On Alcoholism

One of the things I was ready for, when I started this fast, was many different types of assumptions and misunderstandings. I’ve already covered off some in my past posts, but today is one that I wish I didn’t even have to address.

I am not an alcoholic.

While talking on 1010 yesterday, I was watching the screen that was showing texts coming in from listeners, and another that had tweets coming in. I know better than to give much concern to that type of commenter, but still. I was a bit amazed at how many “he’s obviously an alcoholic” type notes were coming in.

I can only imagine that these people have no idea what an alcoholic actually is.

Token Barney Gumble reference

Token Barney Gumble reference

Here are some things an alcoholic isn’t: Somebody who drinks “a lot”; somebody who is comfortable drinking in the morning; somebody who gets intoxicated more than rarely; somebody who goes on a fast and drinks beer for nourishment.

While when you drink, and how much you drink can all play a part in defining one’s alcoholism, alcoholism is so much more complex than that.

For starters, alcoholism is a form of addiction. Nobody can definitively say why it is that some people become addicts and others don’t. But there is some combination of predisposition (physical/mental) and experience that tips the scales for some.

For lack of a better word, let’s differentiate between a habit and an addiction. Both are things you do regularly. A lot even. But here’s what is different about an addicition:

  • The person cannot stop the substance use or the activity, despite trying to stop again and again
  • The substance or the activity has become the focus  (or preoccupation) of the person’s life
  • The person continues the use or activity despite severe negative consequences, (e.g., imprisonment or financial disaster). 1

So, the addiction is the thing you do that you cannot stop, has become the centre of your life, and causes damage or severe consequences. As a humorous aside in a fairly unfunny post, parenting is clearly, by this definition, an addiction.

Alcoholics Anonymous says

As alcoholics, we have learned the hard way that will power alone, however strong in other respects, was not enough to keep us sober. We have tried going on the wagon for specified periods. We have taken solemn pledges. We have switched brands and beverages. We have tried drinking only during certain hours. But none of our plans worked. We always wound up, sooner or later, by getting drunk when we not only wanted to stay sober, but had every rational incentive for staying sober.2

See where I’m going with this?

Let’s look at the bullet points in my specific case:

  • I do stop drinking, from time to time. And if I set a duration (say, 7 days), I see it through.
  • Well, I do spend a lot of energy on beer: drinking it, writing about it, making it, etc. But it is far from the centre of my attention (Erika, Ben, and Grace get that honour)
  • This one is a bit tricky, as I have never experienced severe negative consequences. I would assume I would stop if I did, though.

Let’s look at it using AA’s “12 Questions Only You Can Answer”3

  1. Have you ever decided to stop drinking for a week or so, but only lasted for a couple of days? No.
  2. Do you wish people would mind their own business about your drinking — stop telling you what to do? No. Though this post seems contrary to that, I actually don’t mind people voicing concern about how much and when I drink. Indeed, in terms of my loved ones, it’s much appreciated.
  3. Have you ever switched from one type of drink to another in the hope that this would keep you from getting drunk? No.
  4. Have you ever had to have an eye-opener upon awakening during the past year? No. I’m not counting my breakfast beers, as these aren’t eye-openers, and I’m not hungover. These are literally my breakfast.
  5. Do you envy people who can drink without getting into trouble? No. I can do this myself.
  6. Have you had problems connected with drinking during the last year? No.
  7. Has your drinking caused trouble at home? Well, I did need to get a separate beer fridge to keep the peace, but I’m going to go with “No”.
  8. Do you ever try to get “extra” drinks at a party because you do not get enough? Nope. I have no trouble getting enough.
  9. Do you tell yourself you can stop drinking any time you want to, even though you keep getting drunk when you don’t mean to? No, I only get drunk when I mean to.
  10. Have you missed days of work or school because of drinking? No.
  11. Do you have “blackouts”? No.
  12. Have you ever felt that your life would be better if you did not drink? No, quite the opposite really.

If it seems like I’ve thought this through a lot, it is because I have. I worry about it, to be honest. I come from a line of alcoholics. One uncle of mine is 22 years dry working with AA, and most of my memories of my Papa included him with a glass of whiskey in his hand. He got through the stuff by the bottle. The last few years of his life he went clean. It was amazing as I was becoming a young man myself, to get to know my Grandfather beyond snarky remarks and sitting in a chair drinking, telling us off for being noisy.

I don’t blame either my Papa or Uncle for their addiction problems. It’s likely they both had a predisposition to addiction (indeed, I’m aware of tendencies that I have that need to be constantly managed). My Grandfather was an engineer in the Army during WW2 and spent stretches on the front repairing radar units and other electrical devices. The impact of war was such that he had alopecia for life, and also a need to be intoxicated for much of it. My Uncle was raised in that environment, with his own demons and predispositions; that he got clean as early as he did is incredible, and something I am immensely proud of him for doing.

So as I sit here, with my lunch in a glass, know that I’m not blissfully unaware (or painfully aware) of being an alcoholic. Know that I’m aware that there but for a great upbringing, a supportive family, and the very grace of God, go I.

And if you are still here and reading, consider joining me in praying for addicts everywhere. Pray that they can find help. Pray that people who love and support them can speak words of truth into their lives. Pray that they are blessed by geography, and not cursed by it, and that they have access to programs and treatment for their addiction. Pray for the frontline workers who partner with broken people, and help them on their road to healing.

If reading those lists made you feel uncomfortable, if you answered “yes” to at least four of the AA 12 Questions, or even if you just worry about drinking or any other activity that you fear is causing you damage, reach out to somebody. alcoholics-anonymous.org or camh.org are both great starting points. Talk to a loved one, or a friend, or clergy or whoever you’re comfortable with. Heck, message me if you need to, I promise I won’t be judgmental and will listen and help connect you to help. There is no need to keep living in this destructive way. You can be better, you can start living again.

References

1. Introduction to Addiction 101 — http://www.camh.ca/en/education/Patients-Families-Public/public/mental_health_and_addiction_101_series/Pages/mental_health_and_addiction_101_series.aspx
2. This is AA — http://www.alcoholics-anonymous.org/pdf/products/p-1_thisisaa1.pdf
3. 12 Questions Only You Can Answer — http://www.alcoholics-anonymous.org/pdf/products/p-3_isaaforyou.pdf

9 Comments

  1. Glenn Hendry
    Posted March 22, 2014 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    That was an excellent blog, Chris. Beautifully written. You’re a smart guy – I should read you more often. :)

  2. Posted March 23, 2014 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    Well written and informative. Perfect for Lent as we are called to reevaluate and examine
    our lives and consciousness. God Bless You!

  3. Posted March 25, 2014 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    This is fabulous. As a fellow beer lover, and sister of a recovering alcoholic, I found myself nodding through your entire post. I am excited to have found your blog and look forward to reading more. Have a wonderful Lenten experience and thank you for sharing.
    Blessings!
    (Now, I have to go tend to my “addictions”…the youngest of my 6 kids! LOL)

  4. chris
    Posted March 25, 2014 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the kind words guys. I’m so happy that people are interested in following along. This has already been an amazingly blessed experience.

  5. John Butterworth
    Posted March 26, 2014 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

    You make me proud to be a man. God bless you

  6. Posted March 27, 2014 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    I think it’s great that you have raised levelheaded awareness about alcoholism and AA’s check list. I have a strong family history of severe alcoholism. I choose to generally avoid alcohol as I’m just not a huge fan and can think of other more nutritious ways to ingest calories. But I respect that some people enjoy the taste and experiences/rituals that alcohol gives them.

    I have not read your full blog or all the associated comments but stumbled over here today after reading about you on a mobile news app. Forgive me if this topic has been covered but I have to ask if you are aware of wernicke korsakoff syndrome. I had an aunt and uncle who both developed this horrible and not well known condition. My ex father in law also had it. My aunt developed it after getting sick and being bedridden with no one bringing her meals and an upstairs neighbour bringing her rum everyday. I did not know her brother well but know he had it as well. (They were actually my great aunt and great uncle and this was in the 1940’s) my aunt had it very bad and was like an Alzheimer’s victim for the next 60 years of her life. My ex father in law also drank hard liquor everyday and had poor nutrition. He didn’t show signs until 40 years of his less than healthy lifestyle.

    Perhaps this is not an issue with beer and only affects those that drink hard liquor. I don’t know. But as someone who has seen first hand how horrible wernicke korsakoff syndrome is I feel it’s important to raise awareness.

    http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wernicke–Korsakoff_syndrome

    May you find what you are looking for through your Lenten sacrifices and stay well :)

  7. chris
    Posted March 27, 2014 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    Tina,
    Thanks for bringing this up. The short answer is no, I’m not worried. I’m still taking a multivitamin, which provides me with a good dose of B1, and the beer actually contains a decent amount of it too. The reality is, that while my diet isn’t ideal, with the vitamin, nutrients in the beer, and juices, I’m really only missing out on a few key health ingredients (protein, fat and fibre being the top of the list). I couldn’t do this indefinitely, but I will be more than fine for the 40 days. On the other hand, at the first indication of anything being wrong or out of the ordinary, I can go to my doctor and get checked out.
    Thanks for posting!
    C

  8. Kevin
    Posted March 28, 2014 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

    The only difference between you and I is that I don’t work in a bar. I haven’t gone to a bar in years now. I make my own beer and drink it when I’m home and no one needs me to drive them somewhere. I support a wife and mother who both cannot drive due to one never having learned and the other due to health reasons. When I come home from work and it’s been a rather hectic day I ask “Do you need to go anywhere?” If I get a no then I pour one from my keg. I have several other kegs aging to a great perfection. I can only hope that my current keg empties fast enough as the next one up is 75 days old today. I like to drink it between 60 and 90 days old.
    I will never apologize for my love of beer nor justify myself to anyone considering it a bad habit. If anyone has done that to you, you should not feel obligated to justify yourself. I mean look at all the hype by the “educated” left wingers all shouting that Rob Ford was a coke addict because he was caught on video trying it. Sure people get drunk and let their guard down and try other things. I did that once 9 years ago after a friend’s funeral. I had a weird night. It solidified my distaste for the “soft” drugs and never made me waiver from my love of good beer though. I don’t believe anyone that shouts someone is an addict because they like to partake in something on occasion or even as a habit. As long as there is no negative things happening you are not an addict. The only question from AA that I may have answered yes to is wishing that other people would mind their own business. That’s more for Ford than for me however because I just don’t give a cr** about anyone elses opinion of me. Keep it up and don’t fret over other people’s opinion. Like Dirty Harry said “opinions are like a**holes. Everybody’s got one.”.

  9. Posted April 2, 2014 at 6:11 am | Permalink

    One thing I always keep lodged in the back of my head is the comment of a very alcohol-addicted person, who about one year later died of complications from that addiction, said to us when asked about how you’d know you’re on a good way towards alcoholism:

    If you wake up in the morning, and can gulp half a bottle of wodka straight down without puking afterwards, then you are an alcoholic

    And indeed, I know a person (the big brother of my best friend), who probably does this and worse. At least one time he actually downed half a bottle of Wodka Rasputin (aka “red rasputin”) in less than 4 hours, without any obvious signs of drunkenness. This is a particular brand only produced in Russia, and thus also only available by (direct) import. When drinking it, even the first draft doesn’t burn at all, similar to Finlandia, but hits you with full 70% of alcohol.

    cu, w0lf.

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