Thursday, August 28, 2014

What I was like

“How does someone like you become an alcoholic?”

Growing up I was warned about the dangers of alcohol, but I also believed the lies of addiction.  Alcoholics were supposedly weak, unintelligent, and lazy people. Those words didn’t describe me, so I thought it could never happen to me.

How Alcoholism Begins

The first time I drank, I did it to stop people from calling me a “goody-two-shoes”.  The drink was a Southern Comfort and Cola mix. I wasn’t impressed, but drank it anyway and didn’t get drunk.

After a few parties I realized how wonderful alcohol was. It relaxed me, making me feel socially invincible.  I relished the unfamiliar sensation of confidence and casually sought drinks at every opportunity.

From the beginning alcohol caused me to act out of character and I often had regrets. Yet it never occurred to me that I could just not drink. I always thought, “I’ll do better next time.” It would be years before someone would tell me that mindset is a trademark characteristic of alcoholics… “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

What Alcoholism Feels Like

Have you ever gone on a roller coaster and instantly regretted it? You change your mind just as the ride begins and it cannot be stopped.

That’s what my drinking was like.

I drank to manage stress. I drank to manipulate others.  I drank to change my personality.  I drank to get drunk.  I drank to forget. I drank. I drank. I drank. My alcoholism was characteristic of my environment.  An officer in the U.S. Coast Guard, I embodied the stereotypical sailor: drunk in port, hung-over at sea, and cursing in between. Binge drinking and blackouts were my motto, and if you couldn’t keep pace with me, I didn’t want to hang with you.

Not all alcoholics are binge drinkers, just like not all musical instruments are made of brass. We have different habits, favorite watering holes, family baggage, and psychiatric conditions. But we do have one thing in common. We are powerless over our drinking once it starts… just like the terrified roller coaster passenger.

The Desperation to Get Sober

As any therapist or addiction specialist will tell you, and addict has to want to get sober in order for treatment to do them any immediate good. If they're not desperate for change, the information gets tucked away in the back of their mind - and saved for a truly desperate moment.

At the end of my drinking, I didn’t want to get sober but I didn’t want to keep living either. When I was awake I wanted to die, and when I was drunk I was out of control. The combination terrified me. I couldn’t understand my feelings because I knew deep down that I didn’t want to die.

My life was saved because I voiced these feelings. The Coast Guard placed me in psychiatric care. My mother and sisters flew 3,000 miles … Dad would check on me a few months later. 

While in the hospital being treated for depression, a therapist interviewed me. She asked if I was willing to do anything it took to change the way I felt. I said yes. She prober further adding, “Even if that means not taking another drink for the rest of your life?”

And I said, “Yes.”