This week, I told three people (three people I did not intend on telling) about my blog. All three are in high school. All three of them are mature enough to understand the significance of my words. With each conversation, there was an opportunity to address my alcoholism. But I did not do so. I just stated that I had a blog and kept on movin’. In other words, I choked. I had a teachable moment but I did not accept the challenge. I regret my decision. So, for my three ladies, tonight I write for you.
I think, fundamentally, there are two separate questions. 1) How or why did I become an alcoholic? 2) Why do I write about my alcoholism in such a public forum? For the sake of brevity, I think I will address the first question in Friday’s blog and the second question in Monday’s blog.
How or why did I become an alcoholic?
Addiction in any form is a baffling and confusing topic. Many facets of society offer different reasons for how and why addiction starts. Some people feel one acquires alcoholism over time. Drink enough alcohol, and one will surely become an alcoholic. Some believe that alcoholism is a response to a traumatic experience or otherwise physiological unraveling. And still some others believe it is genetic, something that one is born with like brown hair or green eyes. I believe all three of these theories have merit. Ultimately though, Doctors and scientists have proven through MRIs (brain scans) that when an addicted person consumes drugs or alcohol, his brain kicks into overdrive, lights up like a Christmas tree. Clearly there is some kind of biological component to alcoholism.
But addiction does not just exist in the brain; the body physically becomes acclimated to this way of living. When an addicted person tries to stop drinking or using certain drugs, an acutely painful experience called “withdraw” can set in. Most alcoholics and addicts must check into the hospital or rehab in order to “detox” off these substances. To not do so is very dangerous. People can die from quitting abruptly; the change is too shocking to the system. This physical component often leads to a person continuing to abuse substances long after he has wanted to stop. The necessity to continue drinking or using when one no longer wants, is the great paradox of addiction.
Think of it like this: you’re crazy hungry. You skipped lunch. Now, it’s after school and you are starving to death. Someone hands you your very favorite meal. And you eat and eat and eat. Have you ever eaten so much you felt sick to your stomach? Have you ever ate so much you felt guilty and gross and fat? Okay, alcoholism is like that but a billion times worse because it is alcohol and not chocolate.
Okay, so wait, back to the question. How did I, your lovely and talented Ann, become an alcoholic? I really don’t know. Yes, yes to all of it. What I do know is that I have a distinct memory of a conversation. It was a summer day in Boston. I am walking down the street. The conversation was not about me. It was about someone else, but my friend said, “You are not an alcoholic.” And I remember in my head thinking, “I’ve got you snowed.” Because I knew. I knew I was an alcoholic. I was eighteen years old.
It would take me another twelve years before I walked into the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. We have a book. It is called the “Big Book.” My very favorite line is from page 152. It says, “He cannot picture life without alcohol. Someday he will be unable to imagine life either with alcohol or without it. Then he will know loneliness such as few do. He will be at the jumping-off place. He will wish for the end.”
The line says he (the alcoholic) cannot imagine life without alcohol. But in the next sentence there is a subtle shift. Now the man cannot “imagine life either with alcohol or without it.” A change has occurred in the man.
The passage goes on to say, “Then he will know loneliness such as few do.” I love the simple elegance of those lines because I know exactly that feeling. When one cannot continue the way one is living, and yet cannot stop, life feels impossible. Doing something, repeatedly, that one does not want to do is a humiliating and soul crushing experience. This feeling, this loneliness, I do not wish upon anyone. And yet, I know without a doubt, that emotion saved my life. Without that emotion, I might have never reached out and asked how to make it stop.
The end of my active addiction and the beginning of my recovery was both the worst and the best day of my life. That day was February 28, 2007.
To be Continued Monday.