You Will Become an Alcoholic Next Week

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This is Tim’s story about coming to accept himself as an alcoholic.

For the longest time, I had a drinking problem, but I wasn’t an alcoholic. I did all the things I knew alcoholics did, things like thinking first about drinking when I was going out (and staying in), not running out, sneaking booze in where it wasn’t wanted… but I wasn’t an alcoholic. I could quit any time.

My Doctor Lied

I mentioned my drinking to my doctor. It was hard not to, when he said open your mouth and say, “Ahhh,” I about knocked him over with booze breath. Booze breath covered with Dentyne.

He asked how much and how often. I answered, almost truthfully. He gave me some useful cautions, some warnings about excessive alcohol use, and even mentioned AA. But he never used the word “alcoholic.” The polite way to say it is “problem drinker” or some variation. And that’s what I stuck with, the idea that drinking too much was a “problem” – something I could work out for myself.

He’s a nice guy and a good doctor. But by not confronting me with the plain truth, the unvarnished label “alcoholic,” he missed a chance to kick me where I needed to be kicked, right in the reality spot. He did ask me if I was interested in stopping and I said I’d cut back. And I did for awhile. After all, I didn’t have time to be an alcoholic. I’d be an alcoholic next week.

Why Does It Matter?

Words do matter. When I thought of myself as someone who drank too much, I had an easy out – don’t drink so much. And every time I’d run into deep trouble, like too many sick days at work or an embarrassing black out, I said the same thing. Each time I meant it. And each time, after I’d eased away from liquor for a few days or a week, I believed it. “I’m not an alcoholic, I’m just someone who drinks too much sometimes.”

I did go to AA. I heard the, “Hi, I’m X and I’m an alcoholic.” I even said it myself because of peer pressure. But I didn’t believe it.

Step one is easy to skip right past with a nod and a glance. “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable.” That doesn’t sound so bad. I’m not an alcoholic.

The thing is, even when I pondered it, there was a resistance to the label. If I became an alcoholic, I’d have to do all the stuff alcoholics have to do. Primarily, I’d have to stop drinking, forever. Along with that, I’d have to understand my condition wasn’t going to get better – I’d be an alcoholic the rest of my life. Nobody wants that.

Next Week Arrives

For me, next week and the realization that I truly was an alcoholic didn’t come with a crisis. I’ve heard the stories, I know it usually does. Someone gets arrested, or there’s a car crash or a death or a divorce or something that breaks through the barrier. But not for me. For me it was listening to the stories at meetings and working the steps, even though I was half-assing everything.

They say the proof is in the doing, and I’d managed all the way to step four before everything kind of crystallized. Suddenly, at the next meeting, I heard myself saying, “Hi, I’m Tim and I’m an alcoholic” and it came home to me. The words weren’t just words this time, they were the truth.

I can tell you the world didn’t end just because one of the many billions found out he was an alcoholic. What ended for me was the ready excuse of thinking I could set the drinking aside and it wasn’t personal. It damn sure is personal. As personal as needing glasses or being right handed – a part of what makes me, me. It’s an ugly part, but there’s no point in denying the truth.

I don’t think the truth of being an alcoholic set me free, but it sure pointed me in the right direction to really trying to deal with it. And that’s the real harm in becoming an alcoholic next week. Next week becomes the week after and the week after that. Next week never shows up. For me, it was only by grabbing the alcoholic label with both hands that I could finally quit putting things off – next week had arrived.

One final thing. There was a great weight lifted from me when I finally, truly admitted to myself that I was an alcoholic. I’ve heard it expressed as a “lightness of being.” Just making the admission honestly felt wonderful.

The last time I saw my doctor, I’d been sober for a year and a half. He shook my hand when he read what I’d written on my health form under “other” – alcoholic, recovering.

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