an irreversible truth that I will never, ever, EVER be able to drink like a normal person. That’s cool with me. I’m a drunk and that’s just how it is.
But what is it? What is this thing that rages in me when the vino hits my blood stream and starts fucking with the receptors in my brain? AA states that it is a disease. A physical allergy, a mental obsession and a spiritual malady. Something like that. The AA teachings are very clear though, even if I don’t know if I’ve quoted the exact wording correctly, it’s a disease. A medically recognised disease. So here’s my question: why, if this is the case, would you treat it with prayer? You don’t chase away cancer with a course of serenity therapy, do you? Or any other “disease” for that matter. Still, I am on board with mental obsession and I’d probably agree with an allergic reaction too because it does feel like a combination of all of that. Spiritual malady? Sure, it is a somewhat accepted theory that amongst addicts you generally find a higher presence of mental illness, but this approaches a chicken and egg debate I couldn’t possibly begin to untangle.
Do I drink the way I do because of some predetermined disposition? Am I wired differently on a biological level or did a short circuit occur for some reason that could have been prevented? Some people get ill due to bad genes, others because of hard living and I’m sure sometimes a mixture of the two. It just seems odd to me, illogical even, to treat something that is at least in part physical (if you stick with AA’s definition) by only focusing on the psychological.
To be honest, I get the allergy concept because it’s precisely how I look on it – alcohol doesn’t work for me because I have this utterly shitty reaction to it. I also think, if I speak for myself, that there’s plenty of merit in saying it’s a mental obsession because the force with which it grabs hold of me just psychologically speaking is terrifying. But on that score, I also think it’s a little dangerous to keep repeating various ominous mantras about powerlessness because that reinforces exactly that. Think about it – if you’re told over and over that something is impossible, it becomes true. Right? I for one hold it to be true that if I have as much as a sip of wine I’m doomed. That in itself probably ensures that I’ll be doomed. Eek, now it’s beginning to sound like I’m questioning whether I’m doomed by that first little sip – I’m not. Questioning it, that is. Doomed by the first sip – yes I am, ALWAYS and without exception. I can’t question that because there’s never been a different outcome, but can you see where I’m coming from? I just like to talk about it, to ask questions and analyse it – sometimes perhaps too much, but what can I say, it interests me massively. Either way, as I mentioned, I fully accept that alcohol and I can’t be friends, not now and not ever. But it’s interesting.
In a way it makes sense to say a disease may only have one effective treatment so I can also see how AA can confidently put forward that their 12-step model is the only way to get sober. Cancer is generally treated with chemo therapy, radio therapy and/or surgery to remove cancerous growths. You wouldn’t treat it with paracetamol or antibiotics at any rate. And, again, nor would you sing or pray it away. My slight reluctance to buy into AA’s way is that their success rate is depressingly low even judging by the most encouraging statistics (and I get that not many are all that reliable, given AA’s very philosophy means no records are held). Yet they claim it is guaranteed to work if you do it right. Well, hello? The idea that it works if you work it, and if it doesn’t work for you then it’s you and not the program that’s at fault, that does not sit right with me at all. Come on, you hear of people who are in and out of rehab multiple times. To me it seems like madness to say there’s nothing wrong with the treatment and instead blame the patient. Would you prescribe antibiotics to treat the same infection several times over, still have the problem yet claim the medication works? “It works for everyone who stays in AA and does the steps” – well, no shit Sherlock.
Maybe it’ll all click for me one day and I’ll see the light, become yet another alcoholic who will tell you that I am sober because of AA. Right now that’s not the case because right now I’m sober because I don’t want to drink. For me the key has been that I finally realised the reasons I thought I had to drink were nothing but an illusion. Why would I want to pour that glass when I know it’ll do nothing for me? Maybe this is the wrong way, but how happy and healthy I feel suggests to me I’m doing something right. Maybe I’ll relapse back into the hottest part of hell, who knows, but for now I’m just going to remain grateful that some shift took place in my mind. As much as I agree with how my reaction to alcohol can be likened to an allergic reaction, I am of the opinion that most of my own problem – what makes ME an alcoholic – is in my head and things I have been brain washed to believe. I’ve just had to learn that the world isn’t quite as round as I was taught to believe, that’s all. And that’s OK.
It’ll be four months next week! On Wednesday 23rd of May 2018 I will have been sober for four glorious months and that feels amazing. It fills me with joy because at some point all of that seemed so unlikely. I am an alcoholic and although intrigued by what it is that makes it so, I suppose it really doesn’t matter. The sun rises in the east. I can begin to understand it’s connected with the Earth’s trajectory but I really cannot grasp what makes it all happen the way it does. It’s irrelevant, really. I can’t say I’ve found sobriety difficult because not drinking immediately felt so incredibly good and I got wise to the illusions that had kept me in the alcohol trap. I don’t feel deprived because I have no reasons left to drink. I don’t feel inexplicable anxiety or suffer low moods for no apparent reason because I’m no longer putting poison into my body that brings that out. The restlessness and discomfort of being slave to booze is also gone and I feel calm and peaceful. I feel like ME again and that feels fucking awesome.
As always – please do feel free to give your view, opinions, experience or perspective or whatever in response to any of my musings. I don’t claim I have all the answers, only lots of questions and things I wonder about. Sometimes the discussion itself is much more interesting than the actual answers and I am more than willing to listen – we learn new things every day and I’m not so conceited I believe I have it all figured out. If you think I’ve got the wrong end of the stick, feel free to point it out – it won’t be the first time.
Today I’m not going to drink.