Saturday, May 29, 2010


One of the exercises alcoholics and addicts are required to complete early in the treatment program I'm working my way through is to plot our alcohol or drug use during our lives.

A general outline of my drinking timeline:

I didn't start drinking regularly until after my 21st birthday (although I attended some parties when I was underage, the frequency was much less than once a week). In college, after I turned 21, I would generally drink two to three times per week, and prided myself (after a few painful experiences) in monitoring my consumption to avoid losing control and suffering through the inevitable consequences. After going on active duty, I was generally limiting my alcohol consumption to Friday and Saturday nights to avoid interfering with work. When I did a remote tour for a year up at Thule, Greenland, I started drinking about four nights a week, but reduced my consumption to 2 - 3 times a week after I returned and was stationed in England. My consumption dropped off for a while after my daughter was born, and after I was stationed at Offutt, I would drink only on the weekends I wasn't on alert. After I separated from the Air Force I took about a nine month sabbatical before starting work again. It was during this period that my drinking expanded to a nearly daily occurrence, although I only drank beer (and occasionally wine), and paced my drinking to avoid getting "drunk" (At least as I defined "drunk". I didn't buy into those ads that say "Buzzed driving is drunk driving.") About a year and half ago, I started drinking martinis and gin & tonics, primarily because my wife was starting to question the amount of beer I was drinking, and I felt like it would be easier to hide my alcohol consumption with hard licquor. After I lost my job last May, and during my unemployment, my consumption increased. Eventually, I switched to Jagermeister because I could drink it straight, started hiding bottles in the garage and in my truck, and would "sneak" out to take a drink.

So, when did I start behaving like an alcoholic? Certainly, during the past couple of years, an outside observer of my drinking habits would have been likely to think I had a drinking problem, and by the time I started hiding my "stash", I was exhibiting all of the behaviors of an alcoholic. Drinking, then driving...heck, drinking while driving. Stopping at a bar on the way home, having a couple of martinis, then downing half of a 750 mL bottle of Jagermeister. Withdrawing from everyone around me, and drinking in private at home. The list could go on and on...

Looking at my drinking patterns with the benefit of hindsight, it's very clear to me that I have behaved like an alcoholic from the time I had my first drink, even though a casual observer may not have considered me a heavy drinker. What I can see in my drinking timeline is that every time I didn't have a reason to not drink, I drank. Another thing that stands out in my self-evaluation is that I "managed" my drinking to make sure I got what I needed out of alcohol; no more, and no less. I would almost always drink a few drinks before going out to maintain the appearance that I was a "moderate" drinker. I went out to drink, not to hang out with friends. Spending time with friends was nice, but their companionship was a secondary benefit; their primary purpose was to serve as props and provide the illusion of normalcy.

Most of the people going through treatment with me are there because a judge has ordered them to go, usually after a DWI or an alcohol-related traffic accident. Others failed drug tests at work, and are required to complete treatment to avoid losing their jobs. Only three out of fifteen or so people are there voluntarily, and one of those "voluntary" patients is in treatment for the second time, relapsing after completing the first, involuntary treatment. As for myself, I am in treatment voluntarily, but I had to get smacked on the head pretty hard (figuratively, of course) to sober up enough to recognize that my problem was more than just a temporary stint of overdrinking (at some point, I'll tell that part of the story, but I'm not quite there, yet).

How nice it would have been if I could have recognized my disease before it gained so much control over my life and caused so much damage. How nice it would be if recovery was full of people eager to find treatment for this chronic, debilitating, progressive and often fatal disease while it is in its early stages. Unfortunately, alcoholism is such a successful killer because it turns the alcoholic against him or herself. "Denial becomes an integral part of the disease and a major obstacle to recovery." (Quoted from the link above.)

Even recently, with evidence of my lack of control mounting, I was unwilling to accept the "alcoholic" label. Showing up at the retirement home where I volunteer lit up like a Christmas tree...yeah, that demonstrated poor judgement. Passing out on the bathroom floor when I was home alone with my six-year old daughter...incredibly stupid and irresponsible, but I'd be more careful in the future. Drinking a 200 mL bottle of Jagermeister during the drive in to work...a bit reckless, I guess. Stumbling over to my neighbors and slurring something vague that I couldn't fully recollect in the morning...not a great way to make friends. Sure, I knew my drinking was getting out of control. But an alcoholic? Me? No way. All I needed to do was demonstrate a little will power and change my drinking habits. I wanted the easy fix. I was deeply in denial. How much had I had to drink? Only a couple...I was fine. I was lying to everyone, most significantly myself.

Admitting to yourself that you're an alcoholic is necessary to find treatment. I admitted to myself two weeks ago that I am an alcoholic.

Accepting that you are an alcoholic is something completely different, and is the necessary first step for recovery. Accepting that you are an alcoholic means that you fully acknowledge that even a single drink will restart the cycle of destruction; there are no loopholes. Many people who enter treatment because they have to (because of legal problems or to keep their jobs) may admit that they're an alcoholic or addict, but don't truly accept it. They will drink or use again. Maybe not for a month, or a year, or even longer...but, they will drink or use again. If they're lucky, maybe something will put them back into treatment before they kill somebody else or themselves.

Although I had admitted that I am an alcoholic, I was still looking for that loophole. Surely, at some point, after sobriety became my norm, I could have a glass of wine with Christmas dinner, or drink a single beer with my friends. Now that I understood I have a disease, I could find a way to manage it. Loopholes...the mind of the alcoholic is always trying to find them.

Friday, I had an appointment with my psychiatrist, who is helping me to navigate recovery. I was feeling good. I like being sober. I was optimistic, cheerful, talkative. After six months of stonewalling and excuses, I was ready to let her help me. Then, on the way home, I thought about stopping at the gas station on the corner to get a soda and bag of chips. This particular gas station is a gas station I have stopped at many times after my appointments to buy a bottle of Jagermeister, and they have those convenient little single-shot bottles of Jagermeister by the cash register. As soon as I thought of that, I knew that if I walked into that store, I would walk out with one (or two) of those little bottles. "After all, it's only one's not like you'll get drunk," the voice in my head said. I knew that if I listened to that voice, I would buy some mini-bottles again in a few days, and eventually move on to the larger bottles. My hands started to shake, and I drove right past. I could not trust myself to walk into a store!

There are no loopholes.

Two weeks ago, I admitted I am an alcoholic, and sought help.

Friday, I accepted that I am an Alcoholic, and started my recovery.

"I will try to help others. I will not let a day pass without reaching out an arm of love to someone. Each day I will try to do something to lift another human being out of the sea of discouragements into which he or she has fallen. My helping hand is needed to raise the helpless to courage, to strength, to faith, to health. In my own gratitude, I will turn and help other alcoholics with the burden that is pressing too heavily upon them." - from Twenty-Four Hours a Day, Hazelden Meditations (Hazelden, 1992)

1 comment:

  1. Keep it up we are proud of you. Look forward to your updates.