Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Thinking about Alcoholism

Chicago Peace Rose
As I got to know the man I dated for the last year, I realized that his drinking was very different than mine.  He is sober, he is glad he is sober, but he has many pleasant memories of drinking.  When we talked about St. Patrick's day, I told him that I went out in my early years of drinking but then stayed home.  I had no use for puking green beer and dealing with all the amateurs.  He said he had many St. Patrick's days that were really, really fun.  He talked about all the football games he went to and enjoyed while drinking.  At one of them, he was seated next to O.J. Simpson and his now deceased wife.  Those must have been some good seats!  He talked about parties and socializing.  I would think "Wow!  I did not have these experiences!"

He was 51 years old when he got sober.  A neighbor suggested to him that his drinking would ruin his relationship with his son, and he went immediately into treatment.  And has been sober since.  He still had a great career, great home, etc., etc.....

When I drank I never knew what would happen.  I might have a great time, but more likely I would get "too" drunk and make an ass of myself.  I would make passes at my friends' husbands, or the friends, co-workers or boss of my husband.  I would fall down and ruin  my clothes, rip my stockings, and embarrass others (myself? not so much).  When I was 20 years old, I got drunk at a Christmas party at my boss' house in very elegant Winnetka, Illinois.  The evening ended with me making snow angels on his lawn, and being unable to get up.  The next morning I got up and found my shoes all tangled up inside my panty hose, which were all in front of the refrigerator.  I went to work the next day having no idea that I had just pissed off nearly everyone I worked with.   I would spend days in bed after days of heavy drinking.  I could not get up to take care of my children.  I drank every day as well as the occasional binge.

My life continued to spin out of control.   Years of drunken stupidity.  Being ashamed.  Wanting to quit, being unable to.  When I was 32 years old, I was absolutely at the end of my rope.  I was a dying alcoholic.  I didn't know what was really wrong with me, I just knew I was suicidally depressed, and I drank too much.  Thank God I got to AA and was able to get sober and stay that way.  I wasn't looking a gift horse in the mouth because I was desperate.  I followed directions and did exactly what you all told me to do.  And I stayed sober.

He got sober in a treatment center and followed the aftercare plan to go to AA.  He goes every now and then.  His sponsor died last year and he never ever mentioned getting another one.  He does not sponsor anyone and refuses to.  I honestly think that might be working for him.  I am not sure because I saw some crappy behavior, but it isn't like I never display crappy behavior.  I am not one to call someone a dry drunk, I think it is a silly pejorative term that is ridiculous if you are the kind of drunk I am.  Any kind of sober is good.  A miracle really.

I have thought a lot about how different our AA experiences might be.  I was desperate.  I don't know what he was.  I don't know how you stay sober if you have such pleasant memories of drinking.  Why would you quit?  If I thought I could drink like a normal person, I would probably drink - like a pig - oh, and then I guess I wouldn't be a normal person.

I have done just a teense of research on "types of alcoholism."  Of course, there are articles about this.  One I found particularly interesting is on Web MD and describes 5 types of alcoholics:

  • Young adult subtype - 32% of alcoholics, they don't seek help (I wonder what happens to them, do they all die and never become older adults who still drink?)
  • Young antisocial subtype - 21%.  Many of them have Antisocial Personality Disorder, they also smoke cigarettes and pot.  (again - what happens to them?)
  • Functional subtype - 10%  They drink approximately every other day and suffer no real effects of the "alcoholism" in their lives.
  • Intermediate familial subtype 19% - 1/2 have close relatives who are alcoholic.  (What about the other half?)
  • Chronic severe subtype 9% - mostly men, highest divorce rate, frequently include illicit drugs (did they just wake up one day and decide to be middle aged men who drink like fish?)
There are other articles that suggest that alcoholism is a continuum starting with having a few drinks, which, if you are not careful, can turn into full blown alcoholism.  

I don't know where I would be in any of these descriptions.   I drank alcoholically from the first sip of booze at the age of 14.  I found my answer to life!  It was magical!  Almost every alcoholic I know has just about the same experience.  They never really drank normally, although they may have been able to hide it for years.  From the first drop of alcohol I drank, I found my solution, and that was a problem!

Our culture doesn't want anyone to drink (law enforcement and medical professionals).  And then it wants to push booze down your throat at every moment (social norms and advertising).  It is very confusing.  

But what I am wondering about specifically - the AA critics, are they people who can't buy the "desperation" feature of AA?  If you enjoyed drinking, how desperate would you be?  AA stresses reaching a bottom, although no one would ever endeavor to define someone else's bottom.  They're all different.   They type of bottom I have learned to be particularly suspicious of (after working with alcoholics for over 27 years) is the external bottom.  A DUI, an angry wife, sad eyed kids, whatever.  The kind of bottom I have learned to listen to is the waking up in the middle of night - or even morning, with a self-disgust so deep it is unbearable.  And that causes desperation and willingness.  

I believe those two things are absolutely essential to recovery in Alcoholics Anonymous.  That is not really appealing to someone who still has some of what I call "other ideas."  And that is fine, I think they should do all they can to drink normally or quit on their own.  But if you are desperate enough to submit to the ego deflation, confession, restitution, helpfulness to others, and necessity of belief in and dependence upon God that is the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, you will find recovery and a new life.  

That's what I am thinking about.  What do you all think?

If you don't need a new life, I would imagine it would be pretty difficult to submit to the program.  



15 comments:

Kristin H. said...

I think your description of the external bottom is spot on in regards to this topic.

Over the 20 years that I have been involved with AA, the last 11 with continuous sobriety, I have noticed that those that come in on gift cards (court carded) are often looking to get the monkey off their back and any desperation that they are feeling is a result of the consequences of...whatever. DUI, divorce, work problems, etc.

I was one of them until I experienced my 'yet.' And then it was all down hill from there. What I was to experience in the final years before being rendered sober in 2000 was a soul sickness that no DUI or divorce could touch. A level of self loathing that no medical professional could tap into. Only then did I grasp just how desperate my situation had become and I recognized the severity of my situation. I desperately needed God. And God brought me back to AA.

Thank you for this.

Syd said...

I know some people who still wish that they could drink the way they used to but have been sober for decades. I don't know what category they fit into. But whatever it is, alcohol brought them to their knees, yet still has a power of its own. Cunning, baffling and powerful.

Lou said...

The functional subtype..that figure seems low. I know many functional daily drinkers. Are they alcoholics or heavy, normal for them, drinkers? I think we call too many people alcoholics who just drink more than we may "approve" of, and we call even more people dry drunks because they don't act as we wish they would.

Interesting topic, especially the difference between good and bad memories. When the bad overshadow everything else, I agree with you, that person is near or at desperation.

Mary LA said...

Thanks Mary Christine, I find this so thought-provoking. My own alcoholism for a long time was a meandering and periodic abuse that tapered off or stopped and then started again after several months. Much of the time I was high-functioning and unsure if I was an alcoholic. Then it got so bad that I was desperate. That desperation was crucial in my coming into AA and having no reservations about getting and staying sober.

There is commonality and there are differences -- many women are secret drinkers who rarely drink in public and many mothers with young children try only to drink once the children are in bed or off to school. For men there is more public drinking in pubs and brawling. But it is hard to generalise.

I also know recovering alcoholics who can talk at length about arrests and being fired or having children taken away, but seem unaware of their own craziness and have no remorse or compunction at all, no insight into what was going in inside themselves or how others were affected. Sometimes this sounds to me like persisting denial and sometimes just obliviousness. I don't know.

Pammie said...

Self disgust and fear. Those were the only two emotions I had left when I got sober.
For me, when I hated myself enough, I went to AA to get a new "self."
I'll fight for my seat in even the craziest of meetings because I can not go back to that life...never!
Thank you God.

Furtheron said...

Interesting - that list... not sure I was a functional sub-type for many years. Most of my drinking was solitary in self pity induced misery.

I can't deny I had good times as well... a month before I stopped we were in Dublin for my wifes 40th birthday. We went out to a bar, traditional Irish music being played, had a great time, had a laugh there, had a laugh on the way back to hotel, one of those funny, relaxed drinks...

The next night - I wanted more, my wife didn't need to repeat the experience, we'd had that the night before, it was enough for her it was past. I wanted to recapture it but in trying to ruined that day and much of the memory of the night before.

I think that sums up a lot for me right there - the need to be taken out of myself to a happy place then when I had that I wanted it again and again and more and more and failed, so got miserable and drank and drank on that...

There are as many different types of alcoholics as there are those who describe themselves as such. We are all different, we all drank different times, different amounts, did different things, felt differently, were triggered to drink by different things and feelings.

Debbi said...

Everything you say about your drinking happened to me. I still, 21+ years later, feel some shame about the things I did. Who was that woman? And how did she turn into me? AA, plain and simple. To the point. Your recovery mirrors mine, as well ... I did what they told me to do, whether I liked it or not. If it worked for them, then surely it would work for me. And it has.

Lulu said...

I was a daily half-to whole bottle of wine drinker for years. Every morning at 3:00 am I'd wake up soaked with sweat/heart pounding miserable, but by every evening at 5:00 I'd open that bottle. It was as if someone else's hands were pouring that glass... I remember walking around with a voice in my head telling me that "alcohol is ruining your life" I remember wishing I would hurry up and get some fatal illness so I could just get this whole life-thing over with. One night I even remember googling something about suicide and sitting there sobbing in front of my computer.

But to everyone I was fine--I was extremely functional. Very rarely really binged (well, unless drinking a bottle of wine in two hours is a binge-ha I did that a lot)...but rarely drank over 5 drinks in one session (I would puke if I tried that---probably my weak stomach saved me from extra misery).

But when I talk to people about my drinking they have a very hard time believing that I had a real problem because I was so functional and had no extreme external consequences. I get sort an amused "well, whatever you think is right..." attitude from friends when I say I no longer drink.

Having that high a bottom has made it very hard to feel like I fit in in AA. Those meetings are just full of "yets" for me and I hate to share anything about my own past drinking because I sound like a goof.

Anyway--that's my story.

Anonymous said...

I came to AA when I was 25, almost 26. I had no health insurance and I had never held a job that was in any way grown up --- I was a waitress and happy with the job, as I was an artist living in NYC. I did not know there was such a thing as a rehab or treatment center. I honestly had never even heard of such a thing.

I HAD however, met other young people along the way, who had gotten sober in AA. I was so lucky to come in contact with these people, because on the day that I knew " I don't know about any of these other problems but I can't keep drinking this way" I found my way to an AA meeting and I haven't had a drink since. March 9 1987 is my sobriety date.

I am still very active in AA and I carry the message to many women who are looking for a new way of life. I try not to compare my insides to anothers outsides, as I learned a long time ago that compare = despair. I also know that we can truly lead a double life, and that the heart of an alkie can be a dark and secretive place hidden by a lot of look good. I just work to keep my side of the street clean, hoping that others will desire a walk in the sunlight as well.

Ms Jones said...

Well put. I really put your comment about external bottoms to some thought. That is exactly what I think. It wasn't until I was sick of me that I asked for help. A child begging, a husband pleading, job, finances none of that mattered. Well put and if you don't mind, I'd like to share that with my group here in deep south.

wendy said...

I can relate to a lot of what you wrote, but I also relate to the previous comment about having a hard time fitting in at an AA meeting when you have a high bottom.

I know now that I drank alcoholically from the start - I always got drunk and I started having blackouts in my early teens. But, I managed to avoid a lot of consequences, I think because my life as a teenager and in my twenties was controlled by overwhelming fear and shame. Maybe God realized that I would kill myself if I had any external consequences that other people would "see" and he spared me that trauma.

The end of my drinking was a lot less "wild" than my younger years, but from age 25-29 I was mostly a binge drinker, drinking to the point of blackout and almost always alone. The most distinct feeling I have from that time period is despair. I never thought I'd live to be 30 years old.

There are times I miss the nothingness that drinking brought me to, but I don't miss those feelings of desperation. I don't have any delusion that I can drink normally, because I know I don't want to drink in a reasonable manner.

It is shocking I'm almost 5 years sober. It is shocking that I believe in anything, let alone asking a God of my understanding for help when I realize that this human being can't do anything to fix whatever really or imaginary calamity is plaguing me at the moment.

Anonymous said...

Many of the critics of alcoholics anonymous are ex-members, have rejected the rachings of the Big Book or the fellowship, not just those who can't buy the desperation feauture.

Pammie said...

I don't know what "raching" means. sigh.

Mary Christine said...

Yeah Pammie, I don't know either.

Jess Mistress of Mischief said...

The first time I drank without any check or balance (meaning had my very own glass with no adult control entity watching, I drank like it was kool-aid, and didn't feel a thing after the first two glasses, by the third I actually started to feel it but it was too late because I drank til they had to literally carry me out of the place to get me home.

I'd say that's a sure sign that my liver was screwed up from the start.

I never drank successfully according to my own standards, but no one else really complained and I couldn't imagine life without, so...

There you are. I can sorta pick out subtypes from any of the standard sources, mostly I just know I was screwed.

I see lots and lots of people who 'have ideas' and most move on after a period of time.

I'm grateful for recovered alcoholics like you, Pammie, Daave, you know those that really do reflect in your experience the hopelessness, the change and the maintenance. I'm also grateful that you all hang around to help others to find the same solution. Refusing to help someone else who suffers, well it's not my ideal.