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To Get To Know Me

By Jennifer S.

<One of the things that came up this week at my counselor’s was the fact that I am trying to get away from myself. – D.>

This came up for me several times. I was told, “The problem with trying to get away from yourself is, no matter where you go, there you are”.

When I realized how true this statement was it was kind of scary. I knew I’d have to deal with me sooner or later. In my case, I would drink or use drugs to escape from my life. Problem was, my life wasn’t what I was trying to get away from. It was me.

And no matter how drunk or high I got I was still there. I was there before I drank, while I was getting drunk, and while I was dealing with the consequences of what I did drunk. No matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t get rid of myself.

So after years of trying, I decided to get to know me. There’s a lot I don’t like. And I’m working on those things. But there is a lot I love! I never would have known that if I didn’t stop drinking and using.

Straight to Blackout

By Steve C.

I remember when I was around 19 or 20, I almost beat the hell out of my girlfriend’s father. I broke a few dishes, yelled and screamed at him, and finally, after he called the cops, I split. After about a year of sneaking around behind his back with his daughter, he decided to allow me to come back into his house. At dinner that very evening, he offered me a drink. I said no thanks. He said, it’s okay to drink, you don’t have to quit drinking, just don’t drink so much.

I remember my kids crying to me, telling me that it was okay to drink, just don’t get drunk. My wife told me the same thing, numerous times. I’ve been told the same thing by numerous friends: just be careful. Take a taxi home; don’t drink so much, etc. A totaled car, a couple of motorcycle accidents, a bike wreck, countless fights, one DUI, six or seven other arrests, and several incidents of vandalism and home-wrecking, never convinced me to quit trying.

For over 30 years, I have always gone overboard. I could never consistently control it, and thinking back on it, this was the cause of many negative feelings about myself. What kind of asshole am I. Why did I always go till I passed out. I almost always went straight to blackout, and almost always found myself wondering what I had done, and what had happened.

Well, the answer finally came to me. It was the fact that I took a drink. I can’t remember how many times I went to the bar with extremely pressing business or personal items to take care of that day, that I just blew off. No contact with the world for another day. Waking up to find numerous messages on my answering machine wondering where I was, why I dropped an appointment, or where some work product was.

It took me thirty years of starting with the best of intentions, and going straight to blackout that finally convinced me to just not get started. I remember my DUI back in ‘91, taking the state mandated alcohol treatment program where I learned that alcohol affects the judgement centers of the mind. Kewel, I thought. I just won’t drink when I have pressing things to do. Well, that plan didn’t even work, because it didn’t allow me enough opportunities to get drunk. I figured, I’d only drink while camping or fishing. Only drink where my behavior didn’t have the potential to harm anyone else. Well, it was a big problem. I never did move to a cave or to the streets where maybe I wouldn’t have to worry about anyone else.

I don’t get into a discussion with drinking friends about alcoholism, I just tell them I quit drinking. Period, end of story, give me a Coke. I don’t discuss it with non-drinkers either, never did like or trust them. No matter what anybody else tells me, I just say no. I must, for my sake, the sake of my kids, the sake of my marriage, the sake of my business, for the sake of my friends, and for the sake of society, just say no to the first drink. I finally know and have a deep, deep, deep conviction that I can’t control my drinking. I never have, I never could, and I never will. I never, I think, even wanted just one drink. I wanted or maybe needed to get drunk. This need manifests itself in a million different ways, but in the end, all I need to do is control my right arm. I just don’t hoist it to my lips, no matter what, no matter what anybody says, no matter what anybody does, and no matter how the rest of the world handles it.

Sure, this left a lot of weird feelings at first. I had great emotional difficulty at first. I’m not sure why, and once in a great while, I still get a strong craving. This list, meetings, reading literature, long walks, playing with the dog, playing with the kids, working, learning, and all kinds of other stuff now occupies most of my life. But, I have complete control over my arm that I will lose once I get started drinking. I’m mortally afraid of even trying to take one drink because it was just too damned hard to get to where I am today. I really don’t think I could or would come back. Sure, many others have, but I’m really afraid to even try. The appeal of drunkenness is too great for me. I love to be drunk, I love the feeling of it, and I have gotten drunk at the expense of every thing else that was important in my life. I don’t want to die with alcohol on my breath.

I find it is just easier for me to manage it without using it. It really is a far more simple method for me, and one that gives me a more positive outlook. At remaining completely sober, I have been successful. It removes me from the constant battles that I always lost trying to control it. I can win the war by just not engaging the enemy. I know I can’t drink now. Never now. Maybe next week, but not now.

That “One Last Binge”

By Diane J.

<Why do I keep thinking that I have a binge coming up? Why do I feel I deserve “one last binge”….? I’m actually looking forward to it. Not all the time but it does enter my mind occasionally. Yesterday was the worst so far. I was determined to get beer. On one hand I feel totally in control and then it all escapes me and here I am planning my next drunk. I still feel like I need one more binge…. and I can’t seem to get it out of my head. Any input appreciated. – T.>

I sort of managed to convince myself I needed “one last binge” A LOT–I was one of those people who was always going to quit “next week” when “things’ aren’t quite so “hectic” and I can REALLY REALLY REALLY…oh, what’s the point (laugh)? I never quite DID it. If I had a dollar for every “last bottle” I ever bought I could be spending this weekend on a beach somewhere…. (laugh).

And when I finally “started to stop” (stutter sobriety, I think–laugh) the “one last binge” idea kept coming back at me, too. I finally had “one last binge” last fall. Ummm…. I coulda skipped delirium tremens, I really coulda.

Let me tell you something about that idea about “one last binge,” OK? It’s not going to go away for a while after you stop drinking totally, unfortunately…. Even after that last disastrous binge, well into my first few months of sobriety, I’d find myself thinking about having “a really really really last binge…. better this time (laugh), of course…”. That’s the addiction talking, I think.

Part of getting sober is learning to talk back to it. Put a little reality into those fantasies. Jennifer gave you wonderful advice when she wrote about “thinking the binge all the WAY through”. How good would that binge BE, really? Isn’t the fact that you’re planning one, even though you mean to QUIT for good, proof that there’s something wrong with your drinking, that it’s about time to get it over with? Same thing with the moderation idea, probably, unfortunately.

You DO have “two brains”, sort of, at the moment: there’s the sensible, smart, realistic woman who KNOWS that the drinking’s been out of control and the stuff is bad for her—ah, but then there’s the woman who’s used to drinking a hell of a lot and CRAVES more alcohol and finds the idea of sobriety pretty scary and uncomfortable.

Treat it like a voice in your ear if that helps (I called mine “my addict”: argue with it. Don’t let it push you around. Isn’t it, for example, interesting that the little voice is suggesting BOTH bingeing and drinking “moderately”? Now why would THAT be (laugh)? REAL moderate drinkers don’t sit around planning their next drunk, at least not in my experience.

What that little voice wants is back AT IT–and it takes some willingness to be uncomfortable and sit through craving to get it to shut up. If you feed it it just comes back even louder.

You write:

<Perhaps it’s because I’m not educated enough on the science of my addiction. If only I had some scientific proof that I definitely can never drink another drop without falling back into the old patterns, then I could give up on those menacing thoughts that enter my mind on a daily basis>

Good luck (laugh). You can always find somebody, somewhere, who wrote something that with enough concentration and imagination and (possibly five or six drinks in you) you can construe as being “proof” that maybe maybe maybe there’s a little little little possibility that you might possibly possibly be in the tiny percentage of people who–GET TO DRINK AGAIN!

The question is how much pain has drinking already caused you? And, if you weren’t hooked on the stuff in some way, would you EVER believe the pleasure it gives could be worth THAT MUCH pain?

These are tough days, I know. Glad to see you posting and hang in there. Keep arguing with yourself! Take care.

Nov. 17, 1998

Sobriety Has Its Own Momentum

By Diane J.

<I’ve come to the realization that this alcoholism is something that will never go away. There will never be a day when I’ll “get better”.- M.>

I’m glad you posted. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone else either, absolutely not — but since you and I and others on this list seem to share “this”, perhaps we can help each other with it.

You write: “There will never be a day when I will ‘get better.'” That was an important and painful realization for me, the outcome of struggling to “control”, to “learn”, to “limit”, to “keep the drinking down to once a (fill in the rapidly decreasing blank–semester, month, week, only after 7:00 PM, not before 5:00, never in the afternoon…) over and over and over and over, with varying and wearying lengths of partial success leading to total failure AGAIN.

You would think the sheer stupefying repetition would have taught me something (I personally think the wheel of samsara is BEST depicted in a “robot drinking” cycle–laugh). I didn’t begin to get free of it until I understood the true lesson in the failures to “learn how”. The true lesson is that, when it comes to alcohol, I CANNOT learn.

In all those years of trying to learn, I never once succeeded for very long, every clever plan and powerful resolution overwhelmed by the sheer drive to keep drinking, which easily found plausible excuses for doing so and rationales for trying the NEXT clever plan to “learn” to “keep the drinking down to…”. There is nothing to learn except that there is nothing you can learn. Just let go. Drop your end of the rope and the desire to drink will — EVENTUALLY, SLOWLY, INTERMITTENTLY–drop its end and begin to vanish.

The longer you stay completely stopped (and I didn’t believe this either, but it turns out to be strangely and wonderfully true) the less effort it takes to STAY stopped. Sobriety has its own momentum.

But in the beginning, and for a longish time, it takes a great deal of work and effort (I found) to KEEP stopped. So why not let go of all the work it takes to repeat failing to learn and put the energy into whatever tools work for you to stay stopped long enough for the struggle to begin to lessen? As long as you stay in the tug of war, by continuing to get drunk sporadically, you will never get to the “effortless” part you want. Or at least I couldn’t.

I would hardly say, even now, that it’s effortless, but it is easier. And less exhausting, and less self-punishing. And leaves me room to put some energies OUT of myself and into positive change for myself and I hope for others. So let go. Just lose. Admit defeat, and there never was a war (smile). And put the energy where you can learn something valuable. Take care.

Those Old Triggers

By Laura L.

< I had a vision yesterday of a quiet afternoon in a quiet bar, relaxing and sipping a couple of vodka tonics and flipping through a magazine with the television going quietly in the background and occasionally chatting with the bartender. – D. >

Yeah, sitting around at Borders bookstore with a cup of cafe latte doesn’t quite have the same pleasure to it, does it? <g> Maybe in time…

You know, it’s funny how we picture ourselves in these romanticized memories. Eight years ago, when my mother returned to the US, my sister, mother and I went to dinner at a wonderful French restaurant. There was a screw-up with our table, and we had to wait a couple hours to be seated. The restaurant also housed a jazz “club” so we went there. The music was great (live, of course) the ambiance of the place was seductive, and I was so very happy we had been able to convince the authorities that my mom REALLY needed to be allowed to leave England (whole ‘nother story.) At any rate, I was having the de rigeur Diet Pepsi, they were having wine, and all was well. From across the room, I spotted a couple — both stunningly attractive, beautifully dressed, elegant in every way. The woman was holding a snifter of brandy to the light, and swirling it in the glass. That image was so compelling, I was beginning to make plans for my return to “normal” drinking (yeah right!)

Then I began to think about what the scene would be like if it was “me” instead of “her.” Here’s what I realized.

  1. It would not be a snifter of brandy, it would be vodka — and WAY more than one.
  2. My beautiful dress would not cover up my running makeup, puffy eyes, and slurred speech. In fact, my dress would have been selected on the basis of how many people would be offended by it.
  3. This would not have preceded or followed an elegant dinner, and there would be no live jazz, either. It would have been balls to the wall drinking, and the more “dangerous” the setting, the happier I would be.
  4. My date would not have on a suit. In fact, my “date” would have been “discovered” after I had consumed five or more drinks.
  5. My “date” and I would not be swirling on the dance floor, but would be fumbling and drunk in the dark. More than once, I found that my “date” for the night had relieved me of the contents of my wallet before leaving the apartment.

It’s so easy for us to be led down the garden path of embellished memories. I have found it helpful to recall one moment, frozen in time, to recall. That moment is seeing the elegant couple, and knowing that woman would never be me. It is a waste of time for me to try to emulate her.

Besides, I have more fun being me — sober.