Within this past week, I attended a 12-step meeting in which the main speaker shared his inability while in active addiction to honor any promises he made to himself in regards to preventing his evenings out from becoming insane. He would promise himself that he would only drink a certain amount. He would promise himself that he would not do shots. He would promise himself he would not drink any hard liquor. He would promise himself a booze-only night with no drugs. Each one of those promises was broken by the end of any given night.
What he shared is hardly uncommon. I have heard the same or similar descriptions of active addiction from many speakers in many meetings. I have heard it shared from the floor during the open shares. The same explanation as to the futility of making such a promise to oneself when in the throes of any of the ‘ism’ diseases can be found in virtually every 12-step group’s literature.
It was no different for me – most of the time.
There were so many times when I promised myself as I was on my way to whichever bar I was headed that I was only going to have two drinks the entire night; I would not call the dealer, I would not accept any drugs if they happened to be offered to me, I would not do any shots with the bartender or other patrons of the establishment.
I am sure it is no surprise to anyone, especially my fellow addicts and alcoholics (both active and in recovery), that I would not be finished the first drink before I was calling my drug dealer or seeking out free drugs or doing shots with the bartender and the other patrons of the establishment.
Once in a rare while, however, I would find myself at the end of an evening having been able somehow to keep the promise of imbibing only two alcoholic beverages. How I was able to exercise the self-restraint is beyond my comprehension.
It was because of those infrequent bouts of successful management of my alcoholism that I was able to convince myself that I probably didn’t really have a problem. After all, I would continue in my head, how could I have a problem if I am able to keep such a promise to myself? Sure, the rest of my life was falling apart and extremely miserable, but so long as I could have a two-drink-only night (even if it was once every two or three years), I was convinced that things would eventually work themselves out. Of course, I was oblivious to the fact that if a thing needed to be managed in the first place, then it was probably already unmanageable.
It wasn’t until I came back into recovery that I figured out that it was my disease which allowed me to have just the two drinks; it knew that if it would pretend that I was actually the one in charge, I would continue to make decisions which would allow it to be fed and therefore grow bigger and stronger.
Six plus years since I first walked into a meeting after being absent from the rooms for two years, my biggest fear is that if I were to relapse by walking right now to any one of the local bars near where I live to have ‘just one drink,’ is that I would actually walk in, order ‘just one drink,’ nurse it for an hour or two, and then come home – no harm, no foul.
The rest of that fear goes like this: I go to the same bar tomorrow night, have ‘just one drink,’ and, after nursing it for an hour or two, come home – no harm, no foul. That would happen the next night and then the next. The night after the last in the list, I would convince myself that a second drink wouldn’t do any more harm than just the one. And so, I would have two drinks. And the two-drink evenings would go on for another week or two, until finally, on the nights I wasn’t stumbling home, I would be wandering around shady parts of town trying to find crystal-meth and or anything else that would take me even further out of my mind than the alcohol already had. Once I reached that point, a point of no return, my life would have already fallen so far into the depths of despair so that I would be even more miserable than I have ever been.
I’ve heard of people who, after spending several years in recovery, can go back out and drink like ‘normal’ people. I envy them – an emotion which itself tells me I am an alcoholic.
I can’t say for sure that I couldn’t drink socially now that I have had time to grow up as a result of having gone through the 12-steps. More importantly for me to remember is that I can’t say for sure that I could.
What I do know for sure is that based on my track record, by the end of my first hour out ‘having a good time,’ I would most likely be seeking out some young hustler who already had drugs or knew where to find them. That would lead me to where those situations have always lead me, to my already mediocre health being further agitated, to my being robbed and maybe even beaten up and or killed.
Do I think about having just that one drink on occasion? Absolutely!
I especially think about it on Sunday mornings when I pass a fancy restaurant that has a sandwich board out in front of it advertising a champagne brunch. The thoughts for a drink (and drugs) comes up at other times as well, but those times are very atypical – noticeable only because of their contradiction to my nature which I have developed by following the suggestions given to me by those who have gone before me.
Yes, I would prefer those thoughts to disappear from my life completely, but so long as they remain as just thought, and not obsessions and cravings, I can deal with it. To be honest, even if a craving and or obsession were to occur, I am confident that, with assistance from my support network, I would be able to make it back to where it returns to being a simple thought.
Despite the struggles that have been presented to me by life – struggles that are common to everyone – my life is too good to risk throwing all of it (friends, professional success, personal pride, etc.) away for beverage that would not be beneficial to my being in any foreseeable manner, even if no outside consequences happened.