While I have written a considerable amount about alcohol and drug addiction (search this blog site and you’ll find several posts on addiction and chemical dependency) I have written very little about my experience with them. I chose not to write about myself because it is too easy to sound overly dramatic or like a Carrie Nation reformer and I am not anti-alcohol. We have it in our home, wine, beer and I think there’s some rum somewhere, too.
I am one of the fortunate drunks. I went into treatment on July 17, 1982 and have not had any alcohol since but it’s been a battle. I had a heart transplant in 2007. There’s no way of telling if my alcoholism contributed to my heart problems but it sure is possible. Here is some of my story.
Being an alcoholic or any kind of addict is to live a life of dishonesty, insincerity and betrayal. My comments here apply to my alcoholism so that’s the addiction upon which I will concentrate but, all addictions bear similar traits. The addict will let nothing get between him and his bottle. He will betray anyone including his spouse and children to satisfy the insane craving for alcohol. The more you drink the more you will lie, cheat and steal to satisfy your body’s demands. The drug steals all of your will power, your self-control and your self-respect and makes you its slave. It is like your body is holding a gun to your brain saying, “Do what I say or I will kill both of us.”
The very first step In the 12 step Alcoholics Anonymous program is, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol and our lives had become unmanageable.” Powerless and unmanageable aptly describe an addiction like alcoholism. Powerless and unmanageable two words that when finally adopted and spoken out loud can set you free but oh how long it takes to get there.
Everything written here (except those words I identify as coming from someone else or from another source) is true and based on my real life experience as a practicing SOB drunk. Pay close attention because this could be you or someone you know.
I always drank too much. Even before I was old enough to drink if my teen friends and I could get some beer, wine or anything else I never knew when to quit. I drank until I passed out. I could not drink one beer, one glass of wine or one martini. As the saying goes, “One is too many and a thousand is not enough.” I know from experience that the worse your habit becomes the more aware you are that you are addicted and it eats at your conscience like battery acid on bare skin. I cannot begin to describe the psychological torture the addict experiences.
The guilt gnaws away at your self- esteem causing emotional pain that goes beyond intense…there’s not a word to describe it and that pain forces you to drink even more in order to assuage the hell your life has become. No one…absolutely no one would choose to live like this. Your life becomes totally unmanageable and you have no control on where the desire for alcohol will lead you. To those of you who say, “Just quit…you made the choice to drink, you can make the choice to stop.” Oh how I wish that was true.
Yes, I made the choice to drink and that was the end of my ability to make sound choices about anything. No amount of will power or determination can end this nonsensical sickness. It takes an organized approach and a lot of people to end the insanity and slowly help you get back on the road to respectability. Having lived this life…and believe me when I say I have spared you the really gory details, I know without a doubt that this God awful affliction is a disease as surely as cancer is one and if you think for a minute that you can just stop the cycle yourself, you are living in a fantasy world. Read on, maybe, just maybe you will learn something.
Addiction is horrible. It is beyond description because no one in their right mind would choose to live that way. You will lie, cheat, steal and betray your best friends, family and employer if any of them gets in the way of your bond with your bottle (whether it’s full of pills, heroin or booze). And….you will do it with righteous indignation because you will really believe there is nothing wrong with you but that everyone is against you. None of what you do will weigh on your conscience until you sober up and that’s when your conscience goes to work on you like a slave master with a whip. There are no welts or sores on your body as a result of the whipping, they are on your soul and they never go away. Finally, you can’t handle the guilt any longer and you seek out your best friend that wonderful container that sports a label saying, ”90 proof. Drink in moderation”
A drunk is a drunk is a drunk. The stereotype is the bewhiskered, dirty guy sitting in the doorway of an abandoned building holding a brown paper bag with the tip of a bottle just visible over the top of the paper. He probably smells bad, hasn’t eaten a solid meal in days and has slept in his own vomit and sometimes his own excrement (I’m using a man as an example but alcoholism and narcotics addiction are no respecter of gender).
I was a drunk for a very long time and never knew anyone like the person I just described. To be truthful I used that image to prove to myself that I was not a drunk. I wore an expensive suit every day, had a new car, a nice home and a great job. People liked and respected me and I was what most would call successful. To look at me no one would ever suspect I had any problems never mind an uncontrollable addiction and a mean streak a mile wide.
Here’s what my admiring friends and associates didn’t see. They didn’t see me after hours where I would purposely pick a fight with my wife so I could leave in a huff to buy booze. They didn’t see me return home a while later after having consumed a pint of 90 proof vodka, stumbling into the house, cursing, pushing people out of the way to get to my basement hideaway where I would drink the rest of the evening, fall asleep in the chair and often awaken in my own vomit. Sometimes I awakened on the bathroom floor, not knowing how I got there or even whose bathroom I was in.
People didn’t see me when the alarm went off and I had to get ready to go to work so sick I prayed I would die. A hangover, you see, is nothing more than heavy duty withdrawal. You know that there’s a very long and sharp knife buried in your skull and you know it has gone all the way through and someone keeps twisting it.
Your stomach is on fire and you keep vomiting but there’s nothing left to vomit….not even stomach acid.. The pores of your skin smell of whatever beverage you were drinking and your clothes (that you slept in) are wrinkled, dirty and stink. At some point in the night you had urinated but without the benefit of being in a bathroom. And yet despite feeling as though you had been hit by a bus and contracted food poisoning at the same time, responsibility calls. You have to go to work and there’s only one way to feel human again you take what my dad (also an alcoholic) called a “Bump.” A long hard gulp of 90 proof booze right out of the bottle. In most cases it was an almost instantaneous fix. I could go from looking like a tribe of vampires had been sucking the blood from my body for a week to a resembling respectable businessman within minutes. That doesn’t mean I felt good or that my mind was clear…it only meant that alcohol was working to delay the inevitable hangover.
All it took to make me presentable and give me the ability to appear normal was a shower, a shave, a good haircut, a starched white shirt, a tie with some red in it, a freshly pressed suit, shined shoes and some mouthwash and I was in charge again. Little did anyone know that the double wide briefcase I carried was not because I was so conscientious I took home heavy workloads. No…I carried that briefcase because it would hold a quart size bottle. The bottle, when finally drained of its last drop of poison would be quietly and secretly placed in someone else’ waste basket far from my office. You can’t leave any evidence around you know. Better to make someone else look like a drunk than expose yourself.
Being a drunk takes a certain amount of planning but sometimes making a good plan while in an alcoholic fog is impossible. A plan is necessary so you don’t run out of booze. I didn’t hang out at bars much, I drank at home for the most part but it wouldn’t make any difference. Neither bars nor liquor stores are open 24/7/365. You always had to be sure you had enough alcohol to take you through the night and the weekend. I don’t know about other states but in Minnesota you could not buy booze on Sunday. I would have to make sure I had enough on Saturday to carry me through. Sometimes, though, I miscalculated and ran out. That’s when you attack the cooking sherry and even mouthwash.
If you are as addicted as I was you know where all the liquor stores are; their hours and exactly where your choice of poison is in the store so you can walk right to it.. It was not unusual for me to be waiting at a liquor store for someone to show up tp sell me a bottle. You also make sure you don’t go to the same store too often…can’t have them thinking you are an alcoholic now, can you?
You might read all of this and say, “With all of those shenanigans you must have known you were a drunk.” Well, kind of. I knew I drank too much but I was functioning, I was working, I was producing, I was getting paid and no one was confronting me about my drinking so I made the assumption that everything was fine.
Somehow drunks attract drunks. I didn’t think my drinking habits were strange because the guys I hung out with drank as much as I did. Here’s an example. Back in the 70’s when I was a Press Secretary, there was a very nice restaurant on University Avenue in St. Paul, Minnesota called the Blue Horse. We would go there for lunch often and here’s what we had; a double extra dry (meaning forget the vermouth) vodka martini on the rocks with two olives (gotta get your veggies you know) before lunch; a bottle of wine with lunch and a double Drambuie up in a snifter after lunch. Now, when everyone you know and like drinks like that why would you think you had a serious drinking problem?
I am convinced that every alcoholic, no matter how heavy the denial, knows somewhere in the deep dark recesses of their mind that they have a very serious problem. Because of that haunting knowledge we get very good at hiding or disguising our problem. For most of the time that I was an active alcoholic I was working as an on-air personality in radio and TV or as the Press Secretary and Director of Communications for a Minnesota Governor. Because no one ever approached me about my drinking my warped logic suggested that I could continue to drink while on the job so I always had a bottle or two in my desk or briefcase..
While on the air I would struggle mightily to make sure I pronounced every word correctly, had the right inflection and didn’t slur any words. Doing that took incredible concentration and commitment.
While working on the air I was always the morning drive time guy (that’s prime time in radio). I would hide my bottle at the bottom of the men’s room waste basket and cover it with paper towels. When I needed a drink I would just head to the men’s room and being as I was the morning guy, there were very few others working. My shift was 5 AM to 9 AM and by 9 AM my bottle was usually empty.
The men’s room wastebasket was just one hiding place. I had many others…a sandpit a few blocks from my house, a secret panel in the basement wall, a spot over the furnace, a junk drawer in the garage and my trusty briefcase with the combination lock.
In this post I have described some of my behavior while alcoholism controlled my mind and body, I have not gone into detail about most of it and I made that decision for two reasons. One is I can’t remember a great deal of what I did, and the other is that even after all these years what I can remember is still too painful to relate to anyone. The guilt I bear and the pain I caused is barely manageable. I fear to think what I might do should I dwell on any of it. You’ll have to take my word for it that my behavior was not what you would expect from a normal human being.
This blog is about real life addiction. If you want more clinical information there are lots of resources like this one.. http://alcoholism.about.com/cs/info2/a/aa022697.htm
I believe addiction is a disease, as does the American Medical Association and several other Medical groups. In a 1992 JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) article, the Joint Committee of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD) and the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) published this definition for alcoholism:
“Alcoholism is a primary chronic disease with genetic, psychosocial and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations. The disease is often progressive and fatal. It is characterized by impaired control over drinking, preoccupation with the drug alcohol, use of alcohol despite adverse consequences, and distortions in thinking, mostly denial. Each of these symptoms may be continuous or periodic.”
If you do not believe it is a disease this post probably won’t convince you otherwise and that’s your choice. I write about what I believe in and if people disagree they can say so in the space provided or start their own blog.
If you are worried about your drinking habits or about someone else’ drinking habits I found this simple statement to be quite revealing, “If alcohol (or drugs) are causing you problems, you have an alcohol or drug problem.” The same goes for food, gambling, sex or any other addictive behavior.
If you are addicted you drink or use for effect, you can’t get the desired effect by having a drink an hour. Furthermore, the kind of alcohol really doesn’t make any difference. I preferred vodka and I have no idea why but I drank for effect so I bought cheap booze and drank right out of the bottle. Gulps, not sips. That marvelous burning sensation as the alcohol went down your throat into your stomach was motivating because you knew that soon the pain would be gone and you could go back to being totally irresponsible and hate all of your tormenters (like wife, family, friends, co-workers…anyone at all). By the time the alcohol hit your stomach, you were drunk and happy again as long as no one interfered with your drinking. The wonderful, warm feeling was quickly replaced by every emotion a human can feel and in no precise order. You hate, you love, you laugh and cry all at the same time all with no reason and none of it is real. You can go from insane laughter one minute to unheard of violence the next and think nothing of it.
A Russian national (they are known for their love of Vodka and their high rate of alcoholism) once told my wife that Vodka was a necessity. “The first bottle,” he said, “Must be Absolut” After that who cares.”
It is rare that anyone who is addicted uses their substance of choice to get high, they use it to try to find a release or some respite from the misery they are feeling. Most often people use to try to feel normal. It has been said that your first drunk or narcotics hit is your first and last high. The rest of your time as an addict is trying to get to that same place and you rarely if ever do. Worse yet, it takes more and more of whatever you are using to have any effect at all.
Alcohol destroys your organs. Sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly but it will destroy your organs and that means it will destroy you. The problem is that alcohol can destroy your life but let you go on living so that you wish you were dead. I prayed for death many times.
I’ve told this story in hopes that maybe one or two people will read it and get the help they need so that they don’t become a number on the list of people waiting for organ transplants. If you know someone who needs help here is a list of resources for you to get more information.
Want to take a test to see if you are an alcoholic? You can do it privately at home and only you will know the results.
The Michigan Alcoholism Screening test can be found, taken and scored here. http://counsellingresource.com/lib/quizzes/drug-testing/alcohol-mast/
If you take the test and determine that you need help a good starting point is the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the U.S. Government (SAMHSA) http://ncadi.samhsa.gov/links/
One of the most disturbing effects of alcohol abuse in particular is that it can result in fetal alcohol syndrome, permanently scarring children and can range from increased aggressiveness to a lifetime of brain damage. http://ezinearticles.com/?The-Real-World-Health-Effects-Of-Drug-Abuse—Overview&id=486086
Alcoholism and withdrawal from it can be deadly. According to WikiPedia
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delirium_tremens) five percent of acute alcohol withdrawal cases progress to delirium tremens. Unlike the withdrawal syndrome associated with opiate addiction (generally), delirium tremens (and alcohol withdrawal in general) can be fatal. Mortality can be up to 35% if untreated; if treated early, death rates range from 5-15%.
If you want more comprehensive information visit the following sites. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) http://www.drugabuse.gov/NIDAHome.html, The Partnership for a Drug Free America (www.drugfree.org/) or your local treatment center.
The Women’s Heart Foundation has something to say as well: http://www.womensheartfoundation.org/content/HeartDisease/alcohol_and_heart_disease.asp
Bob Aronson of Bob’s Newheart is a 2007 heart transplant recipient, the founder of Facebook’s nearly 2,500 member Organ Transplant Initiative and the author of most of these donation/transplantation blogs.
You may comment in the space provided or email your thoughts to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And – please spread the word about the immediate need for more organ donors. There is nothing you can do that is of greater importance. If you convince one person to be an organ and tissue donor you may save or positively affect over 60 lives. Some of those lives may be people you know and love.
Please view our video “Thank You From the Bottom of my Donor’s heart” on http://www.organti.org This video was produced to promote organ donation so it is free and no permission is needed for its use.
If you want to spread the word personally about organ donation, we have another PowerPoint slide show for your use free and without permission. Just go to http://www.organti.org and click on “Life Pass It On” on the left side of the screen and then just follow the directions. This is NOT a stand-alone show; it needs a presenter but is professionally produced and factually sound. If you decide to use the show I will send you a free copy of my e-book, “How to Get a Standing “O” that will help you with presentation skills. Just write to email@example.com and usually you will get a copy the same day.
Also…there is more information on this blog site about other donation/transplantation issues. Additionally we would love to have you join our Facebook group, Organ Transplant Initiative The more members we get the greater our clout with decision makers.