Alcoholics can related to this. I’m not sure if others will…
But one of the things that made it so easy for me to continue drinking was that I never had any real consequences. I never was in jail for more than a day or so, the bank never threatened to take my house. My jobs were always more than supportive and somehow I still have all my fingers and toes.
It’s not that I didn’t think about the consequences. I could think about them all day long, but if it were in my head that I was gonna drink, there was simply no stopping me. I didn’t resist at all. There was no debate, no trying to convince myself it was the wrong thing to do. I never tried to talk myself out of it. All of that internal yammering was too painful and willpower is nonexistent when I’m drinking. It was easier to just give in, give up, quit fighting a fight I’d never win.
Even just the “knowing” that I was going to drink gave me instant relief. Like pouring water over an Alka-Seltzer tablet. That immediate, fizzy, bubbly chemical reaction — that’s the uplifting, scientific relief I felt whenever I gave in to alcoholism.
A counselor told me once that I should “play the tape all the way through,” meaning that before I started drinking to stop and think about what would happen from start to finish.
Erm. That’s not how alcoholics do. We don’t have forethought before drinking or willpower when drinking. Consequences are irrelevant. We only see the next drink and never the dominoes falling down afterward.
Seriously, when it comes to drinking my thought process is this: I’m gonna get drunk and I don’t care what happens. My house burns down? Good, now I won’t have to pay the mortgage and will have one less responsibility. That may sound ludicrous but that’s the kind of disconnect I’m talking about here.
Yeah, life could taunt me with blackouts, jails, whatever but none of it mattered once the drink was on or even the decision to drink was made. I was at peace and nothing could touch me.
And then there was that one time I walked into the liquor store door. Like I walked up to and in to the door. And then bounced backward off the glass because it was the exit and it automatically opened for people leaving. I’d like to say that it was a simple mistake but really I was pretty much lit from head to toe.
The whole door wobbled and complained during our encounter. I’d also like to say that I was filled with shame but any embarrassment was muffled by my drunkenness. Because drunkenness is like a wet blanket over the fire, a soggy forcefield that keeps the inferno of reality from being real.
So after solving the automatic door riddle and making it inside, two cashiers and a customer were staring at me with slight alarm. I ignored their stares and made straight for my aisle, as fast as I could while maintaining my composure and balance. Only momentum kept me walking in a semi-straight line.
And then back at the checkout aisle one cashier was still around. He was an older, taller guy wearing concern on his face. Like he wanted to say something, to ask me if I was okay because I obviously wasn’t. I wasn’t fit to be walking let alone driving.
But he didn’t say anything. I’m sure it was because working in a liquor store he’d seen the likes of my kind before and learned the last thing you wanna do is confront an alcoholic when they’re drunk and after more. That’s like poking a bear after his honey.
I don’t remember what I bought from the liquor store that day, only that I made an ass out of myself and was too drunk to know it at the time.
Anyways, see: no consequences. I have a grab bag full of stories just like this where there weren’t any consequences for my actions. Almost always nothing happened other than I got drunk. I was rarely even scolded.
But wait. There were consequences even if I didn’t think about them. Even if alcoholism kept me out of touch with them.
There was the perpetual guilt so harsh that I would cringe, close my eyes, and hang my head. Soaked in regret for the constant humiliation I handed out to my ex-wife and then following it up with gift-wrapped sorries and promises that I’d do better.
I tried to be a good person when I was sober, had all the right morals and so on, but drinking drowned them all. Suffocated every shred of decency. I’d be doing and saying things I would never do sober. After five or so drinks I would be uncontrollably careless. I’m an alcoholic so I’d have twice that and then the real fun would start. I’d say things to people that I didn’t mean, completely smashed, flirting with other women, right in front of my ex-wife. Passing out at a friend’s party at 8pm because my party had started at 8am.
Then I’d wake up plumb full of shame, anxiety through the roof. Should I say something to that dude? Do I owe that girl an apology? Most of the time I wouldn’t say anything at all with the hope that they’d just forget. But you commit enough crimes and people stop forgetting, shit stops blowing over. People start looking at you differently.
And then I’d start drinking all over again as soon as I could and it was like magic. All the guilt and shame would be washed down the drain like dirty bathwater. Alcoholics have mastered tuning out the guilt when we’re turning the drunk dial to 11.
I drank to get drunk from the time I was 15. The last few years I did try really, really hard, though, to keep myself in check, to keep myself from doing stupid shit. But that never happened. I’d stumble around the house, fall into shit, make jokes that weren’t funny. I absolutely hated feeling embarrassed the next morning. All I wanted was to drink, feel that drunken serenity and not make an ass of myself. Lubricated but not falling over if you will.
That’s not something I can do though. My drinking always led me to a black hole I couldn’t pull myself out of.
And there was that piper to be paid.
I read something years ago about civilizations that’s always stuck with me, or it might’ve been on a documentary on TV or whatever.
It was about one of those cities that set up shop at the base of a volcano. And of course the volcano blew its top because that’s what volcanos do. People were running around with their asses on fire and all that shit. But guess what? That’s exactly what the civilization needed, a major catastrophe to make them change. It took a volcano spewing lava all over their whole damn city before they decided to move.
It wasn’t until my ex-wife said that I’d “taken it too far last Christmas” on a Sunday afternoon that I experienced my own desperation, that smashed my cherry, fizzy glass of Alka-Seltzer into a thousand shards. She didn’t say anything more than that but that was enough. She had been on her phone with someone else and I saw a look detachment from her that I’d never seen before. A broken heart set free. She had let go and moved on.
The panic and fear overtook me that afternoon. I was sure that she was going to leave with Maggie, that she had found someone else, that she’d never come back from that day emotionally. The terror was endless, the horrifying possibilities and outcomes laid out before my eyes rattled me to the core. Shook my bones and instilled a fear of rejection in me that I hadn’t felt for a long time.
What I felt in one word was despair.
Tony calls it the “gift of desperation.”
There’s times when we see things off in the distance and they don’t mean much. We don’t pay much attention to them. Because they’re way, way over there. And then there’s other times when things are right in front of us and everything is all too real. We take those times seriously.
There comes a time when we, as alcoholics, know it’s time to stop. We turn a corner and everything changes. The desperation moves us along.
I played dangerous games, took incredible risks and lost. The consequences caught up to me. People went away and then I was sitting on the floor in an empty bedroom a couple of weeks past Valentine’s Day. Sitting with nothing but my own thoughts and cat hair tumbleweeds.
Maybe it’s obvious now that nothing, I mean nothing could plug my jug other than desperation. I’d fritter about and be sober for a day or two, a week here and there. But for longer spells, I really needed to be punched hard in the soul. I needed to wreck my car and not be able to drive away. Well, that never really happened. I always totaled the cars but you get my point.
I had to be filled with desperation from head to toe to fundamentally change, to get to that “soul shift” point. Where I didn’t want to drink any more because the pain of staying the same was greater than the pain of change. As it goes.
And then the good news to counter my sad is that if I, as an alcoholic, continued to drink like I did, continued living at the feet of a volcano, when I least expected it the volcano would erupt and my alcohol fantasy land would collapse.
So why did I write all of this since I’m so far removed from it in the here and now? I don’t know. A few paragraphs from this were originally in an email I sent to a friend a few years back and I needed to put it out there to the cosmos. If you’re an alcoholic, struggling with despair, you’re not alone.
There’s a way out.
Listen in life for spiritual clues. The truth is out there. ↑