I stayed sober, clean, free today. That should be a great thing. Was I free? I felt shackled. Is it a great thing that I stayed sober one measly day? 24 little hours? No. Scratch that. 21 hours. Ha. Great why? I sit here in Starbucks – again. Typing – again. Skipping A.A. – again. I have not gone for three days.
From October until a week ago, I went to one or two meetings every day I was not in hospital. Every. Day. Now I’m skipping three days in a row. That does not bode well for the future. I am just so burned out with six months of meetings, and me constantly relapsing. The relapsing is all my fault. Well mine and the addiction.
Addiction’s fancy name is Alcohol Use Disorder. When I was a kid, people were just labeled drunks or alcos. Well in Ireland it was more forgiving than that. Back in the day. He’s just fond of the drink. She’s a little bit of a problem. Not: He’s a raging alcoholic. Not: She has a disease that is progressive and fatal. If she does not stop she will die.
It’s so easy from the outside. Looking In. Looking Down On. Even while I was drinking seven days a week, usually blacking out ever single one, eating only one meal a day, skinniest I ever was, breaking limbs, needing stitches: I looked down. How ridiculous is that? How stupid. Looking at myself in others, but not seeing. Blind to myself. I knew I was fond of the drink, had a little bit of a problem, but no way was I an alcoholic. They were dirty looking old men, and women with wrinkled red faces and bloodshot eyes. Just wait baby – it can all be yours, for the small price of… getting wasted every day.
Even now there is doubt. Am I really an alcoholic? Nah. I can’t be. The last five times I drank I did not end up in hospital. I did not injure myself. I remember most of what happened. Is that the measurement? Not going to hospital? Only blacking out a wee bit. I am forty. That is not acceptable drinking. In fact, it is never acceptable, but young people do things, and test the waters. Most grow out of it. Those who don’t are probably alcoholics, drunks, bums, winos. Choose your word. It doesn’t matter.
In the end we’re all addicts. No one likes that word. In the medical and mental health community, my disease is called substance use disorder, alcohol being the substance. Others in the field describe me as being an addict, with alcohol being my drug of choice. I have met addicts of almost everything imaginable: alcohol, pot, cocaine, heroin, benzodiazepines (prescription anti-anxiety meds)… I have more in common with them, and can relate to them better, than with almost anyone else I know. Our addictions feel the same. We all do stupid things to obtain and stay on our substances. We all have cravings for our drug, urges to use. We have all lied to loved-ones, to maintain our deadly habit. We all have been ashamed, and in denial simultaneously.
I went to my first A.A. meeting when I was nearly 38 years old. I had crossed a line I never thought I would, and swore off drink. Many of us swear off alcohol after a rough night. This was different. I knew I would stay off it. I also knew I wasn’t an alcoholic, but thought I might pick up some tips by going to A.A. Ha. I’ll just read the cliff notes of alcoholism, and I’ll be all set! I did not think I was an alcoholic that whole seventeen months I was sober. I broke it by drinking on my own in a bar, harming myself, and ending in hospital. It is a pattern I would repeat, over and over, for five months. I have been chronically relapsing ever since May – eleven months later.
I finally admitted I was an alcoholic six months ago. Here am I sitting in Starbucks – again – doubting myself – again. Maybe I have issues (whatever the fuck that means) or a slight problem, but I can handle this if I just keep my consumption to six beers, one bottle of wine. I can’t do liquor though, because there is too much alcohol in the bottle. I might drink it all once I open it. Hey! Idiot! Listen to what you just said! You. Cannot. Drink. Liquor. Because you can’t control your intake. HEY ALCO. Wake up! You’re screwed. You still think you’re not a drunk? That makes you one.
Trying to limit your intake to three drinks a night, but failing miserably – EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. That makes you one too. Addict. Having the weekend going from Friday and Saturday, to include Thursday, then Sunday, and Wednesday, then Monday. Just before that seventeen month sober stint, you were drinking six days a week, telling yourself those days were kind of, sort of, near the weekend-ish. Bullshit.
So what’s the plan Batman? Are you doing this sober shit for realzies? Are you going to keep fucking up? And blaming some external force, until it’s too late. Death by idiocy. Any logical person would have stopped years ago. Alcoholism is not logical. Alcoholics are slaves to the booze. Yes we can win, but we will always be addicts. We will never be able to safely pick up a drink. NEVER. We like to fool ourselves though. If I just stay sober for a while, I can go back on it at a lower rate.
People close to me have said at various times:
* If you just drank one or two you’d be fine. You should do that.
* You’re not an alcoholic. You don’t have to drink every day. You don’t get withdrawal symptoms.
* It’s not like you’re a drug addict or anything.
* Alcoholics and addicts are selfish and weak.
You know what:
* I cannot drink just one or two. Alcoholics have a different brain structure, and a physical and mental compulsion takes over. This is not the same as a normie (as us A.As call you folk).
* People do not have to be chemically dependent to be alcoholics. They have the compulsion to drink, and have the allergic reaction to drink causing them to continue using in the face of severe repercussions.
* It is the exact same as a drug addiction. The only difference is that alcohol consumption is legal at the age of twenty one (in The U.S.). It ruins people’s lives just as much as illegal drugs.
* We can be selfish and weak, but giving up a substance is not just a matter of willpower. It is not like giving up cursing for lent.
So as I sit here in Starbucks, wondering if I can give up. For good. Forever. Do I want to? No. Not really. I do. I don’t. I love my family and want to get better for them. For me – I don’t give a shit. Drinking is easier than not drinking. It gets rid of the anxiety, the pain. It is truly the easy way out. I love easy. Easy is the best. But also not easy.! When I drink,I leave a trail of destruction in my wake. All treatment programs say you have to want to give up for yourself, not others. Therefore am I doomed?
The pain of dying from this disease would be horrendous. I don’t want that. And I do want to be there for my children. It is not just a ‘should’ – an I ‘should’ stay alive for them. I love watching them grow – even though they drive me nuts! I get so excited when they go through a new phase in their lives. The small stuff: knowing how to write, atrocious spelling, but writing nonetheless; helping their siblings by choice, not because mammy made them; first sleepovers; getting their first bras.
There are so many more things I have to see. I want to see them grow and change, while I am sober. No drunk mom. No hungover mom. My youngest said yesterday, as I sipped on a beer, “Mom, don’t drink too many or you’ll have to go back to hospital.” Now, I rarely drink in front of them, and am never drunk in front of them. No one has told them I am a drunk. We have educated them about the dangers of alcohol, however. From a very early age. She knows that unhealthy things make people go to hospital. She also wanted me not to eat chocolate, so I wouldn’t have to go back in. You can see her logic, which is quite smart. However, hearing your five your old tell you not to drink too much, whatever the concern behind it, is a wake up call. Will it be enough for me to stop? Will I just hide it more from her?
I have changed my habits since breaking the seventeen month dry period. I used never drink alone. Since May last year, almost every time has been alone. I hide my bottles. I have a few swings of wine, or a beer, in the basement, so that I have already started, knowing I will be compelled to keep going. That is the goal. To make myself drink. To make myself drunk enough to feel free. To feel not like me. Me is hard. Me is in pain. Me is confused. Me wants an escape. Me is looking to cop-out.
I am still in Starbucks. It is 21:44. It closes in 16 minutes. I wish it stayed open another hour. I am not finished avoiding my life. I know everyone will be asleep when I get home. I have an appointment with my psychiatrist tomorrow at 08:00. I am nervous. Should I tell him or not? Of course I should. Will I? I know I will. I am always honest in the end. So I have to get up early to shower, dress, drive in rush hour traffic downtown, and chill in another Starbucks (probably writing) until the appointment.
I have bumped into my shrink in that Starbucks a couple of times. I hope I don’t run into him tomorrow. I hate the feeling that I’m about to have an important conversation with you, but shoot the breeze with half an hour earlier. Obviously we’re not going have a consultation in Starbucks. Now there’s an idea. Doctor’s appointments in Starbucks! My new business model.
Sarcasm. Humor. They are great defense mechanisms. Don’t look at the man behind the curtain, just listen to me joking around. I am known for my sense of humor. It gets even better when I’m drunk. It’s the ultimate ‘forget your issues’ method. A double whammy. Drink and humor. Fun on the outside, choking on the inside.
Tomorrow is fast approaching. I’m wondering when I can fit in an A.A. meeting. Of course I can fit one in. Let’s not pretend it’s about scheduling issues. I am unemployed. I do not have that many appointments. I like to tell myself I have.
So today I am sober. It is one day I did not drink. It is better than none. None is hollow. Take things one day at a time. It is such a cliché, but it often works. You can’t have a drink today. Just today. You can have one tomorrow. Tomorrow becomes today, and you say the same. You string together a week, a month, a year, a decade, a lifetime of sobriety. You have chosen life.
Alcoholism is never cured. You can be in remission, but the wolf is always at the door. Waiting to pounce if you don’t keep your eye on the ball. A.As say “Meeting Makers make it.” To quote a fellow A.A. “It is step takers that make it.” It is not enough to go to meetings. I have shown that. I have gone endlessly and still relapsed. People who works the 12 steps make it. Data has shown time and time again that A.A. works. It is the most successful treatment for alcoholism. Those who stop attending meetings have a much higher rate of relapse. They try to go it alone, and fail.
So in the end, all I have to do is go to meetings, and work the steps. That will keep me sober. No problem. It feels insurmountable at the moment. I hope in time, and with a huge effort on my part, it will become easier and easier. I will always have to fight for my sobriety. Being sober isn’t easy, but what is the alternative? Nothing.