At times I detest that I am an alcoholic. It’s damn inconvenient. Those are the days that it seems the whole world drinks – except me and perhaps James Frey.
I dreamt of drinking last night. That scares me a little, because in my dreams I seem to “forget” that I can’t drink. Now that’s a nightmare – an alcoholic that draws a blank on their past. Even if it is only in their dreams. I recall now that I just wanted a small glass of red wine. No we don’t need to order the bottle. A red, to accompany whatever I was eating. Harmless.
I have never actually taken a sip in my dreams, thus far. The dreams come unbidden, which may make you think that drinking is on my mind a lot. Most of the time, these days, I never think about being an alcoholic. But when I do, sometimes I resent that I cannot drink.
Lest you begin to feel sorry for me and think that I am an innocent former drinker, I must set you straight. In the end I was a falling-down drunk. I had to quit. I would have lost my life eventually. I never hit “the bottom” which some say you need to do to recover. But I got close enough that my conscience, and my husband, and God finally said enough is enough. Some people will need to hit the bottom to change. But most of us feel it building in our lives for a long time and finally one day we know. We are ready.
For more than five years I had wrestled with the knowledge that I might be addicted. I didn’t know enough about the disease to make a good call on it. But in my experience your gut is usually right. If you are wondering whether you just might be addicted to alcohol, listen to your soul. Hear the voices that talk to you late at night after drinking too much. Or the ones that pop up with the morning hangover.
Recognizing that we have a problem is a drawn-out and bit-by-bit process, at least it was for me. No one wants to think of themselves as an addict or alcoholic. Unfortunately our culture says getting addicted to it makes you weak. It is shameful and definitely not for Christ-followers! Christians do not become alcoholics, because they “trust in God.” Ironically, addiction is no respecter of race or religion or status. And all that stuff about just trust in God is bullshit.
Once I finally quit, July 17th, 2008, I have never relapsed. I’m fairly certain that is because I have a family. They are my accountability. My kids are my Program. I am intentional about talking to them about my addiction to drinking and I think it is important that they know and understand the nature of the illness is hereditary. And I am not shy about reminding them of the ugly side of drinking. When I passed out in front of them. Or threw up all over myself in the car. Those memories return for a reason and that is to help them see the unglamorous side of addiction. And remembering keeps me sober.
Seeing others who clearly struggle with drinking is a good reminder for me, but it is not a reason to stay sober. I feel pity and empathy and hope they’ll figure it out soon. Because life is beautiful sober – in full color in a way that being a drunk is living in sepia tones compared to full color, 3D. It is loneliness vs. living in community. It’s living in starvation when you can live with a full stomach. You get the idea. Living in your addiction is like living in an ugly broken-down smog filled factory. Sobriety is living in the glorious Grand Canyon!
But people do relapse and I hope you know this too is a part of the journey. A few years before I quit for good, I decided to go to counseling to “learn about addiction.” (That’s what I told myself.) I settled into about seven or eight months of not drinking, because that is what they require of you to receive alcohol counseling. I learned all I could about the issue.
Near the end of my time I asked my counselor if she thought I could be a social drinker. You know, if I wasn’t “up for” quitting. I could still not imagine my life without alcohol. I loved alcohol. I didn’t go through a day without thinking about it or craving it. I wasn’t giving in to it right then, but after seven months of sobriety I thought I was “strong” and got the notion in my head that I would simply be “a social drinker.” I would just stick with one or two drinks in any given setting and definitely not drink at home. I would be okay. My counselor answered the question like this: “If you continue to drink socially, I predict I’ll see you back here in three or four years.” Yeah right, I was thinking, not me. She does not know me.
She may not have known me, but she knew an addict when she saw one. It took about one year – Yes, that was all it took for me to fall on my face literally and figuratively. I remember walking out of there, thinking “At least I’ll enjoy the next three years.” That was how seductive alcohol was for me at the time. I did not believe AT ALL that I could be happy or have joy without alcohol in my life.
I walked out of that building full of the idea that I hadn’t been drunk for a good long time, so it would be easy to limit. Or at least it would take a while for the problem to present itself. Honestly, I didn’t really care either way. I was just glad that I could still drink.
Oh, it presented itself alright! More strongly than ever. With a vengeance.
I do wish that I could drink. It still lures me. It teases and ultimately lies to me that it is a simple thing to drink. But those lies I can overcome and made my peace with in time. I stop them as soon as they pop in my head. And remind myself that I and my life are worthy of my sobriety.
Sober people are some of the most brave people I know. And that includes me.
If you or someone you love ever wants to talk confidentially with me about this, I am glad to do it. I can only share my experience. The answer is different for each person. But knowing that you are not alone is important.
Here’s something I wrote two years ago about being an addict.