Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Disease Concept

Both of my 29 year old twin daughters are currently living with me.  This is an odd development.  I lost custody of my children when my girls were 12 or 13.  The one with the "problem" came to live with me the moment she started showing signs of being a problem child at the age of 15.  This, after a years-long custody battle costing thousands and thousands of dollars.  This, after I had been proven, beyond the shadow of a doubt, to be a horrible mother, drunk or sober.   But I digress...

My daughters are now 29.  One of them is currently working on her master's degree, works in the same building I do, and came to live with me so that she could save money to take a trip to Europe.  The trip is over, and now she is looking for a house to buy.  It is fine with me that she is living here.  

The other one has had a terrible problem with methamphetamine since she was 15 years old.  She has been addicted to that terrible drug - with long periods of abstinence in between.  She has not used it since she went into rehab in May of this year.  She has, however, been drinking.  She is NOT addicted to alcohol.  She is absolutely unable to drink in any way even remotely resembling "normally,"  which is what I call alcoholism.  But she does not drink every day.  She does not ever know when her next drunk is going to appear on her doorstep.  I can tell you that one showed up last night, but I digress...  

In our rush to embrace everyone and discriminate against none, and also create treatment programs, plans, and books to sell to the masses, we have tried to lump addiction and alcoholism into one formless mass.  It doesn't work.  

Alcoholism ≠ Addiction.  (for those not statistically inclined ≠ means "does not equal.")
They sometimes coincide, but they are not the same thing.  

I happened to be an alcoholic who drank every day.  Therefore I was not only an alcoholic, but I was an alcohol addict.  This is not the case for every alcoholic.  And I do not believe that every alcohol addict is necessarily an alcoholic.  The big book even tells us that there are heavy drinkers who can quit if they have adequate motivation.  But if you are an alcoholic, motivation has very little to do with quitting.  I had motivation galore, but it didn't get me to quit drinking. I believe that is because I have a disease called alcoholism.  The big book describes it.

But we go out and buy books to describe it better.  Newer books without the archaic language of the big book.  We now cough up our money for books with flowery language about what wonderful people we are, how very complex and interesting we are, how flawed we are, but it isn't our fault!  The big book is all about ego deflation, but ego deflation is not a big marketing tool if you are looking to sell a book.  

So my daughter called me last night to say that she was on her way to a meeting at York Street.  Well, this is music to my ears, but I have known this girl for a long time.  I said something like "that sounds nice, it doesn't sound like the truth, but it sounds nice."  Later she sent me a sad text "I've been drinking so I'm not coming home.  I'm sorry."  Those couple of words just scream heartbreak.  I feel so bad for her.  She was so sure she was done drinking.  She has a hard time believing she is an alcoholic because she doesn't drink every day.  She is a binge drinker.  When she drinks, it is not pretty.  God alone knows what happened last night.  And it is between my daughter and God.  I am not part of this equation.  

About a year ago, her "nice" boyfriend wanted desperately for her to quit meth.  Well, so did I.  She needed a clean UA to get into some rehab or another, so she quit for a few days.   But she drank instead.  This nice man, who has spent his life in law enforcement, was amazed to tell me that he would almost rather see her on meth than drinking.  Well, me too.  

There is so much misinformation out there about addiction, alcoholism, "twelve-step programs," the disease concept, recovery, Alcoholics Anonymous, and various treatment schemes.  It wouldn't really matter if it weren't a matter of life and death, but for alcoholics, it is a matter of life and death.  

When people alter the truth just a smidge to sell a book, they may make a dollar or two, but how many people are they killing?  Do they care?  When we sit in an AA meeting and say that addiction and alcoholism are the same, how many people are we killing?  Do we care?

When we lump them together, only a few can relate.  

I get e-mails from people who know they have a problem with alcohol, but they aren't addicted to alcohol, and therefore don't think there is an answer for them.  How sad is that?  

About a year ago I wrote a post called "Why do people hate AA?"  It has been interesting to see the comments that has provoked.  Some of the comments make sense.  But I think most are based on misunderstanding.  And that is sad to me.  

We have a beautiful program.  I think we should respect that and try to protect it instead of bastardizing it to fit some self-serving agenda.  


Pam said...

yeah right, like I'm supposed to be able to fit everything in this little comment box ;)
sigh...ya know I'm singing in the same choir.
I go to three meetings a week in a rehab facility. It's so hard to hear the poor patients who come in on vicodin and xanex sitting in AA meetings because their treatment team told them that a drug is a drug is a drug.
That if they drink that they will simply switch addictions etc. And their families buy into that crap.
I wish they would just tell them the truth.
If you abuse drugs-legal or otherwise-it is a very bad idea to put a mind altering substance (such as alcohol) into your body...very bad. For all kinds of reasons that won't fit into this box.
This does not make you an alcoholic.
Yes, alcohol is a very very bad idea for an addict and there is no recovery from drugs as long as alcohol is in your life.....BUT THAT DOES NOT MAKE YOU AN ALCOHOLIC. IT MAKES YOU AN ADDICT WHO CAN NOT PUT ANY MIND ALTERING SUBSTANCES WHAT SO EVER IN YOUR BODY!
:0 love ya little aa alspice.

wendy said...

I am not sure if I can relate to your side of this story, but I can easily relate to your daughter's side of the story. especially never knowing when the next drunk will come and the heartbreak.

I hope she is doing OK this morning and I hope that she finds her way to a meeting where she is welcome despite not being a daily drinker. She will be in my thoughts.

Cat said...

My husband drank every day - he had to or his hands would shake. he had to in order to feel normal he told me. I am so grateful that he embraced AA and is making his life work without the drink.

Findon said...

This is a most powerful post. First Things First. Mary I hope you take care of Yourself first. I think this is the absolute top priority. I didn't drink everyday, but most days. The thing with me was, when I picked a drink up I could not guarantee how it would end. I agree with you the AA message has been so watered down. I keep saying to people in my meetings. " It's more important for us to be liked by someone, so we refrain from telling them the truth, straight and to their face. If they drink they will die. We would rather kill them than not be liked by them " Now that's just plain wrong. Keep sharing Mary. You're helping me keep sober.

♥Shann♥ said...

Hey, MC, I am sorry to hear about your daughter and will keep her in my prayers.
I came from the school of " a drug is a drug is a drug" and what I took that to mean was, that if you were to be clean and sober, that meant, no alcohol, no drugs! I knew lots of people who were on what we called the Marijuana maintenance program, that was f%&ked up! I also knew people that you are talking about or Pam rather, that didn't have a problem with alcohol, just drugs, But they did have a problem with alcohol, that just wasn't their drug of choice. I personaly think the addiction and alcoholism are the same in the fact, that we become powerless over them and our lives truly unmanageable. I think depends on the drug or the alcohol you take, there are different symptoms, and some defineatly more severe than others. Again, depends on the drug or alcohol and there are different behaviors that manifest too... I have seen it, lived it, and still see it today. Maybe I am wrong here...Drug addiction, alcohol addiction, and alcoholism, to me, yea they mean the same the thing, your fucked if you keep doing drugs, and or keep drinking, your fucked and those around you get to watch front row.
I know there are different programs too, AA, NA, CA, MA, GA EA, OA fuckin A, its the same principles, of getting sober, or becoming abstinent from that addiction... hmmm I am gonna do some more research on this. I am glad you brought this up. I hope you don't take this like I am arguing with you, just voicing a different view.

Syd said...

I'm not a drug addict or an alcoholic but I've heard enough from those that are to know that the addictions aren't the same. And to my mind, AA is for alcoholics. I hear so much about the addicts who go to AA--they aren't alcoholics at all. It hurts the fellowship of AA IMO.

Kim A. said...

My mother will pick up her 9-year chip in February. My ex died from the disease this summer. My son is out there. Nothing brought me to my knees like my son's addiction. My heart hurts for all the children out there and their parents who love them. Thank God for Alanon that there is a place I can go and learn to love, learn to let go, and learn to trust my HP. The hope comes when I know that my HP loves my child more than I do. I choose not to drink now because alcohol has caused enough damage in my life. I will keep all of you in my thoughts.


Gabriella Moonlight said...

Hmm, maybe it's already been said, but we are pretty firm about the "singleness of purpose" at our meetings. The traditions seem to get pushed aside a lot and even when I came in there wasn't a lot of feathery "love" it was serious reality and honesty...that worked for me...I as I say on my blog, I will not lie to you to save your feelings, if it means that I can save your life.That for me is the honesty that comes with AA.

I thank you for this blog, it's a brave one to put out there..thank you!

Scott W said...

I was a daily drinker and a binge drinker. During binges I would drink morning, noon and nights. I could not stop. I was sober for about ten months, attended AA meetings, worked the steps but I wasn't in recovery. I do not know what was missing.

What I do know is that I woke on the morning of Nov 18, 2003 and it was over. The surrender was complete. The obsession and craving was removed. It had to be the work of a power greater than myself.

I have seen addicts get clean in the rooms of AA, I have seen them refuse to call themselves alcoholics. Some call themselves alcoholic addicts. At Lambda we welcome both but stress the singleness of purpose. There is massive abuse of drugs and alcohol in the gay community, and some do recover from their cross addictions. It is a fine line (to me), but also seems to release a quarrel in my mind. I can't say no to someone who wants to be in the rooms of recovery but I would like to see the bullshit disappear.

Lou said...

I will keep taking in information..from many sources.

Dharma Kelleher said...

Maybe I'm just not getting it. And maybe it's a matter of semantics. Or that I just killed too many brain cells before I got sober twelve years ago.

The way I see it, I was/am an alcoholic. That is, I couldn't stop after one drink. I'd promise myself I wouldn't drink or that I'd only have one or two and then, well we all know what happened.

At the same time, I was unable to stop my cycle of binging and then trying to stay sober for a few days, then binging again. To my mind, that's an addiction. As much as I wanted to stop drinking altogether, I couldn't.

I've used a number of other things as drugs and have been similarly addicted to them including Vicodin, sex, emotionally unavailable people, food, etc.

I don't feel bad for talking about my alcoholism as an addiction in meetings because that's what it is to me. Am I killing people because of it? I don't think so. I'm just sharing my own experience.

It's true there's a lot of snake oil salesmen out there trying to make money off of unfortunate individuals. And that's sad.

That's in part why the 12-step program appeals to me. It's about people coming together, sharing their truths and by some miracle finding a way out of hell together.

Just my two cents.

Holly Hoffman said...

When I came into the program, I was not a daily drinker... YET. I'm an alcoholic because every time I took a drink, I wanted another, whether I took it or not. I was a binge drinker, but gladly that's not what qualifies me for this program. It's a desire to stop drinking. Our singleness of purpose allowed me to hear what I needed to hear at my first meeting - people who felt about alcohol the way I did. I'm thankful for that every day. I'm not sure I would've made it otherwise.

TC said...

I'm sorry but alcoholism = addiction.

Alcoholism- an addiction to alcohol.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for bringing this up MC. That is why I like to go to closed meetings. I was a binge drinker too, I never knew what would happen after that first drink. I think I only became that way by trying to control it for so long. But towards the end I could not stop. I did drugs too, but was able to walk away from them. But I sure as heck don't think I can do drugs! I always try to think of the desparate alcoholic finally getting the courage to come to their first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. What if they come in and some guy is sitting there going on about how he did lines on the hood of his car all night and then smoked a bunch of pot? Or how he ate everything in the fridge and then to McDonalds and ate three big macs and kept it secret? How is that AA supposed to relate to what is being said? I think that they would think that they were in the wrong place. That's why I think alcohol belongs in AA, coke in CA and etc. It's not about me, it's about us and it's about the new person walking the door for the first time.

Laura said...

You have been in the AA program a long time and I certainly respect your knowledge, experiences and dedicated time to a program that saves your life every day.

As the world changes, programs, churches, and businesses also change. We are driven by the culture around us or we drive the culture. I have two siblings and countless other family members walking in the light of AA and I am extremely proud of them and happy for me to see them healthy and becoming the people they were created to be. This brings me joy.

But you said, "It wouldn't really matter if it weren't a matter of life and death, but for alcoholics, it is a matter of life and death."

I'm not sure what you mean by that, but as a mother of an addict, addiction is also a matter of life and death. And if the AA meetings are the only meetings accessible to my son, then so be it. IMHO, Twelve Steps is not exclusive to living alcohol free. It's exclusive to living a life free from anything that controls us and has created devastation to our lives and those around us.

Just my opinion.

Mary Christine said...

Laura, Alcoholics Anonymous is for Alcoholics. There are other "twelve step" programs for other problems.

As far as things changing to go with the times - I have no interest in relativism. Maybe you do, I don't. My religion has not changed to become more popular with people. It is about truth, not palatability.

I can go to an NA meeting, and I have, but I do not try to change their program to fit my needs. I have my own program. By diluting their program, I just might destroy someone else's chance at recovery.

Laura said...

Hi Mary Christine,

I must have misunderstood your post altogether. To me, it felt like you were saying you didn't want anyone at your program unless they were considered a card carrying alcoholic and I didn't know how anyone could determine someone else's disease. What I've encountered is that it seems people will try out different programs until they find the exact one they should go to. Sometimes the benefit of another specific 12 step program is unavailable to them. I thought all Twelve Step programs follow the same basic twelve steps, so it seems they should be able to glean something from any meeting they attend until they find their "home". But I have a lot to learn about this so I could be wrong.

As far as churches changing,what I've seen is they do change because they operate under man's direction which is not perfect. Vatican II is an example of the Catholic Church making changes. The only thing that stands true and unchanged is God and His Word for He alone is perfect and unchanging. I'm with you on truth and only the truth of God's word being upheld with the Holy Spirit being our guide.

But that would be for another blog/post/topic I suppose.

Thank you.