The big lie many alcoholics tell over and over, “I am only hurting myself”
Family and friends of the alcoholic know this is simply not true. It’s not just the behaviors while drinking that are painful. It’s the alcoholic’s promise to never do it again, never get drunk again, never ruin another family event, never miss an important occasion, never get angry and rage especially in front of the children, never . . . never . . . never. The promises alcoholics make after every incident of inappropriate behavior while drinking is endless. And, as the promise is being made, the alcoholic means it with every fiber in their body. But, the alcoholic without recovery will not be able to keep those promises. They will do those same things over and over and they will not be able to look at you because they can no longer tolerate what they see in your eyes. Eyes filled with hurt because somehow you think it is your fault. You are not smart enough or young enough or pretty enough. You are not strong enough or nurturing enough. You complain too much, you ask too many questions. Something about you is lacking and the alcoholic, seeing the question in your eyes, “what is wrong with me?” is filled with guilt and shame and, at the same time, unable to stay away from the next drink. The next drink is the one that will ease those feelings of guilt and shame for the drinker but what of the person left with a broken promise? Someone beside the drinker is certainly being hurt over and over.
Alcoholism is an allergy of the body and an obsession of the mind and, perhaps most damaging and at its core, alcoholism is a spiritual malady. Selfish, self centered, dishonest, self seeking, and frightened are constant behaviors manifested by alcoholics. Examples are abundant, is certainty that he isn’t harming anyone else is self centered. His belief that if anyone at all is hurt, it is only him is selfish. The taking a drink to ease the feelings of guilt and shame is self seeking. The drinker’s claim that drinking is the only way he can fit in to a world that seems so foreign, a world that doesn’t seem to provide enough for his unrealistic expectations is dishonest.
The diagnosis is physical and mental as indicated by continuing to drink in spite of all the evidence and negative consequences brought about by drinking. He is restless, irritable and discontent when he is simply not drinking. If this condition goes on for any length of time, the drinker, now dry, may create a whole different level of concern at home or in the office as his behaviors may become erratic. He will be happy for a short period of time and have bursts of anger that might last for minutes or days. No one can predict his mood for any length of time. Many family members will tell you, although embarrassed, that they secretly, or perhaps not so secretly, wished the drinker would take a drink during this period believing he was at least predictable when he drank. The family often finds themselves making comments like, “dad seemed better when he was drinking”, “I wish he would just have one to take the edge off” and the sad truth is it doesn’t take much to convince an alcoholic he can just have one to take the edge off . One drink leads to a second drink and suddenly everything is as desperate as it ever was.
The man takes a drink. The drink takes a drink. The drink takes the man.
“I went to Alcoholics Anonymous. There was too much talk of God there.” All men and women who struggle have some difficulty with the concept of God. The difficulty seems to lay in the belief that I do not deserve a God in my life. Because it can take time and honest evaluation to get to the core issue, men and women are asked to set aside the word “God” and, as the early members of Alcoholics Anonymous so knowingly suggest, use the phrase “a power greater than yourself” as the spiritual power that will, as a result of taking the steps suggested by Alcoholics Anonymous, reach in and change that thing in you that turns men and women from selfish takers to loving givers.
When I think of the spiritual malady and the need for a spiritual solution, I am reminded of the story of the man that asks St Peter to show him Heaven and Hell. First St Peter takes him to a room that has a placard that reads “Hell” on the door. St Peter opens to door to find the room filled with people. In the room were tables and tables of food. As much food as you could ever want and every kind of food you could ever ask for. The people in that room were starving. They were hungry. The reason they were hungry is they had long wooden spoons tied to their wrists, The spoons were just a little too long and as hard as they tried no one could get the food to their mouth. A room full of people standing amongst plenty and dying. The alcoholic, without recovery, stands among plenty daily and slowly dies an alcoholic death.
The next room was marked with a sign that read Heaven. Inside that room the scene was exactly the same. There were tables and tables of food. There was as much food as you could ever want and any kind of food you could think of. The people in that room had those long wooden spoons tied to their arms as well but the people in that room were singing and they were full, happy and content. The difference was one man was taking a spoonful of food and feeding the person next to him and he was taking a spoonful and feeding the women across the table and she was feeding someone else.
The spiritual solution is in helping others. It is impossible to be selfish and self centered while focused on helping someone else.
The alcoholic, his family, co-workers and friends are relieved when they discover the simplicity of the solution to the disease that has held them hostage for so many years. The physical component (the allergy) is addressed by not drinking. The mental aspect (the obsession) is addressed by engaging in a recovery process. Alcoholics Anonymous is the best known but there are others. It’s best if you can find something that involves a fellowship that offers a life time of support. The spiritual component of the disease of alcoholism is addressed by helping others change. Yes, it’s that simple.
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