"The lubricant became a crutch that became a habit that became an addiction."
- L, a grateful alcoholic in recovery
When I shared in this blogpost, two days ago, that I had reached the one-year milestone of living in sobriety, I was showered with love and support. THANK YOU! I received several messages from people that really got me thinking, and validated my decision to be open to the public about my journey. These messages, both in the virtual world and in the real world, were some iteration of, “I thought I just needed to take a few days off of drinking, but your blog made me realize I need to make this a long-term commitment, maybe even a forever goal.”
During my year of recovery, I dove head-first into books and podcasts and documentaries on recovery. I tried on different types of recovery meetings. I saw it as a mission, to learn more about myself, and to learn more about the human condition. I thought, if I pay attention, and do the work, I will (hopefully) become a better person, and be better equipped to help others. In the way that I am eager for all my friends to hear about the latest and greatest shoes, song, restaurant, supplement, podcast I have discovered, I wanted to know what was available in the world of recovery tools, so I may share them.
I started to notice something in this world of addiction and recovery, that as far as I can tell so far, is really missing. This is what is missing: the discussion about the in-between period, between the period of "I drink socially, but I think maybe I should cut down," and the period of "I definitely am not drinking today" - only to pick it up and do it all over again, obsessively and compulsively. I think the fact it is missing is one of the reasons so many people are continuing to live lives of increasingly quiet desperation – unnecessarily. I think it’s one of the reasons that there is stigma, which really boils down to ignorance and fear. I think the lack of this discussion means we are missing out on a really important opportunity to intervene before things get really messy. We can prevent needless suffering if we would only recognize that we can actually be proactive way before the Rock Bottom.
When I first gave up drinking a year ago (after a few years of “controlled drinking” experiments), and started looking into different recovery programs, even going to some meetings, my Imposter Syndrome kicked in, as well as my typical “I don’t fit in here” feeling. I knew that alcohol was sabotaging my efforts to become the human I am meant to be. And yet, I could not relate to many of the stories I heard of complete disaster. I would hear of women who drank gallons every day, or who didn’t drink in social settings but started pounding as soon as they got home, or who drank in the morning, just to be able to function at work. It was easy to say “That’s not me.” And it would have been easy to say, “I don’t belong here. If I think I do, I am just being a fraud.” Many people on a solid recovery path will point out that that is my alcoholic voice trying to convince me that I am different, I am better, and I don’t belong in a recovery program, I just need to try harder at controlling my drinking, or, I can abstain from alcohol without any sort of program or structured support program. It didn't help that several well-meaning friends and family, upon learning of my abstention, would say stuff like, "But you didn't drink that much, did you?" And then I would find myself explaining that it may not seem like I merited AA membership, but I had made the decision to quit BEFORE their reaction could be, "it's about time."
Luckily, I told the voice in my head that doubted my "alcoholic qualifications" to f-off and I kept showing up. I kept reading the memoirs and listening to the podcasts. And, gradually, the labels, and all of the baggage attached to them (“alcoholic,” “addict”) while important as a reminder to practice humility and to be grateful to exit the elevator down, before sinking further – no longer became a loaded, stark definition that created separation between me and “those who really are.” As I learned more about the deadly power of alcohol, I learned about the progression of its grip on our organs, especially our brain, and on its dissolution of our soul. I realized that while I had not, by the grace of God, experienced calamity due to my drinking, it was very likely a statement that needed the word “yet” on the end: I had not experienced calamity – YET.
I began to think of my alcoholism the way we think of cancer. In stages. I had learned enough to know that problematic behavior around alcohol is a progression, and at some point, if not dealt with, takes a serious turn and can (does) lead to horrible crap, including death. I thought of it like cancer, in that, if we are diagnosed with cancer stage 1, we do not say, “well, it’s not really cancer, it’s just stage 1. I don’t really need to treat it or make any major changes.” That would be beyond stupid, I think we all agree on that. Problematic drinking is the same thing. It is not a problem that takes care of itself. Someone who read my blog from two days ago said, “I was going to take a few days off of drinking, but reading your blog made me realize this is more serious than I wanted to admit.”
If I go to my OB-GYN and she does a PAP Smear and it reveals I have cancerous cells, I am not going to say, “well, I will just carry on and see what happens.” No! I will listen to the doctor, do whatever follow-up I need to do, and make any necessary life changes. I will ask my closest loved ones for support and prayers. Same goes for if I learn that my blood sugar levels are at a point that I am pre-diabetic. I will adjust my exercise and diet and do what I need to do, because I now have this important information and I am empowered to make changes before my health worsens.
This is what we need to do with alcoholism. I really believe that we need to have a way to self-assess, and for our medical and mental health practitioners to assess, where we fall on the alcohol consumption spectrum. Because I am absolutely certain that millions of people are not doing what they need to do, because they do not identify with the label “alcoholic” as they know they aren’t “as bad as that.” And when they do this, they are missing an amazing opportunity to stop the progression, to be more connected and self-aware and healthy.
Roughly, I would suggest a framework like this:
If we have this type of framework, we can then, I think, have a better understanding of where we are, if we need to take steps, and then start the process of recovery before we get any further down. It’s sort of like when we weigh ourselves (actually, I don’t weigh myself – but I do know how my jeans fit me). If we realize we are ten pounds over where we know we feel our best, we then have the power to decide to do something about it before we continue down the path and perhaps end up 50 pounds overweight. It is harder to lose 50 pounds than ten pounds.
The other thing is that if we recognize stages this way, it makes it easier to discuss our problem with others. If we have more clarity, we are better at communicating what we feel and need. Our doctors no longer need to be completely misguided with their off-base questions like, “do you consider yourself a moderate drinker?” I know I always wanted an A on my physical so I always answered, YES! Put a check in the moderation column! If, on the other hand, he had asked me to fill out a questionnaire based on the stages, even if I had lied, it would have, I think, alerted me earlier to the need to speak honestly. As stated above, alcoholism is a progressive disease - and I do believe that whether we are in Stage 1 or Stage 2, if we don't make some major changes to figure out the root of this behavior, we will ride that elevator further down.
Finally, I really believe that when we are faced with a situation that gives us the chance to be honest, starting with ourselves, about our need to let go of perfection, to be truly seen and heard by others, to simplify our lives and connect with our spiritual side, whatever that means to us – only good things can happen. During this year of recovery, I have often had these moments of “omigosh, everyone could benefit from following this program! So much unnecessary unhappiness, anger, resentment, and shame could be resolved if more people did this!” If my writing, my message of “you do not need to be in Stage 3 or 4 of alcoholism to step into the wonderful world of sobriety and recovery” reaches just one person’s heart and plants a seed, it will all be worth it, for me.
Motivational coach, athlete, mom, entrepreneur. I love helping people mindfully reboot their health & joy.