When I stopped drinking five years ago, one of the biggest challenges I had to overcome in order to stay sober was breaking down the wall of denial I had built to defend my behavior. Denial that I had slowly built up like a defensive wall over years. I wore the mask of High Functionality that many people wear. As one of those people who other people would never believe had a serious drinking problem, I was an expert at survival skills. Immense energy went into making sure that my performance during the day never reflected my drinking the night before.
Many people with traditional ideas about alcohol abuse might say that I wasn’t really addicted because I could stop a couple of days a week and control what time of day I started drinking. But they would be wrong. And that attitude is one of the attitudes that encouraged my denial.
Everywhere we look our culture encourages us to drink. To celebrate, to mourn, to relieve stress, to socialize, to achieve intimacy, to relax and enjoy everything that life has to offer.
Denial is a word that is so overused that we often become immune to the complexity of its meaning. What does it mean to be in denial about your alcohol use? So many people drink, and so many people drink nightly. What is a dangerous amount of drinking? Who really needs to stop drinking 100%, go sober, stay alcohol-free, and who can safely experiment with moderate drinking? Was I as bad as this person or that person who I knew had to stop? Was I as bad as this or that person who I knew had lost their life because they couldn’t stop drinking? I asked myself these questions often but continued to drink while dragging around the ball and chain of frustration and worry.
I remember reading an article in my second or third sober month about the death by total alcoholic meltdown of Michael Clarke, the drummer from the rock band The Byrds. In a letter, which you can read here in PDF, he says that he drank more than two liters of vodka a day. He died at the age of 47, and no one would deny that he was an alcoholic. There is no question that he needed to stop drinking and not drink again. There is no question that he was an end-stage alcoholic. But the problem is that when you get to that point of undeniable end-stage alcoholism there is little chance that enough light will seep through the window shades for you to ever see the sun again. Stopping drinking at that point is impossible for most people.
Most of us drink or drank a lot less than that.
Most of us did not drink in the morning.
Most of us held down jobs or achieved in school.
We fulfilled our responsibilities and most likely were not suffering serious health problems yet.
I am an achiever. Even at the end of my drinking days, in my professional and personal life I never dropped the ball. I didn’t drop any of the balls I was juggling as I moved toward middle age and found my drinking increasingly disturbing. I knew that the bottle or bottle and a half of wine that I was drinking every night was beginning to erode me. I was beginning to feel that left to my own defenses I would quite likely slide off into oblivion and just drink and drink until I floated away from it all.
Luckily I found a life raft before I got anywhere near that end-stage-alcoholic place of hopelessness where Michael Clarke was when he died. My life raft was a bit different from traditional 12 step recovery. Unlike Alcoholics Anonymous, rather than meeting face to face we met online and wrote out our thoughts in blog format. We talked daily about our issues with drinking and not drinking, but it was a free group of peers with no specific rules or guidelines as to how we should stop drinking, and that fit me quite well. At first I called myself alcoholic, as if I were in an AA meeting, because that was what I thought that I needed to do. But as I grew and evolved and learned and read, I developed my own identity in sobriety that belongs wholly to me. My life raft allowed complete anonymity and freedom to work through my own issues within a vibrant community of peers. And I am still with that community to this day. Almost five years sober!
It is hard to stop drinking from a place of high functioning, or what is now commonly called Gray Area Drinking, for different reasons than it is hard to stop from a place of end – stage – alcoholism. No matter how dark and hopeless your secret drinking may feel to you, unless you hit a recognizable rock bottom, the world around you will encourage you to stay in that place of denial. Everywhere we look our culture encourages us to drink. To celebrate, to mourn, to relieve stress, to socialize, to achieve intimacy, to relax and enjoy everything that life has to offer. And our culture also tells us that the only people who really shouldn’t drink are those like Michael Clarke from The Byrds.
So for me the trick in early sobriety was partly to get past my own denial and also to look at my culture’s denial. I had to work through my feelings about what alcoholism meant to me and what it meant to my culture. And I had to eventually understand that sobriety for me is not about how anyone else sees me or needs me to be. It is about becoming myself. With no mask and no label.
And I rejected the WORD alcoholic and the stigma that goes along with it because for me getting sober and staying that way was all about finding MY truth and my EMPOWERMENT .
“It really doesn’t matter if I’m an alcoholic. If they ever do find a definitive way to test for alcoholism I expect my numbers will be off the charts. But in the meantime…
drinking was causing me more pain than pleasure…..
Sober I feel better than I have in 30 years…
so why would I ever want to drink again?
The pain is simply not worth the pleasure.”
One glass or two is moderation. And I have never been a moderate drinker and never will be. So I think that rather than magnifying the beauty of life, alcohol numbs it and it really always has…even when we were young.
If you can hang on to an alcohol-free lifestyle you will find every day that the incredible beauty inside of you magnifies…and glows
I have heard it said, and now know it’s true, that “sobriety offers what alcohol promises”
In Alcoholics Anonymous meetings it is traditional for people to introduce themselves with their name, followed by the statement “...and I’m an alcoholic.” That system works well for many people when they are trying to stop drinking and stay sober, but it was never a good fit for me. I am almost five years alcohol free. I had to stop drinking, but I never attended an AA meeting and I do not call myself an alcoholic. Many people would say that I am in denial, but nothing could be further from the truth.
With the exception of fitting the classic mold of the High Functioning Alcoholic, I’ve never been a traditional Anything! I have broken every rule–every single rule that I was told I had to live by–not out of spite or rebelliousness but simply because the stuff that was supposed to work didn’t. I had to find stuff that worked for me.
The Spirit is not in the Bottle it’s in You …
Rethink the Drink
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