As I sometimes do, I read through my last blog post on Friday later that day. It’s terrible really how I call myself a writer yet click on ‘publish’ without proof reading and as a result often discover typos and stuff much later. I made quite a staggering statement within the post and only realised afterwards that this needed more thought: “I wasn’t born an alcoholic”.
What I know is this:
- Something happens in me when I take a drink that doesn’t appear to happen in most other people.
- I lose control completely.
- My drinking spirals quickly.
- I don’t think I’ve EVER been able to drink in moderation. I have that first drink and it renders me powerless – it is NOTHING to do with will power or strength, I quite literally cannot do anything about the force that is set in motion with that first drink.
- I become someone else when I drink that I don’t recognise when I’m sober.
- Unlike most other people, even when I have had a huge amount of alcohol, I don’t throw up and I keep going even after my brain has switched off the memory function in order to keep me alive (aka black-out).
- Drinking spirals in a way that has a devastating impact on my abilities – I basically spend my days too hungover to do more than barely function.
- The level of drinking in terms of the amount of alcohol I quickly escalate to is defined as “suicidal drinking” – this is how dangerous it is to drink the way I do.
There are probably more – many more – things to add to this list, but basically the bottom line is that I don’t drink like most people I know. Even one of the biggest drinkers I know, Poppy, doesn’t put away anywhere near the quantities I do and she also seems to choose when she stops. I can’t. I’m not saying that to shift the blame in any way or to make you feel sorry for me. I honestly cannot stop when I start. Something happens that I can’t explain and I’m sucked into a menacing, black storm cloud. I have NEVER poured the first drink with the intention of drinking myself to oblivion, yet I have NEVER managed to stop it going exactly that way. It’s dark and it’s terrifying. In my own opinion, which is based on over a decade of very thorough research (aka being a piss-head), I am utterly and completely powerless over alcohol. It has always been that way for me, from the very start and from the very first time I ever drank.
So to say “I wasn’t born an alcoholic” is a very troublesome statement to make because clearly there is something that somehow makes me different to most other people when it comes to alcohol, right? What happens to me doesn’t happen to hubby. Nor does it happen to Poppy or anyone else in my circle of friends who aren’t part of my sobriety tribe. In my tribe, however, most if not all claim this is true for them too. So what is it? What the HELL is it? If it’s not in our wiring, what is it that we have developed or acquired along the way that others didn’t? It would make a lot more sense that those of us who develop alcoholism were different somehow on a physical, biological level. AA defines alcoholism as ‘a physical allergy, a mental obsession and a spiritual malady‘. Via AA I also came to understand that an alcoholic is someone who cannot stop drinking if they start and at its most basic level this is why I do define myself as an alcoholic. It’s 100% true for me and what I consider the biggest difference between myself and a non-alcoholic. I genuinely cannot stop if I take that first drink and I can tell you this with unflinching conviction after a lifetime of trying to control it only to discover that this has never, EVER been possible.
For me, it’s like trying to defy the laws of nature. No more can I stop drinking or control how much I drink after the first one than I would be able to stop falling if I threw myself out of a high rise building. “Oh, I’ll stop falling after three floors.” Not gonna happen. Gravity means I’ll only fall faster and faster and I’ll fall until I hit the ground. That’s what alcoholism is for me – as undeniable as a law of nature.
So was I, or wasn’t I, born this way?
How I lose control would suggest that yes, I was. I don’t recall ever being able to control drinking and before I really spiralled into heavy boozing I was still a chaotic drinker. So I can’t say my powerlessness over alcohol is something that developed with time or got increasingly more problematic the more I drank. It was there from day one. My inability to control alcohol was as blatant the first time I drank in 1989 as it was the last time in January 2018. Sure, the last 13-ish years in that time span were severe and extreme, but my lack of control was never any different. I have never been able to drink in moderation and it’s nothing to do with choice because I just don’t have that choice after the first drink. It’s nothing to do with will power. I can say no to the first but I can’t say no to the seventh. I lose the ability to choose, I lose my free will and I say that because I have never voluntarily drunk myself into black-out. Drinking myself to oblivion has never once been my aim, and yet it’s what always happens. It’s not my choice, nor is it my will. So is it something physical?
Alcohol is an anaesthetic and many of us drink to numb how we feel. In many ways, this would make perfect sense in my case because I am a very emotional person. Everything I feel, I feel strongly and I always have. But no, I have never knowingly drunk to numb how I feel. Quite the opposite, actually. Alcohol was always an enhancer for me. So to say it was in anyway a crutch, coping strategy or self-medication simply isn’t accurate for me. Numbing pain was not my reason for drinking. So in my haze after nine glasses of wine, I don’t have a tenth because I’m hurting.
So I know I don’t drink because I lack will power and I know I don’t drink because I’m hurting. I also know that I don’t drink to fit in or to please other people. I’m a headstrong, stubborn woman and whilst I’m bragging I’ll also tell you I’m stronger than Hercules. I’d whip his ass. It’s not a matter of strength, this thing. So if it isn’t an issue of will power or strength or pain….. WHAT THE FUCK IS IT?!??
You know, perhaps I’ll be sitting here in 30 years and ask you the same question still. I’d love to know the answer. I suppose until the time an all encompassing, comprehensive and clear answer does appear, what remains important is this: I’m an alcoholic and therefore I can’t fucking drink. That’s cool though, I’m happy with this – more than happy. It interests me hugely, but matters very little where it comes from and how it came to be. All I know is that it’s there – or here, rather, in me – and what that means for me.
Thankfully, sobriety has proved to be the best thing I’ve ever done for myself and I can honestly tell you I don’t miss drinking one bit. There was a discussion on a sobriety forum over the past few days about Naltextrone. This is a medication to treat and/or control alcohol and opiate abuse and there are people who swear by it. I never thought I’d hear myself say this, because I spent my whole adult life trying to learn how to moderate my drinking and this does sound like a magical solution, but here it is: even if someone handed me a pill with the promise that if I took it, I’d be able to drink like a normal person….. No thank you. I can’t see the point and the reason I can’t is because I realised that alcohol never did any of the things I thought it did for me. It didn’t enhance my mood further, nor did it make fun more fun or happy happier. None of those things were true. All it is, is a shitty poison that numbs me and why the fuck would I want that even if I could “enjoy” it in smaller (aka normal) quantities? Nope. Thanks but no thanks.
Funny, actually, because we had Bonus #1 and Bonus #2 with us over the weekend (i.e. my stepsons) and they asked how I was getting on with the non-drinking. We ended up talking about not drinking at social events and I realised what I said only when it fell off my tongue:
“Well, I find social gatherings uncomfortable and boring because I’m an introvert and prefer quiet. If I drink at a social event it just means it’s still uncomfortable and boring, but now I’m drunk.”
True story, folks.
I believe there are many, many ways to get sober and because we’re human, different things work for different people. So I’m never going to stand here and tell you that the way I got sober is THE way or the ONLY way. No way (see what I did there). Explore and find what’s right for you. And because I mentioned Naltextrone, you can learn more about it by watching ‘One Little Pill’ – trailer here:
And Claudia Christian on Tedx Talks here:
Uhm, it might now seem like I’m on some kind of commission deal for peddling Naltextrone, which I’m obviously not. I’m just sharing stuff other people in my tribe swear by, and if it’s helped some people then it might help others too. It doesn’t appeal to me because I don’t actually want to drink so although I find all of this very interesting – intriguing even – it’s not something I feel would be worth trying. It’d be as pointless as taking a pill that’d enable me to drink arsenic and I can’t see any reason to do that either. Had you put this to me a few years ago, however, then the idea that I could keep drinking yet dodge the consequences and black-outs might have seemed like all my dreams come true! Not now though. Not anymore.
Today I’m not going to drink.