Thursday, April 22, 2010

"Ever Look Back and Wonder ... "

A new group on Facebook is rapidly becoming popular. I admit it. I joined. It's called "Ever look at your Ex and think, Was I drunk our whole relationship?"

Of course, most people are just kidding when they say that. It's like its peer group, "Looking back at the people I dated and wondering what the hell I was thinking." I did chuckle, which is why I joined, but for a recovering alcoholic like me, it's also the cringe-inducing truth. In every long-term relationship I've ever been in, I was drunk--to some degree or another--at least a part of the time. With some relationships, it was even much of the time (drunk or hungover). With my latter relationships, I was drunk pretty much all the time.

One thing that some folks don't get about alcoholics is that, even when they're not drunk, they still have alcoholic brains. So even when we're sober, we're not thinking straight. The addict part of us is like that little devil crouched next to one ear, whispering its advice. We don't identify sick thinking when we hear it. So we're stuck in denial, rationalizing, lying, and doing whatever it takes to continue to feed our addiction, over the long term, not just in one any particular instance.

Examples: "I'm not an alcoholic. But I don't dare tell my doctor the truth when he asks, 'How much do you normally drink?' because he'll think I'm an alcoholic."

"My partner told me I could see people outside the relationship as long as it doesn't threaten our relationship. Well, she's just setting a trap! How is it possible to become involved with someone else without it threatening our relationship? So I give myself permission to cheat. So-and-so doesn't mind my drinking, and says my partner is just trying to control me. So ... yeah."

"These people at this party are all boring. Look at all those cases of beer. I'm just going to swipe a six-pack of that and head home. They won't miss it, and these dimwits don't need it."

"Joe Blow is a jerk! When he gave me that television set, it's because he didn't have room for it in his new house. Now he wants it back because his new rec room is all finished? What's the big deal? Look at his expensive house; he can afford a new tv. All I've got is this ancient old set. He wants fifty bucks if I keep his? Talk about taking advantage."

Some of this (not all) I actually did, in some form or another, but you get the gist. Alcoholics, even if they're not actively drinking, aren't really recovering unless they're also working on their patterns of thinking. In rehab, one of the counselors used to joke, "Recovery isn't hard. It requires only one thing. All you need to do is change everything."

Ah, but "Jesters often prove prophets," as Shakespeare said.

Some of my examples directly involve alcohol, and some don't. But all are examples of how alcoholics think. We constantly change the rules to fit our own agenda, muddy the water of an issue so much that we can convince ourselves that anything we want or do is justifiable, or even correct, behavior. There are sober people, too, who do this. We cheerfully say, "You're thinking like an alcoholic." Yet it remains that there's not a single alcoholic out there who hasn't done this crap.

Recently there have been days when I look back over my life and wonder in amazement where I was. It's as if something else had possessed me. In the middle of some events, I would have sworn then that this or that was the truth, or that I really, truly and deeply felt this or that, but now I see that same event an entirely different way. Some days it feels as if I've woken up from a nightmare. I'm abashed. Yet, I know I'm a good person who just did some bad things. I was sick.

I wrote recently of forgiveness. A friend on Facebook wrote in the comments that forgiveness is both a gift and a process. It's something we practice. Reading over this, I do see that I also need to practice forgiving myself. And I can only hope that the people I harmed will find it in their hearts to forgive me.

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