Smokey Bear Was Right

In this brave new world of sobriety, there seem to be a myriad of misnomers for our interaction with alcohol. Throughout the drinking years, I got used to throwing some of them around in order to deflect a reality I wasn’t ready to accept. Moderation? Moderate drinking? I’d like to set myself straight once and for all.

First things first, it’s not “a bad habit.”

It’s not “a way of life.”

And no, it’s not “a social lubricant.”

Hell, it’s not even “a choice.”

It’s an addiction.

A chemical, take-over-your-brain-and-then-your-body addiction.

I’ve been reading and thinking a lot lately about the idea of “moderation.” About trials and errors in attempting moderate drinking in the face of addiction. But I’ve not yet come across one account or singular example of success in this endeavor. And I wondered, ‘why is that..?’

The answer I keep coming to is this; “You cannot moderate a chemical addiction any more than you can moderate a wildfire.”

I liken my alcohol (a chemical substance) addiction to that of a wildfire – which I started within myself many years ago. It began in earnest as a youthful experiment. A rite of passage. A tinkering with the taboo. That was the match that first struck the flame.

Over the first decade or so of drinking, I would make stupid mistakes. Gross miscalculations. Regretful reconnaissance’s with my dreadful and dangerous new partner. And all the while, the flames grew higher, stronger, and more powerful. But I chose to look away – perhaps because the fire was too hot, too bright. Too out of control. And maybe because I was ashamed that I had started it in the first place.

There were times when I ran from it and was able to escape for days, weeks, and maybe a couple of months at a time. And then I made the critical mistake of thinking I could control it with “moderation.” When this blind revelation took over, I unknowingly began feeding it with the very fuel (alcohol) that was threatening to destroy me and everything around me: My schooling. My first jobs. My early relationships – including a first marriage out of college. All burnt to the ground.

Here’s the rub: Once you recognize and are fully aware of the power of this wildfire, you begin to establish boundaries and manage yourself around it. You strike a deal with it. Or so you think. This is when we are labeled, “High Functioning Alcoholics”. We THINK we are managing the flames, but all we’re really doing is staying a step or two ahead of them – all the while, more and more of our lives are being scorched. And sometimes beyond repair.

I don’t mean to belabor the point. I just know that for me, I don’t have “a drinking problem” anymore. I have an addiction to that chemical equation you see in this visual. To alcohol. It is the wildfire of my own making.

And while I wrestle with it daily, I have at least learned this much: A wildfire is a dangerous threat until it is contained. But it is also no longer a danger until it is completely put out. Extinguished. Destroyed.

This is why you cannot moderate an addiction. Because if you have not completely extinguished those flames, even the slightest breath of wind can rekindle them.  

More Reading on the Topic of Moderate Drinking :

Thinking about Moderate Drinking

Balancing Moderate Drinking Goals vs Going Alcohol-Free

A Test of Your Alcohol Awareness – What is Normal Drinking?

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2 responses to “Smokey Bear Was Right”

  1. Excellent! Every word is true for me. I tried moderation and all I did was obsess over when I could drink and then when I took the drink, the fire raged. Thank you for a hard-hitting and marvelous post.

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