Are You Sober or Do You Just Think You Are?


During most of my adult life it never occurred to me that maybe I should be in Alcoholics Anonymous, and yet for over 13 years now I have been.  I did not get there via a detox, or an intervention.  I was not court ordered nor did it follow any incident after which I knew for a fact that I needed A.A.

What I had become expert at was denial of the obvious.  I was never a daily drinker.  I did lose one job because of drinking but otherwise I was fully functional.  No one ever suggested that I possibly had a drinking problem.  That was until July 3, 1998.  But I will get to that in a minute.

Until I joined the Army I was not a drinker nor had I ever gotten drunk.  I did love the taste of my father’s port sherry but I never stole any from him. I only took the sip offered and nothing more.  But from a young age when I first tasted it, I adored it.  I was in flight school at Fort Wolters Texas when I got drunk for the first time. I managed to drink myself into a blackout.  From then on, the next 30 years, I would drink for effect and that effect was to change how I was feeling.  I would binge.  And that is what my drinking career looked like.  I would drink for a while and then not drink for a while.  But I always drank as a means of self-medication.

On July 3, 1998 I was on the banks of the Charles River in Boston enjoying the day.  I had been sitting for a while with a friend talking and enjoying the day.  We got up to move on and after we had moved only a few feet I was overcome with the feeling that it was difficult to breathe.  My friend looked at me and told me I was ashen gray in color.  She offered to call an ambulance, suggesting it a very good idea.  I said I knew I could make it the short distance to Massachusetts General Hospital.  I made it but I was very fortunate.  It took every ounce of strength I had.  Once there it took the doctor examining me about 17 seconds to decide I was having a heart attack.  After he told me that he suggested I stop drinking and drugging.  I told him that I did not drink.  The truth was I had started drinking around 11 that day and had done a good deal of that.  I did not use drugs so that was not an issue.  But there it was.  Denial in the first degree.  It was not 24 hours later a cardiac surgeon had to do emergency surgery on me, that was a Saturday and a holiday, July 4.  He said I would not live if it was put off any longer.

Still, it was not until late October of that year that someone suggested I might want to try an A.A. meeting.  I did and the rest, as they say, is history.  My life truly sucked in October 1998 and I was certainly feeling the desperation for a change that I had no idea how to make.  I embraced the 12-step program because all my previous attempts to make things better had failed.  At that time I did not believe A.A. would actually help, nor did I believe I had a problem with alcohol, in spite of the fact that a certified physician had suggested that I did have a problem.

My life today is fabulous, in no small part due to my active participation in A.A. and my complete acceptance of its principles.  I have managed to turn around every thing that I viewed as negative.  I now view whether I had a drinking problem or not as being irrelevant.  I do know there is no down-side to not drinking, nor is there an up-side to taking a drink.  I am not going to mess with success.

The reason I am writing this is to hopefully get someone who reads it to do a self-assessment.  I have seen too many people struggle with the concept of whether or not they are an alcoholic only to die in the process.  Most recently I had a very dear friend die.  She was only 31 years old.  She was very athletically strong.  She was very smart, a Yale graduate.  She was a veteran having served as a Naval intelligence officer.  She came from a wealthy family so she did not want for money.  She had lots and lots of friends.  She also believed she had another drunk in her, but she was mistaken.  To look at her you would say, “no way she was an alcoholic.”  But she was.  Alcohol wanted her alone, and then it wanted her dead.  It got both.  The two pictures below are of her just before she died, January 6, 2012.

My point in bringing up someone who young is that age is irrelevant.  A person’s income, social status, education, and most other things are irrelevant.

People who do not have a drinking problem do not plan their next drink.  A person who does not have a drinking problem is unlikely to get a D.U.I.  A person who does not have a drinking problem does not lose family, friends, jobs, or anything else because they had a drink, or even a few drinks.  A person who does not have a drinking problem does not worry who sees them having a drink, nor do they hide their alcohol at home, nor do they lie about having a drink.  A person who does not have a drinking problem frequently has a problem remembering when they had their last drink.  A person who does not have a drinking problem does not see running out of beer or any other alcohol as a problem.

One of the biggest problems in any person’s life is their ability to deny the obvious.  People with alcohol problems are particularly good at it.  People with a drinking problem frequently try to shift blame for their own problems to other people, institutions, or things.  They are seldom interested in taking responsibility for their own actions.  They are someone who, when faced with a problem, decide they “need a drink.”  Whenever I hear someone say that, my ears perk up.  That is because I have the simple belief that no one “needs” a drink, ever, for any reason.  To the contrary, the well-adjusted, together person, wants to plow through the problem fully sober.  A drink only serves to muddle.

You do not have to drink every day to have a problem with alcohol.  You do not have to have been in jail as a result of drinking to have a problem.  You do not have to be homeless to have a problem.  Shortly after I stopped drinking I met a man who had a Harvard MBA, was a high-powered financier, and was getting ready to do some serious jail time which he admitted had been the result of his drinking.  Drinking never seems like a problem until it is.  And when it is denial comes to the rescue that permits the person to continue drinking.  Like any disease, untreated, it always gets worse.

I hope this makes an impression on someone who might be wondering about their drinking.  Feel free to contact me if you want more.  Better yet, go to an A.A. meeting, if only to gather information.  You have absolutely nothing to lose by doing so, and everything to gain.  If you do not know where meeting exist close to you, go to www.aa.org and you will find everything you need.

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