When I was nearing the point where I had to stop drinking, or risk losing myself to alcohol, I turned to my Google bar and searched “what is a high functioning alcoholic?”. Like many people who develop a potentially life destroying problem with alcohol I was able to continue drinking heavily night after night because I am so disciplined and such a high achiever. I am resilient. I am physically and emotionally strong. I could “handle” drinking myself to toxicity most nights and roll back into high functioning in the morning. I could “handle” just about anything. So I should certainly be able to handle knowing when enough was really enough. I should be able to see that fine line if I got too close. But I was afraid that I might have already tripped over it.
High functioning? I tried several different search phrases and every article and blog post that I found defined me to a tee. The prognosis for a “high functioning alcoholic” was frightening. According to these articles I was on a slippery slope to dependence on alcohol. Things would not get better unless I stopped drinking and stayed sober. It looked to me like my time was almost up. I was losing myself to alcohol just as I had suspected.
There are few things more painful than losing a loved one to addiction. When the addiction is to alcohol and the loved one is you, sliding down the slippery slope from what is commonly called “high functioning” alcohol addiction to alcohol dependence is a dark and lonely journey. How do you know the difference between someone who may drink heavily and live a long life and someone who will die of the addiction, or cost others their lives and sanity? How do you know it’s time to stop if that person is you? Is there a recognizable line between the high functioning stage that many of us live in for years and the dependent stage where it seems almost impossible for people to crawl out of the bottle and stay sober?
I think that you have to look for a beacon, or help your loved one find a beacon. A beacon being the light that shines from someone who has fought their way out and is living life free of addiction. Yesterday I had a chance to talk with my friend Drifter for his Sober Town Podcast. It was International Women’s Day so we had planned to talk about the toxicity of alcohol marketing directed at women, but after a couple of days of multiple postings in our communities on the deadly result of alcohol addiction, we decided instead to focus on the questions of “how do you stop drinking before it goes too far?” – “how do you help someone you love who seems lost to the bottle?” Drifter and I have both lost brothers to their addictions and we have both found solid dry ground after breaking out of our addictions. Do we have the answers to these questions the personal experience we both have as the addicted, and the loved one of the addict? We came up with two answers by the end of our talk and those answers were all about beacons and light houses.
To lose myself to alcohol was a frightening prospect when I looked at it from the perspective of those articles on high functioning alcoholism. Losing myself to alcohol from that perspective meant humiliation followed by more humiliation followed by disability or death. I remember how dramatic it felt to see my behavior reflected back to me from the words on my computer screen in the context of those articles, and I remember that back in 2014 before I finally did stop drinking, seeing the dramatic possibility of where my behavior was leading made me want to escape. It made me want to lose myself to alcohol just one more time. One last bottle. Just tonight…
If I knew that I was losing myself in a deadly way why did I chose to keep drinking even one more time? This is something that really only a person who has broken that cycle of addiction and stayed alcohol-free can understand. The only way that I could understand how to break out of my addiction to alcohol was to talk to other people like me who had broken it themselves. My beacons.
A beacon is someone who you can focus on, someone who gives you hope and shows you what is possible if you stick to sober. That beacon can be an author or an influencer or a member of a recovery community. That beacon can be a relative or a friend. Look for a beacon and when you have found one beacon don’t stop searching. Let that beacon guide you forward but keep focused on the horizon and keep searching further. The power of possibility is a tremendous motivator and there are many lighthouses to guide you in this journey. We are out there in so many places and in so many different communities with personalities to suit everyone.
My beacons that guided me to stop drinking and stay sober were young and old and somewhere in between. They may have been high functioning like me before they stopped drinking or they may have broken a dependency on alcohol that was further down that slope. Some of them used the traditional language of recovery, they used the word alcoholic and recovery and sober. Others insisted it was more empowering to talk about living alcohol-free in discovery and let go of the shame that seems to stick to that traditional language. We all grew up with the basic premise that handling our liquor was a badge of courage. We all grew up in cultures or in families that celebrated drinking hard and handling it. Cultures and families that laugh at hangovers, distrust sobriety, celebrates the drug and shame the addict. All of us started drinking as a right of passage from childhood into adulthood. Some of us waited until we came of age and some of us started drinking younger but in one way or another we were mimicking the behavior of the adults that we knew. Maybe we admired their ability to function highly, to handle their booze, or maybe we said we’d never drink like they did, but drink we did because that is what adults do. Those adults were our beacons and we followed where they led us.
It makes perfect sense that to find and follow another path, beacons of a different sort are needed. And it makes perfect sense that those of us who have fought our way out of addiction after helplessly watching loved ones die – chose to be lighthouses. Those of us who benefitted from beacons become them.
Join us for our Sobertown podcast conversation here – Sobertown Podcast Ep 216
and find the links to the communities and articles we discuss below
These are links to some of the articles and resources discussed in the podcast :
The Family That Built an Empire of Pain : The Sackler dynasty’s ruthless marketing of painkillers has generated billions of dollars—and millions of addicts. By Patrick Radden Keefe October 23, 2017 New Yorker Magazine
The Spiritual Consequences of Alcohol Consumption March 27, 2017 The Costa Rica News
featured in Boozemusings blog post – Beat the Alcohol Bully
I found my beacons in these books Books to Help you Stop Drinking and Fuel Your Sober Momentum and in the blogs that are highlighted in that post on books, as well and in the Hello Sunday Morning legacy community that I joined in 2015. I now host the Boom Rethink the Drink community and the Boozemusings blog , both beacons that I hope will help many people who are searching. You can find my friend Drifter there as well as on his website Sobertown and at I am Sober.
There are so many lighthouses- so many beacons on the horizon- keep searching till you find what works for you
4 alternatives to AA with online communities and in-person meetings
We are an independent, anonymous and private community who share resources, support and talk it through every day. It helps to have a community behind you in a world where alcohol is the only addictive drug that people will question you for NOT using