#4 “What’s the worst thing that would happen if you aren’t alcoholic and you quit drinking anyway?”
Quitting drinking sounds simple, but is actually complicated. It’s not just about stopping one habit, it’s a process of changing cultures. You switch from the drinking, smoking, carefree side of society to the sober, healthy, conscientious side. It’s uncomfortable and it takes a lot of work.
Because the nature of a drinking problem makes it difficult to see you have one. Now I’m sober I can pinpoint dozens of signs that booze was an issue, way back in my teens, but at the time I was oblivious. Strike that, I was proud. Drinking was part of my identity from the very first swig.
Twenty years later, regularly suffering hangovers and drunken domestic drama, I still had no idea my drinking was an issue.
Addiction is a disease nurtured by denial. Which is why you are one of the lucky ones if you are invited to escape it. I was lucky in this way, and it was mostly the comments of my friends that offered me a way out.
Here are the sentences that pierced my denial and allowed me to find a better way to live.
1. “You don’t still stay up all night drinking do you?”
This was a friend from my MA. A woman I respected, and who I had never drunk seriously with. Although I loved this person, I never felt entirely comfortable with her, and looking back I can see this was because of my drinking.
She had come to visit me, and I had the kind of hangover that leaves you gasping for breath every time you stand. Any other friend I would have canceled, but this friend was entirely unflakey. Her word was her bond and I admired that, though it intimidated me too.
In fact, she often made me feel inadequate, with her intellect and her clear-sightedness. How did she do it? I wondered.
We were walking around the city and I was trying to show her a good time, but I felt awful, and so I had to admit that I was ill from too much alcohol.
And that’s when she said it.
“You don’t still stay up all night drinking do you?”
It was the genuinely curious nature of the question. The way she hadn’t considered it as a possibility before. And the stark contrast of this perspective with mine, which was that, Yes, of course, I still stayed up all night drinking. Didn’t everyone?
“No, of course not,” I lied. And I felt resentful because I felt ashamed.
But her comment had hit a target I didn’t know resided in me. There was a different way to live and she was proof of it. My mind played the comment over and over again.
2. “The merry-go-round of denial.”
Okay, so this isn’t a comment. I read it on a pamphlet someone handed me at an Al-Anon meeting. I was there in tears, desperate to try and make my boyfriend quit drinking. He was my first love and we’d recently gotten back together, and our relationship was failing again, for the same reasons, because of his drinking.
I was the first person to admit I liked a drink, but booze didn’t make me turn nasty. He went to the dark side when he was drunk. And that was the problem.
Somehow I ended up with a leaflet in my hand that described my experience exactly. It explained the doublespeak of addiction. The way that you can never get a straight answer from an alcoholic. How it becomes impossible to arrive at the truth.
Because when the alcoholic says they are never going to drink again, they mean it.
For the first time I saw that I had a role in this dysfunction. Every time he lied to me, I fell for it. Now, I understood why. Because when he lied to me, he was telling the truth. That is the nature of alcoholism.
3. “The only requirement is a desire to stop drinking.”
Soon after my foray in Al-Anon, I went to an AA meeting. I had another killer hangover and was reeling from another doozy with my boyfriend. I knew I couldn’t keep living this way, but I also didn’t really believe I was an alcoholic.
I told this to anyone who asked.
“My drinking isn’t that bad,” I insisted.
Always suspicious-sounding from a newcomer at an AA meeting. And the friendly strangers I met nodded and smiled and handed me pamphlets and phone numbers.
“My drinking is actually better than it ever has been,” I added, bewildered. Because it was true. As a teen, I was frequently off my rocker. These days I only blacked out once or twice a year!
“The only requirement is a desire to stop drinking,” someone said to me, reciting one of AA’s traditions, though I didn’t know it then.
A door of opportunity opened. I realized that this program was here for me if I wanted it. All I needed was a desire to stop drinking. And didn’t I have that?
4. “What’s the worst thing that would happen if you aren’t alcoholic and you quit drinking anyway?”
After that meeting, I got drunk a few more times, before I found myself back there. Hungover and defeated again. I met a smart American woman who took me under her wing. She invited me for coffee and told me her drinking story.
I nodded along, relating heavily, but I still couldn’t get over that big word. I couldn’t honestly identify as ‘an alcoholic’. But then, she did, and her drinking sounded quite a lot like mine. It was confusing. “What’s the worst thing that would happen if you aren’t alcoholic and you quit drinking anyway?” she asked, and I shrugged.
“People would laugh at me?”
“And?” she said, and I couldn’t answer. And what?
It wasn’t the end of the world to be laughed at, though it felt like it sometimes, back then. If I could tolerate people not understanding, I could solve my biggest problem.
5. “Addiction is the only disease that tells you that you don’t have it.”
My brain exploded the first time I heard this. How deeply it explained my experience. Because two or three days after the desperate hangover took me to AA, I laughed at the idea of myself having a drinking problem.
Me, an alcoholic? Absurd!
But hadn’t I taken myself to the meeting? Twice? Hadn’t I agonized over how I was ever going to end this habit of getting smashed and acting like an asshole?
The merry-go-round named denial pamphlet explained the doublespeak inside my head. It allowed me to begin to see how addiction worked within my mind and drove my thoughts.
6. “Just don’t drink today.”
No burgeoning alcoholic wants to imagine their life without beer forever. Like everyone who gets sober, I clung to the ‘one day at a time’ mantra as though it were a life ring. Which, of course, it was. Maybe I’ll drink tomorrow, I’d tell myself as I eyed cold beer thirstily. But I won’t drink today. If you need help to stop drinking you’re not alone.
If you’re ready to try something different, try my alcohol experiment.
Do whatever it takes to stay sober for 30 days: go to your doctor, try Smart or AA or Hip Sobriety or Soberistas. Read beautiful hangover. Listen to Recovery Elevator and SHAIR podcasts. Read This Naked Mind.
There is a whole community of people waiting to help you. Reach out. Something better is waiting.
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