Dirty Words and Dark Secrets

In thinking about my word of the year I have also had cause to consider some of the ‘dirty’ words I have come up against since beginning (officially) this journey last May. The ‘A’ word, obviously: am I? Aren’t I? What does it really mean? Then there are the others that I have also had to confront, reluctantly and full of fear; “depression” “medication,” and one that has been persistently and increasingly insistently demanding my attention: cross-addiction. (Is this one word or two? Is this even exactly the right word? Let it stand.)

A guest post by Veronica Valli on A hangover free life on Tuesday finally gave me a frame for really confronting the issue and I am here today (a bit like church! Ha) to try again to tackle it.

One of the biggest mistakes I see people make in sobriety is believing that drinking is the problem when it is a symptom of the problem.

Our real problem is how we think and how we feel. We have to develop new and better ways to deal with our feelings and emotions. Because when we feel differently, we act differently, says Veronica.

How much easier it would be to be normal. A “normal” drinker, thinker, feeler, processor of life and living. I wish I was, sometimes, but of course there is no way of knowing which bits of myself would be left and which lost if I could be cured once and for all of the darkness, and the compulsive consumption that I resort to so readily – sometimes in a conscious bid to vanquish the darkness and sometimes just… because. Boredom, possibly, or something more destructive.

In any case, I am not “normal” even to the extent that there is such a thing at all. Alcoholic or no there came a time when I understood that I was powerless over alcohol, and that no relationship with it could ever be healthy. I had to quit, once and for all. Cross addiction is proving thornier. I can’t – well I don’t want to – quit sugar and caffeine once and for all. What a prospect! But the truth is these are not innocuous comforts or harmless distractions for me.

While I will not go so far as to liken, truly, either of these (or for that matter Bejeweled and its time-sucking brain-numbing ilk) to alcohol, there are some distressing similarities at least in my life as I am living it at the moment.

I wake up eager for my first cup of coffee and if my husband, who rises first, has not yet made any I feel disgruntled and cross until it is ready and poured. Sometimes I will drink a whole pot and be left shaky and agitated. I know before the last cup is poured that I have had enough. I know from bitter experience that if I drink coffee too late in the day I will have a terrible night’s sleep, making the next day worse, but I regularly do it anyway. I have a hard time leaving coffee in the pot, and I spend too much on it when I am out.

As to sugar… I have seen it discussed often enough on these pages and elsewhere by people in recovery to know that I am not alone. I always know how much there is in the house and as often as not once I start on a bar of chocolate (or box of cookies or tray of brownies, I cannot stop until it is finished. I hide it from the rest of the family so I won’t have to share. I have been known to contrive grocery orders (a household can always use a colossal stash of extra toilet paper, right?) in order to have a fix delivered late in the afternoon, after being “good” all day and committing in all sincerity to a dessert-free evening. Sometimes, if I really go to town, the late-night load of sugar actually causes me to wake up at 3am, a low-key version of the wine-fuelled wakings of old and accompanied by milder but unlovely feelings of shame and regret.

The less said about Bejeweled the better.

These are not comforts, nor are they harmless. They are hurting me. I am hurting myself. I am impeding, delaying, preventing my recovery. I understand that, at least for now, moderation is not a good strategy for me. I have decided that my last cup of coffee must indeed have been my last, for a while at least and that sugar  is off the table.

For today, it seems to me that the most important thing is really looking at the thing and I must admit that the act of writing all this down has been sobering. I hope that posting this here will give me some of the same sense of accountability that I got, especially in the early days, when I stopped drinking. Simply abstaining from one substance and replacing it with others is not going to be enough for me any more. I cannot truly be sober until I learn to live with and as myself. I am worthy of a full and healthful recovery, and that is surely a thing to be grateful for.

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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…