If you “knew” me you would say “No, you are not”, “That other guy drinks more than you”, “Shit, I drink more than you”, etc. My friends have said that and they will continue to do so, but why?
People have a certain definition of an alcoholic in their minds, people fitting that description certainly may be alcoholics, but that is absolutely not the whole story. I have never lost a job and have always been successful in my career. I have never had a DUI or gotten into serious trouble. I did not start drinking heavily at a young age. I was able to stop for periods of time when I wanted to. I don’t walk around with Vodka in a water bottle. I have never disappeared for 3 days on a bender. I have never injured anyone seriously (physically). I don’t pass out in public places (well, maybe once or twice). It was even fairly rare that I appeared completely shit-faced drunk. I was always there for my family (in person anyways). On the surface I did not appear out of control.
So, what’s the deal? The fact that I didn’t fit into these categories made it very difficult to come to the realization that I needed help for my problem. Probably much more difficult than if I had had many of these symptoms. At times, thoughts would bubble up that my relationship with alcohol was not good, but the denial quickly pushed them away: “I am in control, I just like to have a good time. I am successful, not a skid-row bum, and everything is fine.” As an analytical person, I have spent hours analyzing whether I fit into the “alcoholic” category or not: “I’m not like them, I don’t buy three handles of whisky at CVS for the weekend and tell the cashier I am making bread pudding”. I have come to discover that analyzing whether you are an alcoholic in this way is a pointless task, there is no conclusive answer and your brain will spin forever. They say that if you ever have to think about whether you are an alcoholic or not, then you likely have a problem – people who drink normally don’t think about things like that. I have come to believe this. Forget the “Am I an alcoholic” tests, it boils down to one thing. If you are uncomfortable with your relationship with alcohol then you have a problem – I am and I do. Failing any other test will not help you anyway, because it is only this revelation that will drive you to change.
Although I never reached the above levels, the signs were there once I chose to look for them, it is amazing how easy these signs are to ignore. Unfortunately they were far too easy to write off as “No harm done, just having fun” for a long time. Fortunately, I can see it now. Most weekends I couldn’t wait to get home and see my friends – so we could drink. I was they guy who could drink A LOT and many times not appear drunk. I would have a couple of “pre-drinks” before a party and be the last to leave. In the last 10 years, I rarely get hangovers – I was complemented on always being able to power through the next day. I was the guy who would “accidentally” pick up your drink and finish it, before going back to my own. I did have real non-drinking days, but also having only 1 or 2 beers after work started counting as a “non-drinking day”. I drove drunk. I drank in the car. For one period of time I would park in the parking lot of a 7-11 after work and drink half a 40 of malt liquor, and then pour the rest in my empty coffee cup for the ride home, warm nasty and mixed with traces of coffee – didn’t matter. At the end I started doing this with vodka. Nobody had a clue. I went to Little League Board Meetings drunk, and was recognized for my valuable input. I went to some of my kids sporting events drunk, nobody knew. Preserving the external image was of utmost importance. I never stocked the house with any booze except beer. But when a bottle was brought in, or left from a party, it never lasted for more than a couple of days – usually the contents never seeing a glass. I peed by the side of my bed once and didn’t remember it. I passed out on the couch once and my 3 year old daughter decorated me – that broke my heart but I didn’t stop. Even casual drinking at home after work – I was they guy who would want to go to bed but stay up another 10 minutes so I could pound just one more, and take a couple hits out of my wife’s open wine bottle on the way to bed. Other things I did less often, but did them nonetheless: hiding bottles, morning drinking, blackouts, etc. I took a job where they kept bottles in the office – and I emptied them after hours. When it was an “acceptable” situation I would let myself appear drunk, and once in a while I couldn’t control it, but most of these times I had this uncanny ability to appear perfectly normal. Of course much of that ability comes from keeping people at arms length so they never quite know what “perfectly normal” is – but that’s another topic. I used to think I was some kind of a fucking genius that I could get away with all this shit, nobody knew, and I stayed out of trouble. I don’t think that anymore. All this and I was still trying to analyze whether I was truly an alcoholic or not? Unbelievable.
They say that one of the signs of alcoholism is when you plan to have a limited number of drinks and can’t do it. I never had this problem, but not in the good way. I never planned my drinking, so I could never fail this test. I could do whatever the fuck I wanted. When drinking, sometimes I would stop, but it was rare. Usually the process would continue until I eventually made my way to my bed. Once I started, I could never have just one.
One of the most shocking events I have experienced regarding this topic of recognizing alcoholism is the following:
My wife (of 15 years) had accused me of being an alcoholic on many occasions before, and right about the time I was getting ready to surrender she was urging me to visit an AA meeting. Soon after this she recounted a meeting with her therapist where her therapist had suggested that I might be an alcoholic. My wife told me she was stunned and speechless. I, upon hearing this, was stunned and speechless. “How can you be surprised? You accused me and urged me to go to AA”, I said. She replied “I said it, but I didn’t really believe it”.
Alcoholism is different for everyone. Some are “out there” getting in trouble and some are hiding in plain sight. When I alluded to this at home, my wife said “Did you hide drinks?” It is much more than that, it is about blending in, appearing normal, living a lie – now you know which type I am.
Wish me luck.