Below you will find a series of reflections, anonymously written by an alcoholic. It gives a powerful insight in the mind of someone who is very much aware of his own suffering and the suffering inflicted on others.
I invite you to scroll down these amazing diary posts.
Testimony of An Alcoholic
Foreword: Testimony of an alcoholic is written by an alcoholic who was drinking at the time of writing the article. His story is a powerful testimony of his awareness of his situation. He wants to share his story with you.
“Alcohol has a very long history in just about every culture as a social lubricant, yet it has always been a coin with two very different sides. And this is the conundrum. Heads, it helps people to ‘lighten up’, to put those who may be socially timid at ease. Tails. It is a chemical both subtle enough and deadly enough to utterly destroy lives. On balance – don’t go near it with a ten foot pole.
Many seem to have the balance just right. They drink to be ‘sociable’, and know when to stop. Others, however, have no such mechanism. So is it people who are at fault? There. I said it – automatically. ‘At fault’. So the ‘problem’ then appears to reside with the individual. The problem being that some know when to stop while others do not. So how does that make it a problem? In essence, it doesn’t.
The question is, how much booze is too much booze?
I have a feeling that this is the point where people become very interested in voicing their opinion. The spectrum of response is broad. At one end, total abstinence. At the other, it is my business how much I drink and nothing to do with anybody else. Hmmmm. True, I suppose, if you live in a bubble. But who lives in a bubble?
A wise alcoholic, (they do exist), may try to create a bubble in order to minimize the impact their drinking has on those around them. Few alcoholics are that wise. Issues of domestic violence, drink-driving accidents/offences and the ultimate cost to the health service, bear testimony to the fact that excessive consumption of alcohol can rarely, if ever, be confined to a bubble.
Society, as reflected in the mass media, simply cannot resist the temptation to judge. The media is quite happy to advertise alcohol and take the cash for it. Alcohol is not the problem. People are.
What take do governments have on the matter? Well, that depends where you live and that fact in itself suggests that the jury is still out on any kind of definitive solution. For example, in the US alcoholism, to a great extend, is regarded as a disease and funds are released to try to tackle it like any other medical illness.
In Europe, in general, alcoholism is regarded as a social problem. We need to address the individual and their life-choices. In Arabic countries, in general, it is banned outright. Simple as that.
But where does that leave us? We need some facts.
Fact one. Alcohol is an addictive and poisonous chemical. We have to dilute it or it would kill us immediately. We need to flavour it, because the actual taste of it is seriously horrible.
Fact two. Some people respond well within the bounds of social norms when consuming alcohol. Others are totally out of control.
Fact three. Overconsumption of alcohol is both a medical and a social problem.
Should we blame the alcoholic? No. Why not? Would you choose to compromise your health, destroy your relationships, see people you care about suffer, lose your job, your home, your self-respect. In short…everything that makes you human?
Would you? Of course you wouldn’t.
The idea of ‘choice’ here then is a complete non-starter. No choice, no blame. He has no choice. He is ill.
But why is it that whenever I want information about the illness that is alcoholism, I hit a brick wall of well-intentioned so-called professionals who have never actually been there? I think that only people who have actually been there know what an alcoholic is talking about. Do-gooders no doubt have the best of intentions but it’s a bit like a man trying to sympathise with his wife during her labour. You simply have no idea.
Does that mean these people cannot help? No. They can help. Not by judging, even accidentally.
I might be an alcoholic, but I’m not stupid. I’m a university educated professional holding down a good job, thank you. I have what I consider to be an illness. I am ill. Am I to be judged because I am ill?
I understand that my drinking has reached an excessive level where it is having a negative impact on my life in general. I am a coping alcoholic who believes it is possible to reduce my level of drinking to socially acceptable levels. Am I in denial? I am not because I know what I am doing.
So why is it that some people become dependent on alcohol? I have heard all the stories. My father this, my mother that. My childhood blah blah blah. Dodgy histories an alcoholic do not make. If they did, there would be a lot more of us.
It is the person. It must be. My sister is two years older than me. She went through the exact same upbringing. She is not an alcoholic. So it’s not genetic. It can’t be. I have another sister who is four years older than me. She is not an alcoholic. I have a half-brother, six years older, different father. He is an alcoholic. His father is not an alcoholic. My mother was not an alcoholic. My father, I believe, was an alcoholic.
Complicated genetics, eh? So I don’t think that alcoholism is genetic. However, I reserve final judgement pending fresh facts. What if it were? Great! Isolate the gene, implement gene therapy, and Bob’s your uncle. Problem solved, case closed, and all the I-told-you-sos can begin.
Meanwhile, back in reality, the conundrum continues, and the question remains:
Why do I want another drink? Is there an incremental improvement in how I feel after another drink? That would be motivation. But it suggests that I am not happy where I am. Is this then about happiness? Ask me to make a list of the ten things in life that make me happy. I can guarantee you that twelve tins of beer will not be on the list.
As a thinking, self-aware and intelligent alcoholic, you have no idea how frustrating that fact is. But it remains a fact.
Do you think there is an answer?
Yes, I do.
Have you tried ‘professional’ organisations which purport to help alcoholics like you?
No, I haven’t.
Because I have immense self-belief. I believe that I can solve this problem. Going to somewhere like AA would be an admission of failure. Of giving up, and I’m not ready to give up.
If you are concerned about your drinking or would like more information on drinking and alcohol visit www.lookatyourdrinking.com
How Weird Was That?
With no real idea where the thought came from, no feelings of doubt or reservation and with my former serious scepticism mysteriously absent, the decision came to me to go to my first ever Alcoholic Anonymous meeting.
I am still trying to get my head around exactly how and why (now) this happened but today I just want and need, to recount how my first meeting went.
It was important to me that I went with an open mind and being generally the open-minded type, I had no problem with this – although I had still surprised myself!
No. What was weird was the fact that the pride, the feeling that I have the ability to solve this alcohol problem myself and on my own, was gone.
I arrived a little early and met Jane, who was chairing the meeting and who was the first one there. I introduced myself and asked if there was a meeting today and if so, could I attend.
I was very warmly welcomed and spent the next wonderful hour and a half being fascinated by the true stories and recollections of my fellow members as they illuminated upon their previous alcoholic lives with frankness and what I intuitively understood to be honesty – and often with humour too! It was a revelation to me and I thought, reward for and vindication of my decision not only to attend, but to do so with a completely open mind. The people were normal, intelligent, genuine, open and very friendly and helpful without being in any way pushy, sanctimonious, or aloof.
An extremely positive experience and I feel now that I have overcome already perhaps the biggest hurdle which has undermined my countless attempts to stop drinking in the past. My pride. My pride that I could do it on my own. I have realised for many years that I could not. Now I know that in addition to that fact is the wonderful realization that I don’t have to! I have found here a support group which I feel very comfortable to be a part of and which I also feel will be critical in putting me firmly on the path to recovery.
I have had a good week. I have been looking after myself, eating well, getting plenty of rest, keeping busy, reading up on some of the Alcoholic Anonymous literature I have and gently changing my thinking and my habits to accommodate this new process of recovery. I have not felt any urge to drink at all but experience tells me that temptation could come at any time.
The advice I have read and continue to re-read will, I am sure, prepare me well for those times when they do come. And now I am not alone. One phone call will put me in touch with a chap I met at my first meet last Saturday. He will help me if I feel like I might slide. Also, I have embraced the concept of the 24 hour plan, in which I resolve to literally take each day at a time, try to stay in the ‘Now’ and focus on not drinking for just that period of time, without worrying about tomorrow, next week, next month. I can do nothing about the future – I can only influence the present, so that is where my focus and my energy has been this week. In the Now.
I shall be keeping a weekly diary of my experiences at the AA meetings. At this point I will continue with the Saturday meet and will report on progress there. I expect I shall also attend other meets at other times and in other locations, so I will post my thoughts on those here as well.
I feel so happy and optimistic!!!! How weird was that?
Week two of my diary of recovery.
My second Alcoholic Anonymous meeting was lovely and I went for coffee and had a lovely chat afterwards with a couple of the guys. So good to talk with people who have total empathy. I never experienced anything like it. So powerful.
I had a good week and on the surface, an uneventful one. Why? Because nothing happened. Nothing. No cravings, no climbing up the wall, no irritability, no temptation to backslide…….nothing.
A week where I continued with the process in three main areas. Service. Helping those around me whenever I could, without going over the top. Being nice to myself. Enjoying the gratitude and abundance of just being and not fighting the moment.
Time spent in my own thoughts. On the beach, embracing the sun and the mountains and the cool waters of the bay while swimming. I spotted a dolphin early in the week, in the morning while I was walking the dog…a very special moment for me. I felt in some way blessed to witness her graceful movements as she slid out of the sea to catch a breath of air before gliding back below.
Thirdly, action. Physical action in the form of exercise, eating well and sleeping well, and reading. I have been reading ‘A New Earth’ by Eckhart Tolle and it works perfectly in combination with my little yellow Bible from Alcoholic Anonymous.
Living in the Now, taking one day at a time is uppermost in my mind this week. I don’t need to worry about next week, or even tomorrow.
The third meeting today was great. Lots of people new to me, lots to listen to and resonate with. J opened and I was both surprised and delighted as she described her week, back in the UK, because….it was a normal week….nothing happened!
Yet again a lot was said that I identified with and without going into all the details, it underlined my feeling that this is the way, that I am in the right place, and crucially, that I am not alone.
With the support of this fellowship, I will succeed. That is more important than I can possibly say and I am super-grateful for my situation right now.
Now Is All We Have
The alcohol recovery meetings continue to offer real help, real support and a real way of evaporating feelings of isolation. Super-effective.
Problems persist, though, as problems tend to do. I keep thinking about how things would have been different if I had not been mucked about with my summer work, which has turned into a real saga. But the situation we are in is the situation we are in and we have to deal with things as they are, and not keep wishing they were otherwise. A nice theory, but I often find this hard.
I spoke about my frustration to a fellow after the last meeting. She was very thoughtful when she said that maybe I didn’t start the work in July because the Universe needed me here to sow the seed which blossomed into my decision – somewhat out of the blue – to go to my first AA meeting and start this glorious ball of my alcohol recovery, rolling .
She had a good point, although I am always a little wary of going down that path of “if I hadn’t done this or that then so-and-so wouldn’t have happened”. My problem with that line of thinking is that we simply do not know what may or may not have happened if we had or had not done something or other.
We can’t know, and my best answer to this is to say that it does not matter. I did, or did not, do this or that and I am now at this point, in this place and I only have to trust that the Universe has presented this situation for my ultimate benefit and having accepted that, just get on with things. It seems to work.
We can’t live in the past with a load of “ífs”. It is totally unhelpful and serves no good purpose. We live in the Now. We can alter things now, and only now. I read somewhere once that said, more or less, that the past is gone, the future hasn’t happened yet. All we have is the now, which is a gift. That is why we call it ‘The Present’!!
I am still making plans for my future, of course. Every day checking out job possibilities, keeping in touch with what is on offer out there, bearing in mind that I have my contract to go to in October. No harm in looking to see if there are better possibilities elsewhere. Options are no bad thing, for sure.
I’ll keep it brief this week. I feel strong, confident and above all, grateful. It is such a good philosophy to keep focussed on what we have to be grateful for, whether it is a good view for a moment, or the warm sun, the sound of the sea, a smile from a stranger – whatever.
I am re-learning the art of living where alcohol, alcoholism, or my addiction do not have to pre-occupy my every waking moment. This really helps to keep me on the right track. The sober track.
Bye for now.
What Would Be The Point
So far so good. I am looking after myself and following the suggestions in that wonderfully helpful little book I received from AA called ‘Living Sober’. What a great title! As support for an alcoholic in recovery it draws the emphasis away from not drinking and places it squarely where it belongs.
Having cast pride aside and asked the Universe to help me resolve this killer issue of my uncontrolled drinking, this perspective makes perfect sense, and what is more, it works!
My focus is now on living sober, not on avoiding getting drunk. When I think about drinking to get drunk now I just think, what would be the point? Turning the alcoholic problem on its head is very effective.
So what, you may ask, have I actually been doing?
Nothing earth-shattering. I have just got on with sticking to sound advice which is practical and simple. For example, using the 24 hour plan (page 5). This effectively means focussing on not drinking for just one day at a time. Realising that Now is the only time we have where we can actually do anything.
This completely removes the stress of thinking I must not drink for the rest of my natural. Very effective. Getting active (page 13). Replacing old (drinking) habits with new ones.
I have been sea swimming every day and doing a lot of walking. Nothing too exerting. Just good relaxing low-impact exercise. I am going to the Alcoholic Anonymous meetings regularly, every Saturday and am gradually building up my new network of fellows who are now only a phone call or email away. Being my natural sociable self, in fact. Great for evaporating any feelings of isolation.
Let us not forget that isolation is a killer component for alcoholic dependency. Add the fact that these are people who completely understand and emphasise with how I feel and this is now a powerful element in my continuing recovery, underpinned, of course, by my initial decision to stop drinking alcohol.
So how do I feel?
I feel great. Very positive. Yes, there are still problems in my life. I am still effectively homeless and sleeping on a friend’s sofa until my work begins. Money is extremely tight but I am attacking my smoking habit now so this also helps. I have bought only one pack of fags in two weeks – not perfect but definitely progress to be proud of.
I am eating well and reading some good stuff to keep me in the right frame of mind. Today is Friday 2nd of September and I am so looking forward to the Alcoholic Anonymous meeting tomorrow.
Last week’s meet was very powerful and once again I heard a lot of things which resonated very strongly with me and reminded me of past episodes when I was binge drinking. No need or desire to go down that road again – what would be the point? I am well rested and feeling stronger with each passing day.
Complacency could slip in unnoticed at this stage and I am very well aware of that. To be honest, I have not, up to this point, had any cravings for a drink. Thoughts have crossed my mind once or twice, but not any actual urges. The thoughts I deal with very easily. I just think about what I could do and what I would have done under certain circumstances when I was drinking and the response I get from myself now is, ‘…but what would be the point?’ And then the thought is gone and I just get back to living my life.
What is Tolerance
More new faces at the meeting today. Nice to see such a variety of different types of personality.
Tolerance presented itself as the theme of the meet and it was very thought-provoking. Most seemed to think that tolerance was a good thing and to an extent, I agree. However I also think that there are plenty of situations that we are right not to tolerate. I reckon it is how we handle it that matters.
O.K, so some drivers don’t indicate. We might find it hard to tolerate, insofar as it irritates us. But here, the serenity prayer comes to our rescue. Some drivers don’t indicate. True. What can we do about it? Nothing. So we need to find a way to accept that fact and let it go.
I’m the same at the supermarket checkout where routinely the staff and most Spanish customers have absolutely no sense of urgency whatsoever. Irritating maybe, but if that is all I have to worry about, I can’t be doing too badly!
Another solid recovery week. No twitches or cravings, so everything on track, thankfully. The thought of drinking and of alcohol in general, is receding pretty fast, so it allows me to turn my attention to the important thing, namely, living!
This may sound obvious but after years of gearing ones habits and routines around buying alcohol, drinking alcohol and recovering from having consumed excessive quantities of alcohol, this return to normality is a big deal to a recovering alcoholic. Big gaps in time which were formerly occupied by booze now need to be filled with more ‘normal’ and productive activities.
A softly softly approach is needed and I am aware that I should not try to do too much too soon. Easy does it. So tolerance needs to be exercised with myself. Establishing new routines takes time and patience.
For me it is a little difficult because I am not working at the moment. I am looking forward to getting back to the academy soon because this will really see me in a good solid routine, doing the job that I really love.
More next time, so stay positive and take care of yourself.
‘Triggers’ was the general theme of the alcoholic recovery meeting this week, prompted by a rather harrowing account of a fellow recoverer’s recent descent back into the pit of excessive alcohol consumption. Exactly what triggers this and many other types of behaviour or response is an interesting, albeit difficult, question to answer.
In normal daily life we all encounter triggers in some form. TV advertising is devoted to creating and exploiting them and we all have triggers that spring to mind. A cup of tea may trigger the desire for a biscuit. A coffee or finishing a meal often triggers the desire for a cigarette in those who smoke. Certain music or smells can trigger powerful emotions or memories.
These triggers reflect a strong connection between two separate elements where the presence of one stimulates a need for or a memory of the other. The result may be a positive or a negative experience. For those with an alcohol addiction, the obvious concern is what triggers may initiate the desire for a drink and what to do about them to prevent the recovering alcoholic from reaching for the bottle.
Certain times of the day or week, familiar places and activities associated with drinking alcohol can be powerful triggers for any alcoholic, so our first step must be to recognise those which are especially dangerous to us. An alcoholic may need to avoid pubs or bars altogether, while others can happily use these places from time to time to socialise, while drinking nothing more harmful than a coffee or fruit juice.
We need to work out the traps we are most likely to fall into and avoid those, especially in the early days of our recovery. Substituting old routines for new, healthier ones is a vital first step. Just not doing something is not enough. The last thing we want is a void. Think about all those countless hours spent buying, consuming and recovering from drinking. Those hours are now freed up and provide opportunities to develop new habits and new routines to keep us positive and our recovery on track.
Recognizing Alcoholic Triggers
My triggers were Friday evenings or as soon as the end of my working week was nigh. In the past I used to look forward to the social aspect of the weekend. Sports, parties, gigs, fun. All with alcohol as the social lubricant. Later on, as my social life contracted and shrank and I became increasingly isolated. My Friday night trigger remained but only in connection with booze. I thought, in my distorted way at the time, that drinking booze would bring back the good times. It doesn’t work like that.
Alcohol-related triggers also affect the nearest and dearest of the sufferer. Spouses, partners, family and close friends develop triggers of their own as early warning signs, coping mechanisms and for sheer survival. Such is the ripple effect the alcoholic has on those around him/her.
There are many ways we can begin to challenge these triggers and dismantle them. This diary does not attempt to name and list them. My path began by disconnecting the trigger between my ego and my problem. I saw the problem, which triggered my ego to think it could solve the problem alone. Despite numerous failures, my ego was too proud to accept the obvious. I could not do it on my own.
My advice to one in similar circumstances would be, ditch your pride, it is not helping you in any way and incidentally, it is surprisingly easy and actually refreshing when you do it. Nothing to lose – and your life to regain. But you must want out. It all starts from there. The best time to start is twenty years ago. The second best time is now.
I believe that the key elements to success in defeating alcoholism are simply a willingness to want change. Motivation to be open-minded about where we might turn to get the assistance we need. Above all, to recognise the fact which is, in my view, absolutely fundamental; we cannot do this alone and vitally, we don’t have to or need to.
Good news for all concerned.”
My name is Renate van Nijen. I am a Dutch born, artist and writer living in Southern Spain. On my website, www.renatevannijen.com you can find more information about my books, including about Cheers, the hidden voices of alcoholism, and my art. If you are affected by the drinking of a loved one please feel free to subscribe to my blog and you will get instant access to two chapters from Cheers! I will also upload one chapter of my book every month!