Alcohol Recovery, a Personal Overview

A hand locked to glass of alcoholI used to believe there was only one kind of alcoholic, with several variations:

  • The guy sleeping in a small entrance cove of a store, at two in the morning, with a near-empty wine bottle tucked inside his stained trench coat.
  • The guy, with blood-shot eyes, standing in front of a seven-eleven, asking me for loose change so he can “buy a piece of pizza.”
  • The guy, with hands trembling, sitting on the steps of an urban church, stopping passers-by telling them he needs gas money to visit his mother in hospice.
  • The barroom story-tellers spinning out their lazy-tongued tales of resentments against a boss, an ex-girlfriend, or all the corrupt Washington politicians in bed with Wall Street.

Alcoholism, A Family Legacy

I had a couple of uncles who were also serious alcoholics.

One was a blue-collar railroad worker who hung out at the local village barroom at the end of town. The other was a World War II vet who wreaked of vodka at my mother’s funeral and then managed to down almost every kind of drink at my brother’s house, after which he vomited on the den floor and eventually passed out.

Because I was the youngest child of five (three brothers and one sister) in a blue-collar family, I was more of an observer of my siblings’ behavior. All my older brothers talked about bars and women. Their general MO was to go to a local lakeside bar, get enough booze in their systems, and then pick up a girl.

Booze among my sibling brothers always had to do with machismo and sexual conquest. There was no middle ground.

Only one of my brothers continued to be an active alcoholic, eventually landing up in a nursing home with alcohol-related aphasia. Although drinking was part of their lives (one a corporate-business, country-club type, the other a blue-collar worker for AT&T), my other two brothers died from other causes.

I was the only college graduate in my family. My drinking began as a social event (On Fridays after the end of a school week. Or in a local rural bar near the community college where I taught).

And then my drinking began to wreak havoc on my marriage and family. I used booze to act out behavior that gave me the excuse to walk out of my marriage, something, in retrospect, I realized I had planned to do on my honeymoon (if you’re shocked, I mentioned this at an AA meeting and two women came up to me and shared a similar narrative about their early plans to leave their marriages).

It took me eleven years and a lot of booze to finally leave the relationship.

What is Alcoholic Behavior?

So, here’s what I learned about my  behavior over the thirty years of being an active alcoholic. I

  • Drank to be less inhibited and repressed
  • Often woke up with people I didn’t know
  • Always gave myself a time limit at a bar but never kept it
  • Often could not find my car after leaving a bar
  • Attempted to always control my drinking by limiting the times and the kinds of alcohol I drank (I fooled myself into believing that beer wouldn’t affect me as seriously as vodka or gin)
  • Drank excessively at home, at many social events, at bars, and on the weekends, which always started for me on Fridays ( I was a singer and, generally, did not drink on Saturday night because of a choral commitment on Sunday)
  • Could never predict my behavior after I left a bar at three or four in the morning
  • Enjoyed pursuing the dark side (prostitutes, one-night stands, slummy bars, cruising). As I look back on that particular behavior, I believe, now, that I needed something to tell me I was alive. I believed that if I descended into that dark side, I would, somehow be cathartically cleansed into a new, transformed, artistic self
  • Trained myself to be  “respectable” in my professional life (I was a good actor). That was part of the way I exteriorized myself by believing that, if I just did a little tweaking here and there—write a paper, develop a new course, write a grant proposal–I would somehow be a “better person.” I did the same kind of exterior tweaking by reading about Buddhism and Confucianism. I honestly believed that if I “knew”about these traditions, I was well on my way to perfection.
  • Took a lot of sick days

Recovery as a Personal Evolution

So, I’m sober now and have been for a little over thirty years.  But my sobriety is not just about not drinking. Thanks to a 12 step program and to seven years of therapy, here are the things I have learned or beliefs I have evolved into:

  • God’s Will and the Higher Power are not literal statements to me. They are metaphors for the “spirit” of transformation I have experienced in the twelve-step rooms.  Listening to all the stories of people’s despair, their hopes, their surrender, their changes, and how they deal with life in sobriety on a daily basis keeps me connected to the depth of so many transformations I have seen in the program. Those connections, and I call them “spiritual,” have definitely been the cause of many of my own transformations and epiphanies.
  • I would also say that God and the Higher Power consists of whatever reality I am dealing with at the moment–medical issues, financial insecurity (“panic” might be more accurate), relationships, family, mortality, grief, joy, the rent, the car, the need to clean my apartment, taking someone to a doctor’s appointment, or talking to a sponsee. All of those experiences–from the deepest to the most trivial–keep me grounded in humility and empathy, without which, I cannot grow as a human being.
  • Nothing, and I really mean “nothing,” is worth drinking over
  • Creativity and rational thinking are much stronger without a six-pack or three martinis.
  • Patience is not just something I have to do. It is something that seems to surprisingly arrive when I need it
  • Sobriety is an unfinished process. “It ain’t over,” as someone said, “until it’s really over.” Surprise, surprise, I still have other addictions.
  • Emotions and feelings are real. During most of my active drinking days, I lived in a constant state of emotional detachment. In sobriety, I consistently experience more empathy. And I can actually internalize a sensibility shift when I am moved by a story, a picture, a film, a song, or a musical piece. When I was drinking, I was emotionally short-circuited
  • Relationships are not about psychological profiles or literary “character traits” (I taught literature and writing for thirty-five years). They are about real people inside real joy, grief, anger, and fear.
  • Transformations are not only possible, they are inevitable, if:  we choose to stay connected to a program of recovery; we stay in the behavior of recovery at tables, on the street, at home, at work, in coffee houses, with our family interactions; we surrender to the possibility of change; we reach out and do service (not just in the program but outside of the program)

Just some thoughts, here. Hope the Blog Post was helpful to you on your journey.






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