Saturday, July 9, 2016

The -ISM in Alcoholism Stands For "Incredibly Shortterm Memories"

A woman showed up at today's meeting and raised her hand as being in her first 30 days of recovery. Although no one asked her for an explanation, she quickly added that she'd had 20 years sober before this relapse. And that prior to this recent relapse, she'd been to only one meeting in the prior 16 years. And that the one meeting occurred the night before her last drink. 

Apparently, not only do we in AA not shoot our wounded -- we also don't interrupt them when they need to get something important off their chest. 

When she finished, we then welcomed her back with smiles and applause. And I think she became the unofficial focus of this group of misfit drunks in recovery. 

When she got to share again, she explained that during her first four years of recovery, she'd done all the things that were suggested: sponsor, Steps, service, fellowship -- even the "God" stuff. And it worked!  She loved it. 

The only problem was she also enjoyed certain other things in life that no one else in her group enjoyed doing, at least not as much as she did: hiking, nature walks, jogging,  etc.  So she and her non-alcoholic husband gradually found new friends who happened to be neither AAs nor alcoholics. These new friends liked outdoorsy types of activities and she and her husband fit in like a glove. 

And almost without thinking or decision-making, she shared that she then slowly drifted off from meetings and other AAs. From recovery. 

She stayed sober for 16 years. During those years, she walked through some really difficult experiences without picking up a drink. At first she was aware of the fact that she wasn't drinking after each difficult time. But then, gradually, she didn't even notice her own "not drinking".  

In the end, well before the relapse, all she noticed was the pain. And the hopelessness. 

And I think by the time it was too late, she decided to go to her first meeting in 16 years: the pain was too great. 

She sat in the back. Alone. Listening to everyone else's trivial issues and stories. 

But she just couldn't raise her hand and tell them how much pain she was in or how much she desperately needed their help. 

I suspect she was silent because she was ashamed of all these feelings: someone with 20 years of sober shouldn't feel such embarrassing feelings! She felt weak and needed to appear strong. 

Ultimately, she left the meeting without speaking a word of her truth. And the next day, she drank. 

The pain was simply too much. She told us that as she was taking that first drink, she knew that whatever was to follow was not going to be good. But she drank anyway. 

She didn't know one other thing to do.  

She'd forgotten who she was years previous to that first drink. 

She'd forgotten or had never learned the difference between sober and sobriety.  

Sober is a lifeless fact or formula: me less alcohol equals sober. 

Sobriety is life itself for the recovering alcoholic, one day at a time. With all the feelings, wanted and unwanted. 

When we're told early on to hang in there, that we'll eventually feel better -- few of us realize at first hearing that no one's suggesting that recovery work filters out all "bad" or "painful" feelings and leaves only the "good" or "pleasant" ones. For me, it took years of recovery to realize that the "feel better" encouragement meant that if I did the required inner work, I would eventually begin to feel the full and glorious range of human emotions and feelings "better!" -- both the so called good and the so-called bad. 

My 30 years of using alcohol as a technique to deal with or control feelings never really worked except in temporary and illusive ways. 

As I shared in this meeting, in my experience, when sober people forget who they are -- or, more accurately, when I forget who I am as an alcoholic and think of myself as simply "sober" or worse, as someone "who has stopped drinking" then what happens for me is I start thinking that maybe I'm not really an alcoholic. 

I've come to believe that the -ism in alcoholism stands for "incredibly shortterm memories."  For me, the memories of what drinking was like start to fade away after 24-48 hours. Sometimes quickly. Sometimes slowly. 

And once I go down this mental pathway of forgetting who I am as an alcoholic, the same thing happens.  Every. Single. Fucking. Time: I decide that I'm a non-alcoholic!  

And the first thing I always do once I decide that I'm a non-alcoholic, I start thinking and obsessing about drinking alcohol. 

Or, as I've found when analyzing the half dozen drinking dreams that I've had over the last 14 years:  I just end up finding myself alone. Looking down at my hand.  And in my seemingly disembodied hand is a half empty glass of alcohol. What then happens are two simultaneous events: (1) someone, an authority figure in my life (for the last 35 years, her name has been Nancy!) or my son, walks into the room and (2) I realize where the other half of that drink is.  "FUCK!"

Dream over. Cold sweats. Shame. 

Today, I'm so grateful for this woman telling her relapse story to us today. I identify with her because, like her, I know with my whole being that "I" cannot stop drinking. That I'm an alcoholic. And that while I can't stop drinking, what I can do is stay sober "one day at a time" and that "that" day is always called "Today!"

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