Escape. Lasting happiness/euphoria. Denial of needing anything. These were main reasons I kept going back to the bottle. Realization and yet denial of partially inadequate social skills made the escape into the bottle more necessary than just running away from problems everybody faces. Finding and keeping a job. Perseverance in studying for school. Dating. Making friends. All these required work and therefore were a challenge that I didn’t want to face. I’d tell myself I had no time or really had no desire to put up with these, and yet it would come and slap me in the face next day. So I’d crawl into the bottle that was always around to make me happy for a while. That was my addiction’s function. It worked fine until I began to fully depend on it.
When I started recovery, I saw that I still needed to put up with these things I was trying to run away from. Sobriety doesn’t make you a superhero. It doesn’t take away the problems. It does, however, let you see clearer that you can accomplish something without necessarily freaking out and escaping. It lets you have a better picture of a path you can take to make things happen. So what drinking made me walk away from was what my sobriety helped me to face and work at. Once I realized what addiction was doing to me, I saw where I didn’t want to go back to and also what I do need to work at, and that I could do it. There was time and there was an opportunity to learn and I didn’t have to do it all at once. That was a great promise and a great relief.
I couldn’t see that clearly until I quit drinking. That’s why I keep wondering every once in a while if the first step of AA should be “We quit drinking”, followed by the rest of what we know as the Twelve Steps. It was only when I stopped drinking that I could have a clear vision that my life was unmanageable. You really can’t educate a drunk person or a person who is dreaming of having another drink.
Anyway, I stopped drinking, which is, as everybody knows, is the easiest part. That’s right. It is staying sober that is hard. So I stopped poisoning myself and then I looked at myself. I saw who I was and what my addiction was. I started doing steps and saw the function my addiction served. And then… then I just kept walking forward, not too fast to miss the black ice on the road, not too slow to avoid the door hitting me in the ass. Go to meetings, get a sponsor, do the steps, do the service. The usual routine that may look boring but saves your life every day nevertheless.
[the front image was copied from ‘ere. thank you!]
Some day we talked of spiritual experiences that led us to and/or strengthened our sobriety and recovery from substance abuse. I kept trying to recall anything. None came to mind, until a week later. The freakiest dream I ever had. Maybe that was not exactly the “experience” most of the folks talked about, but it works nevertheless.
One night, perhaps after yet another crazy drinking bout, I dreamed of myself in two persons, each trying to prove he was the right and true me. They ended up fighting to the death, drowning each other in a bathtub full of hot water. I don’t remember if they actually looked like me, but I knew they were me and eventually I didn’t know who was real. I woke up sweating, terrified, not wanting to go back to sleep for a while. I didn’t have nightmares for a while up to that point, so this one shook me up quite a bit. At the same time, this was probably the worst one I had in the longest time.
I did fall asleep again, however, and the dream I had after was directly opposite to the first one. This was a vision of me joining a group of countless divers. We swam under water, for what seemed like hours, around a giant construction, perhaps a flooded tower or a part of a city. I didn’t know their faces, but I felt a part of them. It felt like a joyous experience, and I think I remember soft symphonic music playing throughout the whole thing.
It took me at least another month to sober up after that, but I think I knew it was coming. I was trying to quit on my own for a while. I suppose I could call that dream a spiritual experience. The dream number one sure scared me and I kept recalling it for a while, understanding really well what it was about – my active addiction. The two of me, one requiring intoxication, another trying to stay sane. It was the fight to the death, no doubt. I was losing jobs, relationships, belief in my forces, losing desire of going on, accomplishing anything, and fearing to stay alone. Poisoned body and intoxicated mind made me go out of control.
However the second dream – I wasn’t so sure what to think of it until just last night. I think it could’ve been a promise of better days in recovery with other people. In AA we are in a strange bond – rebuilding our own lives, and yet we are united by the common purpose of staying sober and “helping others to achieve sobriety.” We often don’t know each other’s names, we are sort of strangers, and yet we come mostly for the same reason, and the knowledge of each other’s presence is very important to us.
I must also add that the way my sobriety tuned in and the way my recovery persevered was an amazing journey on its own. I knew I had to do this and so I kept ploughing on. Even before I came to establish a conscious connection with the power greater than myself, I was walking the right road toward the goal I fully believed in. Staying on that road without turning and being happy (which I never thought I could achieve with quitting drinking since that was my only source of happiness for months before quitting) was a miracle, something I held on to hungrily. I chose to live and prosper instead of rotting alive. Why wouldn’t I take it serious? And yet the force that kept together and in the right direction, – that was/is beyond my comprehension. Some things cannot be explained, I guess. And I don’t it to be. As long as it works, I am fine with it.
For most of the stuff around us,
That we could easily pass on the street,
Is taught to us
By the society,
Skillful shit artisans
And their booking agents.
Some of us understand that.
And yet all of us
Keep buying into it
And holding on to
As if the most precious
Things we’ve discovered
That no one knows about yet.
[the image was copied from ‘ere and consumed by me. thank you.]
Three years back I worked for this organization called Hope Mission, housing folks in recovery. Every once in a while I was asked to lead a relapse prevention class. Some “classes” were good, some of them were not so good. One time the guys only told me they couldn’t hear a word I said in the end of the class. So the next time I had a microphone in my mouth and I wouldn’t move my head from it at all, I wouldn’t ever gesticulate to support my words! But some people would come later still and tell me they liked it or my message resonated with something in their experience.
One of the speeches I did was called “Shitting in Your Mouth”. Yeah, you read that right. I was wondering if I could make people listen better if I put some weird metaphors in there. I think they heard me after all. This is a tribute to it, Some thoughts to remember it.
The title of this post may have made you shiver a bit. Is abuse ever natural? In the last decade our societies try to fight off bullying and protect the minorities more than ever before. Feminists defend the right of raped and battered women, and gay folks get more than ten seconds of being heard. We are fighting all kinds of abuse, because we find it atrocious and, I suppose, unnatural. So, again, the title is weird. And yet, the ways we humans still live, is very abnormal. We do strange things to each other, and even stranger, to ourselves.
It didn’t occur to me throughout the years of heavy drinking, but eventually, in about second year of being sober, I looked at myself in the mirror and thought “holy crap, I’ve been poisoning myself on a volunteer basis all these years.” Truly, pouring liters of vodka and 12 packs of beer down your throat on a daily basis is very much unnatural.
Your body fights for you. Our heart, lungs, kidneys, and brain process everything we dump in it and everything we inhale. The body separates crap from good stuff, extract, and tries to remain healthy. Eventually the body shuts down, because it can’t digest crap anymore, but we could’ve seen that before, when we tried those drugs for the first time. With alcohol in case, most of us had a strong reaction to it: vomiting, blacking out, seeing double, etc. Those are clear signs of alcohol poisoning. That doesn’t mean you bought cheap vodka or bad beer. It means that no matter how high or low the quality of a beverage, its alcohol did damage to your body as it should have by design. It is called alcoholic intoxication for a reason. Our bodies don’t like the stuff.
There are people who can control their drinking, but even they do get the intoxication. And then there are folks that can’t handle booze due to body and mind capacity – problem drunks, alcoholics. For them (us) to continue drinking is just as natural as shitting in their own mouths. It is a strong image, but it gives you something to think about when you crave a drink you know you shouldn’t have.
People would counterattack: we know it is dumb, but we drink to quiet the pain, get away from shame, frustration, and embarrassment.
Good point. Or is it? Whether we deal with an alcoholic or responsible drinker, drinking doesn’t remove the problem, neither for today, nor for tomorrow. It only gives an illusion of happier time and shuts doors on the image of the problem. Next day not only we still have to deal with our issues, but we are also signinificantly physically weakened to get in the ring to fight. Booze doesn’t heal. It creates an illusion, but it doesn’t support you in reality.
Alcohol-fueled illusion costs a lot: health problems, compromised perception, worsened behavior, strange and often negative reactions, bad credit of all kinds, and a whole wagon of other crap that varies from person to person. One thing doesn’t change though: unquenched craving and increasingly damaged state of body and mind, including depression.
So no matter how repulsive, “shitting in your mouth” image may help you consider not drinking today, because that’s exactly what we problem drinkers do when we drink, considering all of the said above. For the first little while this image could keep you true to yourself and ideas of sobriety you know you require, despite all the illusions you want to believe. Later on you will more likely develop a more mature and structured memo, a more well put together relapse prevention strategy to keep you off booze and drugs, and carrying on through life more responsibly and (hopefully) happier. But at the early stage you need someone to slap you when you are starting to think of taking an easier way of handling reality through intoxication.
That’s when the strong images need to be activated momentarily. We lie to ourselves easily, sometimes even automatically to avoid stress and welcome pleasure or relief. So we need to have a plan that would work out an immediate defence to block the “illusion investment” behavior and walk the other way.
[the images were copied from ‘ere. thank you.]
In one of the groups I visited recently the topic was people who can’t stay sober for too long, yet are sober most of the time. They don’t get their one year medallions at AA meetings, but they are responsible workers and cherished family members. Some folks in the meeting said it is none of their business who sobers up how and for how long, they’d appreciate them anyway. Some others said they don’t judge, but they have a hard time tolerating friends and family members who just can’t get it together for too long and keep bringing havoc into everyone’s lives.
Where am I on this?
First of all, I used to work for a an organization that, working with addicts, practiced Twelve Steps/Christian way of recovery along with the principle of zero tolerance. Since I came through Twelve Steps recovery myself, I was completely OK with being part of this program’ administration. We had no booze or drugs allowed, and all that was found, including paraphernalia, was thrown out and the members found using/keeping it were talked to seriously. After a couple of relapses the member was asked to leave community. We understood very well that relapses do happen, although we also had to keep the community safe.
After I did this for several years, I joined forces with an organization that runs an intoxicated shelter while practising the harm reduction ways of helping the addicted ones. At first I was taken aback by them giving out the street works materials such as needles and other stuff used for injecting and smoking drugs. As well, they were letting people drink daily and nightly on their property and letting them in after. This was totally different from what I was used to. So I read some materials on the harm reduction approach and found it was informing the street people and saving some lives to the point it was slowly reducing the, well, harm.
Harm reduction regarding the drug and alcohol addiction is something that apparently was looked into in the early 1990s, but the first time I read about it was the article about a program in Holland that served alcoholics. The facilitators would let the homeless problem drinkers join rehab, but to get them there was a long journey. So they’d give them simpler janitor jobs and pay them in beer, since it was clear that alcohol drinking was all these people lived for.
Originally, as I was still reading that article, I was quite a bit enraged. For me, the person who quit drinking and kept sober due to practicing immediate abstinence this approach looked like a heresy. But after I finished reading I thought that was great. Here was a way of helping people quit and recover from alcoholism, different from what I knew, and yet it worked. So who cares it was different from the “zero tolerance” method that I adhered to? The main point is that people received the care and they were getting better!
I’ve seen a lot of people coming through the doors of our “zero tolerance” shelters that couldn’t make it past several days of abstinence. Yes, many did succeed, they put their minds to it and they did well. Some others didn’t succeed because they were there for a wrong reason – free meal and a roof over their head. But then some others just couldn’t make it, and I am sure they did try to put their mind to it. Just somehow their mental and physical state wouldn’t let them quit for good for what others, like me, would think was optimal to recover body and mind.
Some of them were “I didn’t drink, I just had two beers” kind of guys. They used to drink so much, drink all day, every day that when asked if they drank they’d say “no”, because to them having a couple of beers wasn’t really drinking. I could somewhat relate. In the early college years in late 1990s when drinking was still allowed in the public places outside of the venues, I used to have a beer while walking to school in the morning and then two beers or one stronger beer for lunch break. Eventually if someone asked me if I was drinking, I had to think about that for a while, because it became such a habit, doing it at least twice a week, that I didn’t even consider it inebriation, rather a different kind of a meal.
As a part of my harm reduction education, I’ve learned of a harm reduction program in Vancouver that allowed street addicts come and use drugs safely with a possibility of recovery program if they were ready for it. This was another time when I looked at something different from the idea of Twelve Steps that preached abstinence in the beginning of recovery and said to myself: if it works, good for them.
To think of it, I never really been in a setting of complete sobriety/”cleanliness”, except for an AA meeting or a workplace where I’d house recovering addicts. I still go to restaurants with friends and alcohol is served in most of them. I still go to concerts and alcohol is served and people walk around clearly intoxicated, and there is nothing I can do about that, unless I want to miss the performance. My partner smokes and has an occasional alcoholic beverage and so does her family when we go over for a dinner. I’ve built up a certain attitude for all these, but it took some time. I have to accept the fact that our society just loves insobriety at one level or another.
And with that, I look at some of these folks who just can’t perceive the attitude of staying sober/clean for more than several days. They, like others, had the right for a right treatment, right care, right attitude, not a shrug of “these people just never gonna make it, so let them go with the self-will-run riot until they drop” so I stay away from judging and pointing fingers.
To look around for another way of doing or not doing it, there was my uncle who used to have a bottle of vodka a day couple times a week when he had retired. With that he’d clean the kitchen and cook the dinner for the whole family while everyone was at work. His wife would talk to him about this crazy consumption of alcohol, but he’d tell her to leave him alone. He had lots of crap to get rid of in his head: resentments, wrongful dismissal from his job he dedicated decades of his life, mental and lots of physical pain due to leg infection. That was the only way he truly could cope, besides looking after grandkids when he was sober. She’d go to a psychiatrist about this and the professional told her: “He is coping. He is not messing up anything. He’s behaving. You should be ashamed of yourself. Leave him be.” So my aunt kept shaking her head and talking to relatives, including myself, and my uncle kept drinking. Eventually he started showing clear signs of progressing alcohol poisoning and having his physical and mental health seriously affected. He stopped for a while, but then went back at it again, although with lesser severity. When he passed away earlier this year, he was sober for a short while. I’ll remember him as a very kind and generous person who loved working with his hands, instructing me on helping him put his country house together. I will also remember him as a person who was became enslaved by alcohol at a relatively older age and whatever worked for me, didn’t work for him, whether he tried to beat it or not. He was on a different journey and in the end of it he stumbled and never could fully get up and straighten his back.
Still I am in contact with a friend of mine who so far is alive, but not very much so. I wrote about this person earlier several times. He is still trying to sober up, but with less and less success. He knows of the trouble, but no matter how much I try to reason with him about other possible way of dealing with it, he keeps banging his head against the same wall instead of trying to walk around it and check if there is a door. Still, I refuse to scratch his name out of my books and I keep inviting him over for a coffee and a movie, as long as he is sober that day. He doesn’t reach out, preferring to dwell in isolation, so I have to do the pulling. The way of recovery and sobriety living that worked for me maybe not what he can stick with for too long of a time, but it worked for a bit once. I was a witness to that. Maybe one day he will look back at what worked, listen to me or someone else, and get back to living, not just mere existence from day to day, from bottle to bottle.
There are other ways than what works for me. I realize that. I accept that. Whatever it takes, if it is different from what I know, but it saves lives, I’ll support it. There no fate worse than dwelling in the dark bubble in isolation, your body infected, your mind enslaved to an illusion you can’t live without.
[the image was copied from ‘ere. thank you]
I will let myself learn.
I will let myself grow,
Although my ego screams against it,
Preferring, as it seems,
An easier way of rejection and denial,
Brings me into emptiness,
And never ending wonder
That knows no path to travel.
Arrogant wry smile slays the seed of knowledge
At the stage of the unborn,
Sending me into despair before I am awake.