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Will Power — It Works As Well On Alcoholism As It Does On Diahrrea


By Bob Aronson

sobriety for opener

Alcohol abuse, especially outright alcoholism is a leading cause of the organ shortage because of its destructive effect on the heart, pancreas, liver, kidneys, reproductive organs and stomach. There are over 123,000 people waiting for organ transplants in the U.S. and with only about 30,000 transplants a year, many on that list will die.

As a former drinker, a heart transplant recipient and the author of most of these blogs, I am always intensely interested in stories or postings about alcohol and drug abuse, so I actively seek the latest information about those subjects.

In that light, I was surfing the internet recently when I came across a group discussion of the issue. What caught my attention was this statement, “If you make the decision to start drinking you can make the decision to stop. Just say, NO, I’m not going to drink anymore, then pray for sobriety and it will come.”

When I saw that my immediate reaction was that the writer was unaware of what it’s like to be an addict and the total misery in which the alcoholic lives. It is a life no one would wish on their worst enemy. It is a life no one would live if they had a clear choice to get out of it. I wish it was so simple as to just, “quit.” or say, “NO,” but more on that, later.

***(A note to the reader. Throughout this blog I refer to the alcoholic as “he” for convenience. Please read it as he/she or him/her because everything I relate here applies to both genders. Also, I can only relate to the disease as a male. Women have many of the same experiences as men, but many more that are totally different. In many ways women suffer even more than their male counterparts)

I am writing this in my role as a recovering alcoholic of some 34 years. I have not had a drink of alcohol in all that time, I am not drinking today and I don’t plan to tomorrow, but I live every moment of every day with the knowledge that I am just one drink away from returning to  the greatest misery man can inflict on himself whether physically, emotionally or both.

This is not one of those “tell-all confessions.” Since the birth of this blog in 2007 I’ve received dozens of requests for more information on alcoholism, but not for the usual fare, many of our readers want to know what it’s like to be an alcoholic. This is an attempt to answer that question, to explain the agony of alcoholism and to help you recognize that the alcoholic can’t “just quit.” I hope it offers some insight into the alcoholic mind and answers at least a few questions you may have about what it’s like to be a drunk.

Those who say, “Just quit,” or, “just say no” have no idea what it’s like to be a full-blown, full-time, uncontrollablejust say no drunk. If it was a matter of choice, a matter of will power, a matter over which alcoholics had control they would not choose to live that way. It is a life of absolute misery, dishonesty and risk. Your best friend and worst enemy is the bottle, it totally controls your life. Every minute of your existence revolves around making sure you have access to alcohol. If you have to choose between eating and drinking, you’ll drink. If you have to choose between bleeding to death and drinking, you’ll choose bleeding and if you have to choose between those you love and alcohol, you will choose alcohol and all the while knowing it’s wrong — totally and absolutely wrong. Worse yet, as you continue to choose alcohol over what’s right, that cloud of oppressive guilt that follows you around  will tighten its stranglehold forcing you to consume more in another feeble attempt to stop the agony.

One other point about “If you can choose to drink, you can choose to stop.” The initial choice to drink is usually made while sober and for many, it is the last sober choice they make. Once the brain is supersaturated with alcohol, how do you get it to make a rational, logical choice? You can’t. The only time choosing to stop drinking might work is if you choose to get HELP to stop drinking, because you cannot do it alone. You must, as the AA Big Book says, realize and admit that you are powerless over alcohol and your life has become unmanageable. Only when you are willing to put your life in the hands of others (usually highly qualified addiction professionals) do you stand a chance of getting it back.

alcoholism definitionI stopped to read the post and comments I mentioned earlier because I have an interest in the subject. Addiction runs in my family. I was a practicing alcoholic for a long time and the practice paid off, I became a perfect drunk. It started when I was a teen who thought a weekend of beer consumption was normal behavior. I realized at that early age that while others could have a can of beer or two and then quit, I couldn’t. I always drank until drunk (sometimes unconscious) or until we ran out of alcohol whichever came first.

My early adulthood was not unlike most other people, I was young, struggling to pay the bills and unable to afford alcohol so my drinking problem wasn’t all that obvious. I knew, though, that anytime alcoholic beverages were available my old pattern continued. Once I started drinking I couldn’t stop. As time went on and there was a little more money, I drank more. At first it was just In the evening and on weekends but before long I was following my father’s habit of having a little “bump” upon arising each day. That progressed to several “bumps” and finally arriving at work drunk and staying that way. I was not a bar fly, I did most of my drinking privately and…I was good at hiding it. From jobs in broadcast journalism to serving as a Minnesota Governor’s Communications Director and then back to broadcast journalism I was a full-blown alcoholic and almost no one knew it. I was under the influence of alcohol even when I was on the air several hours a day and yet, no one ever mentioned it.  Not then and not since. .

I had tried a hundred times to quit drinking and each time I did it with great resolve, but my best efforts never lasted longer than a week  or two before I was back to my old habits. Finally, though, I hit bottom. It was 10 o’clock  in the morning and I had already consumed nearly a quart of vodka and hadn’t eaten in days. I was very sick. Sicker than I had ever been before. While my head was nearly in the toilet bowl I made the decision to get help. I crawled to the phone, found the yellow pages and located a treatment center a couple of miles from my home. I then called my brother, told him what I wanted to do and asked him to drive me there.

It was about noon on Saturday July 17, 1982 and my blood alcohol was 3 times the legal limit. I was so wracked with guilt and pain and so sick I just wanted someone to help me feel good again. I was, “sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

The Mounds Park hospital and treatment center in St. Paul, Minnesota no longer exists but they were the right people in the right place at the right time. I have not had a drink since, but I could not have done it alone. “So,” you ask, “Why are you writing this?” I’m doing so because I’m hoping to bring some understanding to the issue.

The first few days in treatment were awful. When I wasn’t in the bathroom emptying my stomach, I spent my time trying to think of a way to get out of there and get a drink, but the papers I had signed had me in voluntary lockdown. Saturday, Sunday and Monday were probably the most tortured moments of my life. I was so sick I prayed for death. Even though they gave me tranquilizers this “purging” period was awful. I later learned that withdrawal from alcohol addiction is among the worst and can be deadly. As I dried out I never left my room, talked to none of the other patients, didn’t eat and drank what seemed to be gallons of water and even that wouldn’t stay down. Anyone who has ever had a hangover, has experienced just a smidgen of what alcohol withdrawal is like for the person who consumes it by the quart or liter every day of his life. It is why the alcoholic needs some “hair of the dog that bit you” in the morning. it’s the perfect way to cure a hangover. If you never stop drinking you never have a hangover. Well — almost.

facts abot deathI’m sure there are many who have been heavy drinkers, made the decision to quit and did. Others counted on God’s intervention and it worked, but for the vast majority of alcoholism sufferers quitting is beyond their ability. That was and is e nature of my condition. I am absolutely convinced that my ability to quit drinking was unrelated to will power. An alcoholism counselor once told me, “If you think will power will work, the next time you have diarrhea, use will power to stop it.” Just the thought of drinking again scares the hell out of me.

So, you might ask how and when you know you are an alcoholic and that’s a great question. In the deep dark recesses of your mind you probably know from that first drunk when you couldn’t stop drinking. The great test of whether there is something amiss is for me quite simple. Most normal, social drinkers can have one or two drinks and quit with no discomfort. I can’t. I know I can’t because I tried it many times. I find it impossible to believe the claims of some who say, “Addiction can be cured.” I will only accept that when they can show me highly supervised, peer reviewed, large group, long term clinical studies that clearly show patients who were cured can drink again and stop after one or two. Anyone or any organizations that claims to have a cure and cannot provide that evidence does not, in my view, have one.

Only others who share my experience will really understand this, but once I have a single drink of alcohol something is triggered in me that is so strong, so incredibly powerful it will cause me to have another and another and another. As the adage goes, “One drink is too much and a thousand are not enough.”

To further the point you might ask, “Well what if you had that drink and then thought real hard about the consequences like, Hey Bob,  you could lose your job, your marriage, everything that is dear to you and wind up in prison for life as well, wouldn’t that stop you?” I guess a rational mind would immediately agree that those considerations would cause you to step back from the bar, but – you must remember the alcoholic mind is not one that is rational. It is driven by a craving so deep and so irrational it will violate every moral and ethical standard you ever had in order to spend more time with its best friend forever, alcohol.

That is not to say the alcoholic has no conscience. Once he has done whatever horrendous thing it was that relieved him of all that he loved he will feel great guilt, depression and sorrow. He will swear to change and to make things right, but when the agony of the hangover (withdrawal) begins he will again turn to the bottle. Does he have a choice to drink or not to drink? Of course, and the alcoholic will vow time and time again to make that choice, to quit drinking and will be incredibly strong in his resolve as long as he is under alcohol’s influence, but the resolve diminishes right along with the influence.

“One more drink,” he says, “will get me back on the road to sobriety,” and he really believes it, but one leads to six and to ten more and then to a repeat of the very behavior that caused all the guilt and there’s only one way to deal with it, more alcohol. It is a powerful drug and while it can cause one to lose his inhibitions (read that “good sense”), it also helps one forget, until you start getting a little sober and then you start all over again.

So you see, the alcoholic knows he has choices and he is willing to make the right one, but he never gets to a point where he feels good enough to make it, unless he is drunk and then even his alcoholic mind knows he has failed again.
drunk in trashAlcoholism is not only the failure to say “no” to the drug, it is also a complete abandonment of all that you know is right —  a behavior change so great as to be unbelievable. The image of an alcoholic that many have is of a foul-smelling bum in dirty clothes who sleeps in a cardboard box in a dark, trash cluttered alley. He is inarticulate, uneducated and offensive. That’s the stereotype, but you know what? That’s only a partial picture.

The rest of the story is quiet and invisible. Every day millions of alcoholics get dressed for work in a stylish suit, and works right alongside you. When I was drinking heavily in the 60’s, 70’s and early 80’s I wore expensive clothing, drove very nice cars and was always presentable and functioning. I anchored TV and radio news shows, hosted a radio talk show and functioned as the press secretary to a state Governor. Few  who knew me would call me a drunk. They might know that I drank a little, but no one would suggest I was an alcoholic.

Like many alcoholics I was pretty good at functioning while inebriated. Even the people with which I worked moshiding a bottlet closely had no idea that I had a secret life. They didn’t know that the double wide briefcase I carried was not full of office work. H, it carried a quart of vodka and a carton of cigarettes. They didn’t know that when I arrived at the office in in the morning, I had already had several drinks or that I had slept in a chair in the clothing I wore the day before. They were unaware that I hid my bottle in the bottom of the men’s room waste basket so whenever I wanted a drink, I just went to the men’s room. They didn’t know that behind the wall mirror in my bathroom at home, I had built a carefully hidden compartment to house my liquor supply. It was constructed while my wife was at work to ensure secrecy. The hidden latch on the wall mirror let it swing open to reveal several bottles sitting on a 2 X 4 shelf. It is where I got my first drink of the day, just a little something to get the hair off of my tongue and get my heart started. Neither friends nor family knew about the sandpit about six blocks from my home. It had a bottle of vodka hidden under the “No trespassing” sign that was only recoverable under the cover of night. There may have been other places as well and the bottles may still be there because I forgot where I put them.

Not all, but many alcoholics suffer from “Blackouts” and I was one of them. I know one fellow traveler who says he missed the “entire Carter Administration.” Blackouts are periods of time that cannot be remembered. They are periods when you can walk, talk and work and remember none of it. There are huge gaps in my memory of those years and it is attempting to recollect them that threatens my sobriety even though they were a long time ago and I might have just fallen asleep. It is not knowing and suspecting the worst that beckons me to have “just one.” The flashing red, white and blue neon “Liquor” signs act as strong magnets that seek to pull my car into their parking lots. I shudder to think of what I might have done that I cannot remember. So far, though, my recovery program and support system have proved to be a stronger force and I fear the liquor sign more than I fear the memories.

liquor sign
When you are a practicing alcoholic you have to spend a whole lot of time making sure you have an uninterrupted supply of alcohol. There’s a lot of planning that goes into being a drunk because our greatest fear is running out of liquor. In Minnesota you can’t buy hard liquor or even strong beer on a Sunday. The liquor stores close at 10 PM on Saturday night and don’t open again until 8 AM on Monday. It is critical that the flow of alcohol not be impeded. An ample supply must be available at all times in a place that is always accessible.

We drunks spend a whole lot of time hiding our addiction, even to the point of having a hidden secret stock that can be consumed privately so when attending a party you can be seen drinking a Coke or Pepsi not liquor, wine or beer. During that time I had many people comment on the fact that I rarely “Drank” and I always agreed.

When I was Anchoring a regional network radio news show five mornings a week, I sat across a desk from my producer. We were almost in each other’s faces every day and I was never sober. One weekend I called her and said, “Christa, I won’t be in on Monday, I’m in treatment.”

“C’mon Bob, is this your idea of a joke? Why are you calling?” She was quite indignant.

“I’m in treatment for alcoholism, Christa,” I said.

“I told you it’s not funny,” she responded.

It took a while to convince her. We had worked across from each other for three years and she never knew I drank even though I was almost never sober. While on the air I labored mightily to keep my enunciation crisp and to be an errorless reader. Face to face I interviewed Governors, captains of industry, super stars of entertainment and men and women of the cloth while at the same time increasing the profitability of not only the liquor companies but also the businesses that make, distribute and sell Certs breath mints, and Binaca breath freshener.

I think I mentioned that it takes a lot of planning to stay drunk and hide the fact that you are. I worked hard at keeping my drinking preferences and practices secret so I made sure I didn’t frequent the same liquor stores too often. I did not want to be seen frequenting bars and nightclubs, so I didn’t go to them. I almost never drank in a bar. I knew the hours of all the liquor stores, their locations and their prices. I even went so far as to deposit my empty liquor bottles in someone else’ trash cans and often not even in my neighborhood. At work I once put an empty vodka bottle in the corporate President’s waste basket.

Sobering up as I mentioned earlier was not easy. It was terrible. When finally the alcohol was out of my system I sobriety quotevowed to go public with my addiction as a means to help me stay sober. Treatment, AA meetings, being public about my problem helped, I’ve not had a drink since a little before noon on that day in ’82.

While I respect those in the scientific community who insist that alcoholism can be cured and that drinkers can choose to stop, I vehemently disagree. I know scores of sufferers just like me. We talk, we relate, we empathize and our stories are nearly identical. Furthermore I have attended hundreds of AA meetings and read scores of books on the subject. They all verify the fact that those who suffer from alcoholism also suffer with feelings of helplessness, depression, resentments and most importantly — overwhelming guilt.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on addiction I am but a single case among millions. My evidence is anecdotal and not scientifically acceptable, but I know that my story and my experiences are repeated thousands if not millions of times every day. I don’t know why people become alcoholics and I don’t understand the psychology behind it I only know it very nearly ruined my life, hurt my friends and family immeasurably and affected the lives of many others as well.

If someone in your family or circle of friends has a problem with alcohol you can try to help, but don’t be surprised if your offers are perceived as threats and you lose your relationship with that person. The alcoholic didn’t drink for you and is not going to stop for you or for anyone else. He will only stop when he hits rock bottom and can no longer stand living that way. Then he will either seek help and keep seeking it for the rest of his life, or return to drinking and alcoholic bliss where unpleasant memories are washed away in a sea of 90 proof alcohol.

Alcoholism is slow suicide. It will kill you one way or another. Either you will succumb to some disease, or you will drink yourself to death. It’s suicide but very slow, very painful and very effective.

My closing thought is the same as the one with which I opened this posting. The life of an alcoholic is a life of misery, shame, guilt and fear. No one, no one, would choose to live like that if choice was really an option.

Below are some resources for Alcoholics,  their families and friends.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services AdministrationExternal Link—For information about substance abuse prevention and treatment services:

National Institute on Drug Abuse—For information about other drug problems that often co-exist with alcohol problems: 301-443-1124.

National Institute of Mental Health—For information on problems such as anxiety and depression that can co-exist with alcohol problems: 866-615-6464.

bobBob Aronson of Bob’s Newheart is a 2007 heart transplant recipient, the founder of Facebook’s over 4,200 member Organ Transplant Initiative (OTI) and the author of most of the nearly 300 posts on this site.  You may comment in the space provided or email your thoughts to me at bob@baronson.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. You can register to be a donor at http://www.donatelife.net.  It only takes a few minutes. Then, when registered, tell your family about your decision so there is no confusion when the time comes.

My Alcoholism — Avoid it, Live Longer. A True Story.


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 bob@baronson.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 bob@baronson.org 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.

 

How Alcohol Can Wreck Your Body


(This report is from the U.K.  You will notice that it refers to “units.”  That’s the same as a about a half of one “shot” of alcohol in the U.S.)  http://tinyurl.com/948cvhs

From heart to liver and brain to kidneys, a night on the tiles makes demands on us that we don’t fully realise. Peta Bee reports

6pm One Unit: It’s been a long day…

BRAIN: From the first sip, alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream and reaches the brain. Although you won’t be aware of it, there is an impairment of brain function, which deteriorates further the more you drink. Cognitive abilities that are acquired later in life, such as conduct and behaviour, are the first to go. Early on you will experience mild euphoria and loss of inhibition, as alcohol impairs regions of the brain controlling behaviour and emotion. Most vulnerable are the brain cells associated with memory, attention, sleep and coordination. Sheer lack of mass means that people who weigh less become intoxicated more quickly, and women will feel the effects faster than men. This is also because their bodies have lower levels of water.

HEART: Your pulse quickens after just one unit. Alcohol is a vasodilator – it makes the peripheral blood vessels relax to allow more blood to flow through the skin and tissues, which results in a drop in blood pressure. In order to maintain sufficient blood flow to the organs, the heart rate increases. Your breathing rate may also speed up.

8pm Five Units: Whose round is it then?

DIGESTIVE SYSTEM: The Government advises men to drink no more than three to four units a day and women no more than two to three, so after two pints of normal-strength beer (four units) or a large glass of red wine (3.5 units) we have already exceeded our healthy guidelines. The alcohol is absorbed through the stomach and small intestine and if you are not used to it, even small amounts of alcohol can irritate the stomach lining. This volume of alcohol also begins to block absorption of essential vitamins and minerals.

SKIN: Alcohol increases bloodflow to the skin, making you feel warm and look flushed. It also dehydrates, increasing the appearance of fine lines. According to Dr Nicholas Perricone, a dermatologist, even five units will lead to an unhealthy appearance for days.

11pm 10 Units: Sorry, what was your name again?

LUNGS: A small amount of alcohol speeds up the breathing rate. But at this level of intoxication, the stimulating effects of alcohol are replaced by an anaesthetic effect that acts as a depressant on the central nervous system. The heart rate lowers, as does blood pressure and respiration rates, possibly to risky levels – in extreme cases the effect could be fatal. During exhalation, the lungs excrete about 5 per cent of the alcohol you have consumed – it is this effect that forms the basis for the breathalyser test.

1am 15 Units: Let me tell you about my ex…

LIVER: Alcohol is metabolised in the liver and excessive alcohol use can lead to acute and chronic liver disease. As the liver breaks down alcohol, by-products such as acetaldehyde are formed, some of which are more toxic to the body than alcohol itself. It is these that can eventually attack the liver and cause cirrhosis. A heavy night of drinking upsets both the delicate balance of enzymes in the liver and fat metabolism. Over time, this can lead to the development of fatty globules that cause the organ to swell. It is generally accepted that drinking more than seven units (men) and five units (women) a day will raise the risk of liver cirrhosis.

3am 20 Units: Where am I? I need to lie down

HEART: More than 35 units a week, or a large number in one sitting, can cause ‘holiday heart syndrome’. This is atrial fibrillation – a rapid, irregular heartbeat that happens when the heart’s upper chambers contract too quickly. As a result, the heartbeat is less effective at pumping blood from the heart, and blood may pool and form clots. These can travel to the brain and cause a stroke. Atrial fibrillation gives a person nearly a fivefold increased risk of stroke. The effect is temporary, provided heavy drinking is stopped.

BLOOD: By this stage, alcohol has been carried to all parts of the body, including the brain, where it dissolves into the water inside cells. The effect of alcohol on the body is similar to that of an anaesthetic – by this stage, inhibitions are lost and feelings of aggression will surge.

The morning after: Can you please just shut up…

BRAIN: Alcohol dehydrates virtually every part of the body, and is also a neurotoxin that causes brain cells to become damaged and swell. This causes the hangover and, combined with low blood-sugar levels, can leave you feeling awful. Cognitive abilities such as concentration, coordination and memory may be affected for several days.

DIGESTION: Generally, it takes as many hours as the number of drinks you have consumed to burn up all the alcohol. Feelings of nausea result from dehydration, which also causes your thumping headache.

KIDNEYS: Alcohol promotes the making of urine in excess of the volume you have drunk and this can cause dehydration unless extra fluid is taken. Alcohol causes no damage or harm to the kidneys in the short term, but your kidneys will be working hard.

One year on: Where did it all go wrong?

REPRODUCTIVE ORGANS: Heavy drinking causes a drop in testosterone levels in men, and causes testicular shrinkage and impotence. In females, menstrual cycles can be disrupted and fertility is affected. Studies have shown that women who drink up to five units of alcohol a week are twice as likely to conceive as those who drink 10 or more. It is thought it may affect the ability of the fertilised egg to implant.

BRAIN: Over time, alcohol can cause permanent damage to the connection between nerve cells. As it is a depressant, alcohol can trigger episodes of depression, anxiety and lethargy.

HEART: Small amounts of alcohol (no more than a unit a day) can protect the heart, but heavy drinking leads to chronic high blood pressure and other heart irregularities.

BLOOD: Alcohol kills the oxygen-carrying red blood cells, which can lead to anaemia.

CANCER: Excessive alcohol consumption is linked to an increase in the risk of most cancers. Last week, Cancer Research UK warned how growing alcohol use is causing a steep rise in mouth cancer cases.

PANCREAS: Just a few weeks of heavy drinking can result in painful inflammation of the pancreas, known as pancreatitis. It results in a swollen abdominal area and can cause nausea and vomiting.

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 bob@baronson.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 bob@baronson.org 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.

My Last Drunk The Beginning of a New Life.


My name is Bob Aronson.  I went to work every day wearing a suit.  I had been a popular radio and TV personality in another market, Press Secretary to a Minnesota Governor and was now the first Anchor for Morning Edition on the Minnesota Public Radio Network headquartered in Minnesota’s twin cities.  I was a major market radio host and newsman and that’s no small feat.  For all intents and purposes I was a respected member of society.  I had one small problem; I was also an uncontrollable drunk.   Following is but one day in the life of an alcoholic.

I’m telling this story because alcoholism and addiction is one of the greatest destroyers of human organs.  My long term addiction to alcohol and cigarettes (I quit smoking in 1991) quite likely contributed to my need for the heart transplant I received in August of 2007. 

Addiction is horrible, it is a terrible existence and the addict is powerless to stop it without help.  The craving for the drug, whatever it is, is stronger than any force you will ever encounter.  It overpowers reason, common sense, logic and even the love of family.  It destroys your moral code, your sense of ethics and even your hygiene.  You begin to live your life for the drug.  It is your best friend.   

Those of you without an addiction will have trouble understanding this and I’ve heard many of you say, “Just use some will power!”  O God if it were that easy.  I remember an addiction counselor telling a group  once, “Using will power to conquer addiction will get the same result as trying to use will power to control diarrhea.”  She was so right.

Following is but one slice of a long life of alcoholism.  It is the day, 30 years ago, that I stopped drinking.  This not the worst story I could tell, those aren’t even fit to print, but rather this is the  most significant because it marked the beginning of my sobriety.

I  should point out, too, that once a drunk always a drunk its just that some of us drunks are sober.

On July 17 of 1982 I awakened early in the morning with a splitting headache and nausea.  I stumbled through the bedroom covered in my own vomit to make it to the bathroom. Kneeling on the floor before the toilet I retched over and over again but there was nothing left in my stomach.  Its contents were on and around my bed and my t-shirt and underwear. 

When the retching stopped I stripped and stepped into a cold shower that felt like a million icy pinpricks.  I thought I smelled sauerkraut in the house but none was cooking, the odor was me.  I stunk.  I scrubbed my body as hard as I could but not having eaten in several days my strength was at a minimum and taking a shower was wearing me out.  You see, I wasn’t just suffering plain old flu, mine was a special flu that I brought on myself…it came out of a bottle marked Vodka 80 proof.  This was the granddaddy of all hangovers.

Freshly showered and shaved I descended the staircase to the first floor of our home to find it empty.  A terse note on the kitchen table told me my wife had gone to see some friends.   “So what” I thought.  “I’d rather be alone anyway.” 

Descending yet another set of stairs I found my way to the basement where behind the paneled walls I had built a secret compartment that housed my best friend, a quart bottle of 80 proof cheap vodka.  You see, when you are a drunk you drink for effect not for taste so why waste money when after a couple of swallows you can’t taste anything anyway. 

I removed the bottle from its cobwebbed hiding place, cracked the seal, removed the cap and put the opening to my lips.  As the clear liquid burned its way down my throat, I felt rescued.  The effect was almost immediate, I felt good again and didn’t give a damn about anyone but me.  Another couple of quick slugs and I was even better but by the time I got to the top of the basement stairs the alcohol hit me harder than ever before.  Because I hadn’t eaten in days and was not getting rest my resistance was down and I was drunk immediately.  

 In my addled brain I thought, “Another drink will fix this,” so I made my way back to the basement, recovered the bottle and literally crawled up the stairs into the kitchen where I fell into a kitchen chair uncapped the bottle and took another long slug.  In the few brief moments I had been awake I had already consumed a half quart of vodka. 

My mind was mush but somehow I remembered the night before, when we were to entertain my boss and his wife for dinner.  My wife had never met them so she was a little anxious.  I told her not to worry and busied myself with preparing our outdoor barbecue dinner.  Our garage was detached from the house so while I was out messing with the grill, I made a few trips into the garage for a rendezvous with another hidden bottle.  About 45 minutes before our guests were to arrive I had quite a buzz going but found a way to sneak another long swallow after which I told my wife I was going to lie down until the company came. 

Flashback now to my opening sentence because that’s the next thing I remember after lying down.  I went upstairs and passed out.  My poor wife was left to entertain people she had never met and, I was told later, made up the excuse that I had gotten very sick and had to go to bed.  She entertained them for the evening while I slept the sleep only a drunk can know. 

As I sat at the kitchen table, the realization of what must have happened made me realize how low I had sunk and I polished off the quart of vodka to somehow assuage my guilt.  Here I was with my head the table, drunk again, remorseful and needing another drink but my stash was gone.  I had no more and knew I could not drive — hell, I could hardly walk.

Reluctantly I picked up the phone and dialed my brother.  I told him I needed help because I thought I was an alcoholic.  He drove me to a treatment center and that’s when my life began anew.  

I need to pause here for a moment to offer thanks to some people who gave me a much needed break Bill Kling, founder and President of Minnesota Public Radio,  Sally Pope Kling his wife, Rick Lewis, who then was the VP of News at MPR and John Merli, the News Director..  They not only allowed me time to recover but to come back to MPR and continue to work.  Thanks Bill, Sally, Rick and John.  And…of course my brother Terry who took  me to treatment.  All of you will always be in my thoughts and prayers.

Within a year I started my own communications consulting business which I am still practicing. 

If you are an addict, think you might be or know someone who needs help here are some resources. 

http://nationalsubstanceabuseindex.org/

http://www.addictionresourceguide.com/resources.html

http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment/resources

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 bob@baronson.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 bob@baronson.org 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. 

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