A few months ago, a student was explaining to me the methods used by the local gangs to recruit kids. They would select the pariahs. The misfits. The outcasts. And offer them salvation in the guise of connection. Invite them out as a group and make them feel included. Eventually, there will be a price. Eventually, it would all end in pain. It sounded so familiar.
Acceptance is high on the list of things people want when they are younger. The yearning to fit in is so great that the fear of being pushed back outside makes some do unthinkable things. It may start out small. A bit of stupidity here and there. Then maybe a fight. Then maybe a serious violent crime. Then prison. Or death. I’ve heard numerous stories in the rooms of AA that follow a similar path; Shy, anxious teenager who never really fit in. Finds alcohol. Feels normal. Finally fits in.
Much like the gangs, advertisers groom us with false promises. Illusions of inclusion and dissolving of life’s issues. Much like the gang life, it is hard to get out once your in.
Alcohol pretends to be your friend. Pretends to have your interests and wellbeing at heart. It is always there for you; helping with your problems and it’s there for the big celebrations. It’s one of the family. A night out wouldn’t be the same without it. If fact, often, if alcohol isn’t there, many others won’t bother coming. That’s how popular it is. But behind the façade is an insidious ulterior motive. A nefarious plot to take away your dignity a bit at a time. A slow, systematic breakdown of your soul. When complete, you are to be replaced with an avatar of what alcohol wants you to be. It is done by offering a false promise; of connection and the sense of being part of something that was desperately needed. Alcohol presents the answers to the life questions we yearned for but could never find in the chaos of reality. It offers the reassurance that steadies the inner child and brings peace to a mind battered by the storms of uncertainty. But all it is doing is distracting us to gain prominence. Those problems don’t vanish. They are just going to reappear tomorrow.
The first few months of my sobriety mostly consisted of anger and grief. I was angry because I felt betrayed by alcohol. I was convinced it was saving me. I was convinced it was the answer to my problems. I was convinced I didn’t need anyone as long as I had alcohol. When my body began to fail and the evidence pointed squarely at my drinking, I couldn’t believe the deceit. Like a good friend who has really been sleeping with my partner behind my back. Or a gang that promises the world but then exposes the requirements for membership. To leave would push me back into isolation. Hence the grief. Quitting drinking was like losing a friend. From being a young teenager it had supported me through many difficult times. I’m not sure I would have made it through if I didn’t have a drink at the time. It did support me. It did help me through. It was the rock I clung to when life was stormy. BUT it left me broken. It left me emotionally stunted. It left me financially ruined. It left on a hospital floor riving around in agony. It was no friend of mine. It just exposed my vulnerabilities and temporarily filled the cracks. It pumped my ego and disappeared when it burst.
I recalled recently, I was in a pub many years ago and a woman introduced me to her friends as ” the coolest teacher she knew.” I assumed it was due to my drinking activities. So deluded was I by the influence of alcohol that it had consumed my identity. I was cool because I drank a lot. It is a self-fulling prophecy. If alcohol could speak, at that moment it would have uttered “I told you I would make you fit in. I told you I gave you a connection. I told you, you need me.” I would have believed it. I did believe it. I needed to believe it because without alcohol there was nothing. So powerful was it’s influence that a life without it was inconceivable. No matter what anybody said about my drinking, I defended alcohol with the ferocity of a protective parent. I was blind. I wasn’t in denial. Because I honestly thought it was what made me what I was. I romanticised alcohol. I imagined it made me interesting and cool. I thought together we were blazing a path through life. Venturing into the newfound territory. When in fact I was walking well-trodden paths. I was consumed by an obsession that I had mistaken for kindship and love. Accepting it was a lie was difficult to take.
The first warning from my liver was taken with a modicum of seriousness. Only enough to make me stop drinking for seven months. But I slowly gravitated back, as the delusions of change grew into affirmations of difference. “It will be different this time! It won’t let me down again… surely!” When it did, I was done. “Fool me once shame on you…” I was distraught. No one wants to believe that their friend is out to destroy them. Especially, a friend that has been in your life for as long as alcohol has been. But after blaming everything for my failings, there were only two things that had been present throughout it all; myself and alcohol. I could change myself but not while being under the influence of alcohol. I wasn’t in control then. I was doing things I wouldn’t normally do. I was in a place in life I didn’t want to be. I had to admit that alcohol wasn’t my friend. My life has only got better since I realised that it doesn’t have my interests at heart.
Since quitting drinking, the lies that I believed during my drinking days have drifted away. Sobriety forced me to step up to the plate and be accountable. More often than not I have been alright. I don’t need alcohol like I once thought I did. Thankfully, I have genuine friends. Ones who don’t create doubt, they create belief. They are the true connection that alcohol promised but never delivered. They wouldn’t ever ask me to do something that questions my moral code, just to be accepted. A real friend never would.