by BILL HOLLAND
Over eighteen million Americans battle an alcohol addiction. As if that were not bad enough, a staggering half million U.S. children age 9 to 12 are addicted to alcohol.
Even after all that is written about alcoholism, many simply do not understand what goes on in the mind of an alcoholic. Many of those with alcoholism do not understand their own thought processes, at least until they find sobriety and research the matter. So how could we possibly expect others to comprehend what is inside of our minds?
What is maddening about alcoholism is it affects everyone in the family and not just the person with alcoholism. He or she, of course, suffers physically when heavy drinking occurs, but the family also suffers emotionally and psychologically in dealing with their loved one and that may be the true tragedy of this disease.
There are millions of us around the world so naturally what I say in the following paragraphs does not apply to all; however, there are a great number of similarities among those with alcoholism. It certainly does not apply to every single alcoholic. Having said that let us begin our tour inside a rather scary place.
Intelligent and troubled
We are generally intelligent beings; we would have to be to manufacture as many excuses and lies as we do. It is not an easy thing to juggle hundreds of lies at a single time, remembering which lie was told to which person. I am not saying that in jest; just stating my experience. If an IQ test were given to a group of those with alcoholism, I think you would find a rather high reading for most. What relationship high intelligence and drinking have is anyone’s guess but it seems to be the norm rather than the exception.
We are also a troubled lot, usually suffering from low self-esteem and poor self-image. Alcohol tends, at first, to give us the extra something we need to forget our supposed deficiencies and move about the general public with our heads held high. Once the disease kicks in, however, alcohol no longer blots out these troubled memories but only intensifies them.
A feeling of being different
I sensed during my childhood that I was different from others. Social settings completely confused me (and truthfully still do) and the simplest mechanisms to get through life seemed to have passed me by. I did not understand how to function around people; I lived in fear people would find out just how strange I was. I have heard this often in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings so I finally realize that I was not alone in these thoughts.
Moving from normal drinker to problem drinker
The slow but inevitable decline of someone with alcoholism typically starts with normal drinking, although the effects of alcohol on an alcoholic could almost be described as heavenly. The first time I had a dark German ale I literally fell in love with the effects and could hardly wait to have another. That is not a normal reaction for casual drinkers out there.
What is so difficult for those with alcoholism as they move into the troubled stage of the disease is by that time, they cannot conceive of not drinking and yet they begin to understand they do not drink like normal people. They sense a problem but in no way are they willing to admit they have a problem.
Ego and fear prevents them from admitting to a problem, so they go about finding a way to drink normally. Adjustments are made to their drinking habits. Maybe they try only drinking on weekends; next they try drinking a different drink, possibly beer instead of wine. They are constantly searching for the key that will allow them to be a “normie.” That key, however, will never be found.
Secrecy is a must
Once drinking becomes a necessity and he or she realizes that fact, then the hiding and the lies begin. By this stage it has become apparent loved ones do not approve of your drinking habits, and you realize you cannot or will not quit drinking, so the only solution is to hide the amount of drinking and lie about it.
For many this is also the stage where inhibitions break down and moral decay begins. Now we are not only covering up the drinking but we also have to cover up our behavior, whether it be affairs or stealing or cheating someone in a business deal. Self-loathing kicks into high gear for we not only hate ourselves for our weakness, but we also despise ourselves for our moral decay.
Telling lies at this point is almost second nature. I found myself fabricating stories when I had no reason to do so, and I know for a fact most of those with alcoholism do the same.
Living in fear
Our very existence at this point becomes fear-based. We are fearful you will find out what we are and who we are. We are fearful most of all we will eventually have to live a life without alcohol in order to survive and that is unthinkable. By this time alcohol has become who we are; we are so tied to it psychologically and physically that we cannot and will not entertain thoughts of living without it. We will do anything to protect our disease and ourselves.
The world is our stage
We sense we are losing complete control by this time in the disease and so we try harder to establish control in every facet of our lives. If people do not act the way we want them to act we become angry. Everyone is out to get us, to keep us from achieving what we want to achieve. The boss at work hates us, the wife is a nag, the kids are a pain and nobody understands us because if they did they would leave us alone. We might add a few expletives to those words.
The sad thing is by this point in the disease the person with alcoholism has no control over anything in his or her life. The lies have been found out; the poor performances at work have been discovered. Friends drop us and the family is embarrassed, shaken, frightened, angry and considering options in life that take them away from the person with alcoholism.
And so it ends
One way or another it ends. The lucky few find a way out whether by treatment, enrollment in AA, faith in God or a higher power or some other form of intervention. The unlucky find themselves in prison, in a mental institution or dead. There is no magical cure for this disease and the number of deaths attributable to alcoholism is staggering.
I truly hope this has helped someone out there who is either suffering from alcoholism or who loves someone who is an alcoholic. If my experiences can help someone else then it has all been worth it for me. I am a living testimony of one who struggles with this disease, but yet lives in sobriety these past seven and a half years, and so thankful every day for my life apart from alcohol.
BILL HOLLAND is a writer and father from Washington.
Sentara RMH Behavioral Health provides a full range of chemical dependency services for all ages. For more info call 540-689-1000 or go online to www.rmhonline.com/BehavioralHealth/BehavioralHealthHome.aspx.
There are numerous AA individual and family therapy groups/meetings in the Shenandoah Valley, with this area known as Virginia A.A. Area 71. Visit www.aavirginia.org or call 540-434-8870 for a meeting near you.