Friday, September 19, 2014

Listen for the Similarities, not the Differences

Obviously, a guy who rode a tricycle to a detox is an addict.
Clearly, the chick whose daughter caught her passed out in a car from an overdose has a problem. 
And the veteran who downs a fifth every single day needs some help.

...but me? I'm just a lonely 20-something who drinks when she's bored, alone, angry, sad, scared, happy, or for absolutely no reason at all. 

I've never killed anyone in a drunk driving accident.
I've never experienced homelessness. 
I've never even been arrested. 

How could I possibly be an alcoholic? 

In my first week of rehab, I struggled with this issue. Heavily. 

One night a fellow came to the treatment center to run one of our sessions. He was about my age, somewhere in his 20s, although maybe still a few years older than me. At the beginning, he told us about his experiences and I was dumb-struck. This clean-cut, very UC Berkeley looking, guy had been a high-rolling drug dealer before I had even finished college, 

Then he said something that really resonated with me. 

"I realized that if I wasn't an alcoholic, quitting drinking wouldn't matter to me. If someone told me today I couldn't eat pretzels the rest of my life, I'd be disappointed but I'd be like, 'Ok-whatever.' and move on... But alcohol... No it's too important to me. And that right there, is the moment I realized I was an alcoholic."

Just the thought of never drinking again made my heart race, and I identified with that part of his story. 

After that session I was done for the evening and was free to do what I wanted (within house rules of course). So I retreated to my dorm room with my notebook and journal to do the only logical thing I do when weighing a decision: to make a list. 

I created a simple table with two columns in my composition notebook. I labelled the left side "Reasons I'm NOT an alcoholic" and the right side "Reasons I AM an alcoholic" 

Then I spent the next 15-20 minutes just writing things down on either side of the list. For the right side, I consulted my notes and handouts from the previous seven days of group therapy and one-on-one sessions. 

Very quickly I realized that my lists were completely imbalanced. The reasons I thought I was not an alcoholic were weak...
"So-and-so doesn't think I'm an alcoholic."
"There's that one time I only had one drink all night."
...and worthless when compared to the reasons I was an alcoholic.
"It takes more than three drinks to get me buzzed and I have no idea how many get me drunk."
"I kept drinking even though I didn't want to."
and most importantly...
"Once I start drinking I cannot reliably predict what will happen or what I will do."
Until that night, I had been listening to peoples' stories all wrong. I heard the WHO, WHAT, WHEN, and WHERE of their drinking and using stories - but I was not listening to WHY or the HOW... you know, the really good parts. 

I heard the differences in our stories - not the similarities. 

I don't know that guy's name, where he's from or even if he's still clean and sober - but he made a difference in my life that night. And for that, I'm eternally grateful.