Tuesday, February 8, 2011

My Empire of Dirt

When the morning sun comes up on a nice bright day and we jump out of bed, we're thankful to God that we feel well and happy instead of sick and disgusted. Serenity and happiness have become much more important to us than the excitement of drinking, which lifts us for a short while, but lets us way down in the end." -- Twenty-Four Hours a Day meditations

There's a stereotype that alcoholics and addicts are just out there having the time of their lives, enjoying themselves and their drug of choice with abandon, whooping it up and not having a care in the world. Their fun comes at the expense of family and friends, who long-sufferingly are forced to put up with their constant partying and irresponsible behavior.

It's not true.

It is NOT fun. Alcoholics are alcoholics not because it's a good time. By the time normal social drinking evolves into full-blown alcoholism, drinking or not drinking is no longer much of a choice. The thing that once brought us pleasure doesn't do that very much anymore. The first couple of drinks make us feel better or make us feel normal. The rest of them we consume because we have to, and the personality changes, the rage, the miserableness, the self-loathing, the blaming and rebelliousness, are horrible things to experience. Chelle would sometimes ask me, "Why do you keep drinking? It just makes you feel worse!" as I would sit there sobbing over some imagined slight or raging at her for some imagined failure on her part, and I would have no answer for her. I just couldn't see that it was the drinking that was the problem. I thought the drinking was making my life tolerable. In any case, I was not happy.

It wasn't until I'd been sober for a few months that it began to dawn on me how much like total shit I'd continually felt. I was basically hungover every second day--not bad hangovers; most of the time I was well enough to get up, shower, and go to work, but I wasn't 100% on my game. I gobbled ibuprofen all day long and ate sugar or other carbs to get my blood sugar up, and then collapse when I got home in the afternoon, napping if I was able to (sometimes a racing heart and palpitations would make sleep difficult). I was too tired to exercise, and that, coupled with the poor diet, conspired to make me pack on about sixty extra pounds over the course of the three-year bender I was on. Fat, sluggish, hungover, grumpy, blood sugar swings ... I hated it.

And I hated waking up the day after tying one on and facing Chelle, who was understandably angry, hurt, and disappointed in me. I tried avoiding feeling guilty by attempting to pin part of the blame on her: for instance, our sex life was lousy and she didn't love me anymore, and this was one reason I drank. Of course a piece of me knew this was bullshit. It would've been easy enough to kick me to the curb, and she didn't. And she flat out told me why she was sexually disinterested: not because she didn't love me, but because who wants to fuck a drunk person, and if not drunk and disgusting, then hungover and needy, reeking of metabolizing booze? It was more convenient for me to just not believe that. I preferred to be miserable, feeling unloved and unlovable, then choosing to act out by seeking love elsewhere. Then I had to deal with feeling guilty while living with the vague sense that I was using somebody (which I was).

By the time I snapped out of it and decided to go to rehab, it was a desperate act, an acknowledgment that I had spiraled out of control. I was sick of feeling like shit and scared to death of feeling like my whole life was an illusion; I wasn't sure anymore which of my feelings were real or imagined; I'd constructed an entire house of cards made of rationalizations, blaming, and justifications for bad behavior--the "empire of dirt" only an addict can truly understand.

It is NOT fun.

Alcoholics and addicts don't need judgment or criticism or preaching about self-control. They need your understanding, your empathy, and your help.


Tedi Trindle said...

Yeah, yesterday, I had a work friend tell me that I'm only an alcoholic because I call myself one. I believe he was hinting around that God could keep me sober. So I hinted around that he was right.

It's hard for normal people to realize that alcoholism is not a moral failing. And no, it was definitely not fun.

Joyce said...

It's kinda hard for people to wrap their brains around two seemingly incompatible ideas: (1) if you're an alcoholic, you really can't help your drinking and (2) alcoholics can actually stop. I had trouble with this myself for the longest time.

So I always explain it as the failure of self-will to control alcoholism in any long-term way. It was only when I gave up the idea of self-control and give into powerlessness over alcohol that I was able to look for something outside myself. That's what "Higher Power" is ... something, ANYTHING, that's not ME.

Maybe it's just psychological tricks, but I'm not going to knock it if it works.