My Fellow Alcoholics,
Your Functional Alcoholic Sluperson here with a first in the Bar None: A Guest Post.
In The Same Boat is a regular commenter on many drinking blogs the net over and has been giving out great, non judgmental advice to drunks and drinkers, wannabes and wanna-not-bes anymore. As a non drinking alcoholic, his experiences help because of the perspective of where he’s been in the same boat.
i sent him an invitation a long time ago to write up his experience and how he was able to tame the monkey on his back and he finally responded with this well-thought, rich and universally useful treaties. Please be sure to leave ITSB a comment thanking him for his insights and if there’s anyone else out there who’d like to share their experiences, you’re more than welcome. This is, after all, the Bar None.
You know how you are drinking and reading an alcoholic’s blog? You start thinking to yourself, “Man, I thought I had a problem. I bet this guy gets 20% of his calories from alcohol or more every week! Why can’t he stop this madness?” Then you sober up, do some calculations, and realize that 20-33% of your diet consists of alcohol too? It gnaws into your psyche and you start to obsess: “If I am what I eat, alcohol comprises 1/3 of my being!” Looking in the mirror you take inventory: your bloated alcoholic neck, your sagging face, the bags around your eyes, and your decaying muscles, only to realize that alcohol is killing you. “It has to stop!” you keep telling yourself. But how? AA is for whiny losers who call at all hours of the night and day only to parrot their platitudes, and blow your cover. And anyway, you can’t even take step 1. And you’d sooner die of cirrhosis than take Steps 2 and 3.
And so it went for me. I tried to “moderate.” I moved to an isolated part of Los Angeles, deep in the Santa Monica mountains, far enough away from any bar or liquor store that I’d have to drive a dangerous road to get to. And I made a rule that I would only bring to my house what I bought sober. That worked most of the time but it was painful. After the beer ran out, I was left craving more but forced myself to go to sleep. And soon, the old habits started sneaking back; I’d stop by the bar on the way home from work, have a couple beers with dinner, and then buy what I needed for home so the buzz would be more intense. And then there were people who would ask “Why are you living so far away from everything?” To which I would meekly reply “well, I like mountains.”
Also there were the rare times when I’d actually want to do something social instead of drinking by myself. Like the time I met this charming film director and she invited me to her party at her bungalow. I promised myself I wouldn’t drink but there was a table full of free booze and wine and I succumbed. I made such a fool of myself in front of all these cool people. The film director seemed to understand and suggested that perhaps I am not the type who should drink. “But I don’t want to go to AA,” I drunkenly lamented. She gave me a knowing look and said “There are other options. There’s a group in Beverly Hills that approaches this problem rationally. As a scientist you should appreciate that.” So that planted the seed in my head; I don’t have to go to AA to fix this. I thought this over as I staggered down Lincoln Boulevard, looking for a cheap hotel to stay in Venice. Luckily, I found one. But I was sick for 3 days after that.
I was too embarrassed to ask the director exactly what she was talking about but the idea of finding an alternate group started to grow in my head. In retrospect, it seems obvious that AA is not the only answer and I am sure I knew that. Yet I postponed the idea of quitting: never drinking again was too painful a concept to grasp. I attempted to moderate some more but with little success. In fact, I was starting to become dangerous. I found myself in the habit of ditching work on Friday afternoons, hitting the gym, going to a bar, pounding down several drinks in solitude and then going to see a movie to sober up. Except I wasn’t exactly sober after the movie ended, driving home was dicey, and picking up some beer on the way home made it worse. I was very disgusted with myself.
I am not exactly sure how I found it, but one day I started reading Sum Zero’s blog. I could identify with this guy: an academic type with a good job, living in a big city with a drinking problem. I spent a day just reading all of his entries and decided that I should try this SMART recovery program. Their website is very unappealing at first glance, but his entries made the methodology come alive for me. So, with some consternation, I forced myself to admit that alcohol is the biggest problem in my life, and if I can’t find 2 hours to attend a meeting that could fix it, then I’m truly pathetic. And off to my first SMART meeting I went.
The people there were very friendly and helpful. One challenged me to quit for 90 days and see how I felt. Another told me upon learning that I am a computer programmer by trade to “reprogram my life without alcohol.” If I had said I was a writer he undoubtedly would have said “cut alcohol from the story.” Or if I had said I was a mathematician he might have said “Take alcohol out of the equation.” So I made a plan to rebalance my life without alcohol. I would stay away from any triggers, driving a different way home to watch all 5 seasons of Lost on Netflix streaming at night, instead of going to my favorite restaurant/bar. I would count the days. And I would work the ABCs to cope with the urges. Further, I had to set goals and find replacements for alcohol. I decided to train for a marathon. And as the morning hangovers were replaced with morning runs on the beach in Malibu, I realized that life without alcohol is far more enjoyable. (The running also kept the post acute withdrawal syndrome under control.)
I kept going to meetings once a week for 6 months. And they helped keep me on track with certain issues. The biggest issue I had was that alcohol is a big part of my family life, unfortunately. My uncle has a sign in his kitchen that says “Never trust a man who doesn’t drink.” So when I went home, I was instructed by my SMART facilitator to behave like a objective observer when everyone else was drinking. And I found I could do that; nobody wanted to talk to me anyway; they were more into their wine. Luckily I had my two young nephews to distract me and I could entertain them when everyone else was drunk. I felt like a kid again around the drunk grownups. Nobody in my family said anything about my not drinking and that was quite a relief.
Another problem I have is is with airports. I love getting loaded in the airport bar and having a couple vodkas on the flight. Really, it’s the only way to fly. I still have to fight those urges intensely. I tend to schedule my flights early in the morning to avoid temptation. They also taught me to choreograph the trip in advance, and eat at an airport restaurant rather than stop at a bar.
Finally, the SMART meetings helped because I did not want to admit to the regulars in the group that I had slipped; so I didn’t slip.
In a few days, I will celebrate my one year of sobriety by running the Santa Barbara marathon. As much as I miss the buzz, I am much happier without it in my life. The risks and consequences far exceed any joys. My friends accept the new sober me and I find that I can relate to them better now that I can devote more brainpower to the conversation. They actually seek my advice rather than a partner to get loaded with. And they invite me to more events because they know they don’t have to put up with an obnoxious drunk. Honestly, quitting was the best decision I’ve made in quite a while. I’m not looking back.