Maybe It’s Just Me

So. Since I started this process, (yea all those 16 days (+/-) ago,) I’ve been wrestling with the concepts of “alcoholic” and “alcoholism.” I thought I was going to make my peace with them, but it turns out I haven’t. Yesterday my therapist asked me to define what I thought an alcoholic is, and my first impulse was to respond, not me. Now, I don’t have a second’s hesitation in saying that I have an addiction or that I am alcohol dependent, so I don’t think it’s denial, per se. I have an idea, though, which is a little unformed and I thought to try and hammer it out here. 

The spark, I guess, came from Andrew Solomon’s powerful book on depression, “The Noonday Demon,’ which I have just started reading. He says, “There is no essential self that lies pure… under the chaos of experience and chemistry.” (Isn’t that great?) So I think what it has got me thinking about is how problematic the disease conception of alcoholism is. It’s not like chicken pox or something, where we’ve been infected by a virus and but for that we’d be clear-eyed and in control, and nor does it seem accurate or helpful to think of alcohol as the virus, and would that a cure could be found we’d be “healthy.” I feel like I am mangling this thought – the passage from idea to expression is as ever a challenge. I’m not proud of, or attached to my drinking identity, but I am pretty sure that I am not separate from it, either, and that freeing myself of the addiction is actually not going to “cure me” of myself – part of which is all the constellation of neuroses and quirks and proclivities – and passions and gifts that… facilitated my descent into alcoholic drinking. 

I’m not defending it (my drinking) and I am not coming from a place of defensiveness; I just think I (and probably many of us) turned to alcohol to be able to cope with a world and a life that was in many ways overwhelming not so much because of my particular circumstances but because of how I’m wired. I don’t want to drink or otherwise numb myself to that overwhelm any more, and I don’t want to be defenseless in the face of the pain and darkness that  I am, I suppose vulnerable to (keenly aware of?) but… I don’t want to be cured of who I am or how I see the world – actually the prospect of a cure in that sense sounds a lot like obliteration. But maybe that’s just my addiction talking. Perhaps this is insufferable navel gazing. I feel like there’s a lot of chatter about the stigma of alcoholism but I haven’t really read anything that gets to the nut of it, or at least of my discomfort with it. That’s all I have for now. I’d really value your insights if you’ve read this far and think there’s anything to this – I’m a little afraid that this makes no sense at all. (Is it too soon to joke that at least when I was drinking I was convicted in my ideas even when my logic was less than stellar?) Day 16…

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7 thoughts on “Maybe It’s Just Me”

  1. I am absolutely on the same page with you. I think you said it brilliantly. We are more than this issue in our lives, but at the same time, this issue has become intertwined inexorably with so MUCH of our lives.

    There was a great discussion of why we say “in recovery” on The Bubble Hour, but I can’t remember which episode it was. I, personally, try to use the term “in recovery from alcohol,” or just “in recovery,” instead of shouting that I’M AN ALCOHOLIC. I’ve even noticed that a bunch of folks at AA have started introducing themselves that way, which is neat to see.

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  2. Well, what a nice juicy, thoughtful, and thought provoking post to read to start my day!

    Another post you might like to read if you are chewing these matters over is from Holly at Hip Sobriety – sorry, can’t link as am on phone and am techno-orangutan, but it’s called something like ‘why I’m not an alcoholic and no-one is’.

    My own viewpoint is that some of us may be mentally wired differently making us more susceptible to dependence, but that it is overwhelmingly the combination of our cumulative experiences and choices that takes us to where we get to. Looking back over my own drinking history I drank heavily in cycles – mostly when I was lonely, isolated, or in the wrong place in my life. Then when life improved, I pushed alcohol away again – until I didn’t.

    That is a wonderful quote which really struck a chord with me too. For my eighteen month sobriety coin I had a silver keyring fob engraved with the words ‘an ongoing narrative’ which is a phrase quoted by Pema Chodron, reflecting the Buddhist idea of the self which as I understand it contrasts with the Christian idea of the soul as an innate and fixed identity. If you find these ideas interesting you might also like to read anything by Rick Hanson, in particular ‘Buddha’s Brain’ which I read early in my sobriety and is a compassionate and hugely practical guide to understand our own thinking patterns.

    Good luck on your onward journey! Xx

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  3. These are some deep thoughts for day 16, my friend. I think at day 16 I was shaking too bad still to write, let alone have some coherence stuff to write about.

    It wasn’t easy for me to label myself as an alcoholic early on. I was very resistant to it, in fact. As I hung around sober alcoholics, I learned that my illness, if I’m sober, can actually be a great strength. And that the strength was always in me, I just never knew quite how to access it.

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    1. Thanks Mark! I love that. I think one of my most deeply seated fears is that having mustered the will to make this change I will find that I am not strong – that there is nothing else to me. I don’t mean that quite as bleakly as it sounds but can’t think of another way to say it. Thanks for the encouragement, anyway! x

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