My names Charlie and I’m an alcoholic…
It’s just a word, alcoholic, but the history and imagery give it weight. Even in this world of gender fluidity and obesity normalisation, the word alcoholic is still synonymous with defective.
The threat of being a pariah in a world awash with alcohol stopped me from seeking help. I thought I was too good for that label. It was beneath me. For I was, and can still be, a judgmental bastard sometimes. I assumed that the imagery of the word was the word itself. An alcoholic was a bum in alleyway with a brown bag of mentholated spirits. Rotten teeth. No name but in the image they all deserve to be there. No one ends up like that who doesn’t deserve it? I guess the lie I had to tell myself. I walked a fine line trying not to be labelled an “alky.”
Even after twelve weeks of alcohol counselling that I’d attended on doctors orders, I was relieved to hear the counsellor say that I wasn’t an alcoholic, I was a “problem” drinker. It was like the golden ticket in Charlie and the chocolate factory. I was free to taste what the Wonka brewery had to offer. I would stand, swaying and drunk, defending my label of “problem drinker” against accusations of being an alcoholic. I wore it like a badge of honour. Like it meant everything was okay. Everything was not okay. Far from it. Eventually, I accepted that I was an alcoholic.
To me, the term alcoholic means a person who can’t stop drinking once they start. That’s all. A recovering alcoholic is someone who figured this out!
I have thought long and hard about how I got to be an alcoholic. Was I born an alcoholic? Or was I created over a period of misuse? Probably a combination of both. I never put a cross on a calendar and said: “that is the day I became an alcoholic!” I just noticed that my life started going wrong and then my health followed. My health followed because I had to drink more to block out the fact my life was going wrong. My life then… you get the idea. It ended badly put it that way.
What I do know is that I was a sensitive soul and alcohol gave me an escape. It just fitted the bill. It was almost the piece that I thought I lacked to make me whole. It was a shortcut to completion while simultaneously denying me the knock backs in life that I needed to grow. Instead of adjusting and learning, I stagnated and became maladjusted. Emotionally stunted and frustrated. I took that into adulthood.
My friend recently said on a podcast “if you are drinking to change the way you feel then maybe have a look at your drinking,” I wish I’d heard that sooner. I wish I’d learned to face adversity and take the rough with the smooth. I learned the hard way. I had to be broken to change my life. I am so grateful for the journey of addiction and recovery. Both have been hard lessons but I have a history of learning the hard way. Or as it should be known the “unnecessary way!”
“It takes a wise man to learn from his mistakes. It takes an even wiser man to learn from others.”
Recovery meant taking a chance at a life without the warm security of escapism. It meant risking being labelled an alcoholic. It meant sacrifice. It meant walking down roads I had avoided and asking questions I had avoided asking. It meant sacrificing my love of alcohol for a chance at happiness.
The sacrifice of alcohol has given me many benefits. The most important ones are behavioural and emotional characteristics that have happened thanks to living life without escaping. These lessons have allowed me to build on the aspects of my life that I had ignored.
I’m not just recovering from alcohol addiction. I’m also recovering from:
1) Self-seeking behaviour. An end to those manipulative lies and games I used to play, badly, to try and get my way. Or to get a drink. Scheming, befriending, associating with people I didn’t particularly like just to hide in plain sight or get my way.
2) Guilt and shame. Guilt for the behaviour listed above and shame because I couldn’t stop. I was guilty and shameful of my weakness. Not only around alcohol but my inner knowledge that I was using alcohol to escape life. It made me feel like a coward. Which then made me want to drink more. A vicious death spin.
3) Low self-esteem. Tied to guilt and shame but also just from not dealing with things. Assuming, falsely, that the future will always end up like the past because I didn’t deserve anything… at all. My inner monologue was one of disdain aimed at myself. My outer world was built on lies, lies and damned lies. I realised that I am a small part of a big picture. As a result, I no longer have to carry the weight of the world around on my back. I no longer sit ruminating on the plight of the planet. I can make minor changes and offer help to who wants it. I don’t have to feel inferior for not solving the world’s problems.
4) Fear. God damn the fear. Recovery didn’t turn me into a fearless warrior but it did make me realise that a lot of the fears I had were unreasonable. The biggest one being a fear of failure. I walked the circumference of my comfort bubble staring out at the unknown. Desperate for adventure. Fearful of failure. Each obstacle I overcame in recovery gave me a little more confidence to try new things. To hell with the failure. Until I was brave enough to venture into the unknown. I have danced in paradise. I have ventured places outside and in, I would not have dared to venture before.
5) Trying to be who I thought I should be. I spent so much fucking energy when I was younger trying to count the beats that others were walking to so that I could fall into line. I knew I walked to a different drumbeat but I didn’t want to. I have learned to embrace the beauty in my difference and embrace the quirkiness of my individuality and use it to my strength. I realise that peoples opinions are their opinions and are not necessarily true. “You can’t please all the people all the time,” so trying to be everybody’s version me was a waste of time.
6) Weakness. I used to believe that reaching out for help and admitting defeat was a sign of weakness. Strange then that I have grown since the day I admitted defeat. The obstacles and the setbacks in sobriety have made me stronger. I have learned the lessons and felt the pain that I tried to avoid by using alcohol.
7) Self hatred. From staring out behind a poorly fitted mask I would decry the problems of others and the world. For every solution, I had a problem. I would say anything to deflect the attention away from myself. The misdirection would have made magicians proud. I would jibe, judge and mock. I would use anything to be left alone. A hard shell protecting a beating heart. I did it because I didn’t feel worthy of love. I never saw beauty. I only saw darkness. My poisoned brain made me see a poisoned world. Recovery made me appreciate the simplistic beauty in a world of madness. I began to see warmth and compassion. The distrust of people who were trying to help me melted away. I was like an abused dog fearful of a repeat. Slowly, I learned to accept help. Slowly, I accepted love. Slowly, I gave love. Slowly, I recovered from a life of avoiding life.
Positivitree by @snigg1