One of the biggest lies an alcoholic tells is, “I am only hurting myself”. He is certain that if you and the boss and his friends and the neighbors and the police and just about everyone else would leave him alone, he would be OK. His drinking, he feels, is of little consequence. It’s certainly not harming anyone. He shows up for work and he pays the bills. He feels he was pressured in to promising he would never come home drunk again. He’s required to occasionally stop for a celebratory drink with a customer after a big sale or to stop during the negotiation period to loosen the customer up. This is work. He comes home after the kids are in bed so he doesn’t agree with your observation that his behavior is influencing the children. You need to understand and you need to leave him alone.
And what about the times when his behavior while drinking is harmful? What about the promises he makes then? It’s not that he doesn’t mean it, it’s not that he isn’t sincere, when he looks in your eye and promises he’ll never do it again. He’ll never miss his child’s soccer game, he’ll never be late for work, he’ll never embarrass you at a family gathering by getting in to loud arguments with your father or your brother. He means it when he promises to be home by 2 p.m. Friday to take the family on a mini weekend vacation. When he arrives home just after midnight, drunk, he tries, one more time, to make you feel as though you had misunderstood him. He says you agreed leave early Saturday morning. In the past you have believed him thinking you were crazy but not this time. This time you ask, “why can’t you follow through with your promise? Don’t you love us? What’s wrong with us?” And it’s not just your words, it’s the look in your eye. He can’t see that look and continue to believe the lie, “I’m not hurting anyone” so he looks away or leaves the room and he drinks some more and you don’t understand.
Alcoholism is an insidious disease and from beginning in its earliest stages it begins to corrode relationships. The alcoholic, sober, will be able to trace back to early friendships and see the destruction brought on by alcohol. Beverage alcohol will slowly become the alcoholics mother, father, friend, lover, companion, support and in the end even his God. One relationship, one character trait, one thing at a time will evaporate. Alcohol will move in and replace it. If you are the drinker, you may think this sounds a little absurd. If you are the husband or wife, mother or father, family member or friend, if you step back, you will see it clearly.
The alcoholic will adamantly deny the truth is this account. The family member who is in the ring with the alcoholic’s disease may also deny the truth in these observations. But, the same drinker, in recovery, will be able to map the progression of his disease. He will quickly attest to the loss of integrity, decency, honesty and pride. His may view his resume as a journey in to alcoholism. There may be lost jobs, long periods of unemployment or low paying employment. There will be a lengthy list of broken or strained relationships.
Yes, sober the alcoholic will have little difficulty seeing the unmanageability of his life while drinking. In fact, for many alcoholics, the reality of their situation is too much to bear and they turn to the one thing they hope will give them relief. After a period of sobriety, they take a drink of alcohol.
This is the piece of the disease many alcoholics over look. They do not acknowledge their relationship to alcohol when they are not drinking. The alcoholic’s powerlessness comes from the fact that after a period of sobriety and while closely examing the evidence of the effects of alcohol on their life the alcoholic’s answer to the discomfort of that investigation is to take a drink of alcohol. Powerlessness? Insanity?? Or just another lie, “I am only hurting myself”
Is there no hope? I think there is. The alcoholic must first admit to his inner most self that he is alcoholic. This is much more than a nonchalant admission at an Alcoholics Anonymous Meeting where newcomers are asked to identify and give the nature of their disease. A day or two sober the new man will stand and give his name and say he is alcoholic and assume he has taken a first step in recovery. He has not. He has simply identified himself in an AA Meeting.
Understanding the physical allergy and the mental obsession of the disease is beneficial. Reading the book Alcoholics Anonymous will add to your intellectual understanding but alcoholism is not an intellectual disease. Alcoholism is a spiritual malady. The most productive method for identifying alcoholism is to attend open speaker meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous. Initially it may be uncomfortable to hear people talking out loud about things you have kept quiet all you life but after six or ten meetings, you may find yourself laughing along with the other people in the room. At every meeting, your alcoholism will wake up just a little and one day, it will take the long journey from your head to your heart and you will hopefully be in the greatest pain you have ever been in; the pain of not recovering and not drinking. This is the point where you admit to your inner most self you are alcoholic. For many, at this stage the obsession to drink has been immediately removed. For others, it has been tempered. For everyone who takes this first step, there is hope for recovery from the seemingly hopeless state they have been living in for so long.
The alcoholic is now in a position to move forward and grow spiritually. Recovery from alcoholism is an opportunity to revisit our childhood stories and change them. The stories may be absurd. The messages they left are tragic. “You are no good”, “there is something terribly wrong with you”. “if they know who I really am, they won’t like me”. I am unloved”, “I am unlovable” “I am alone”. Absurd stories and yet stories and lies that have fueled the alcoholics’ life and behavior for years.
Me? I am going to talk to a friend who insists her drinking isn’t hurting anyone. If her parents, her teachers, the police and her employer would just leave her alone, she would be OK.
I won’t be able to change her thinking. I will take her with me to an open speaker meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous and see if she laughs.
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