Cunning

I’ve been to around twenty AA meetings in the last two months. There are many things I’ve come to like about AA, and a fair number of things I dislike about the program. Going to the meetings, I find I learn a fair bit about myself, and a lot about others. Many of the meetings (if not all?) read How it works near the beginning of the meeting, and some even make parts of it a call-and-response. I don’t particularly like the reading in general, but there’s one phrase that stands out in my experience of AA: “Remember that we deal with alcohol—cunning, baffling, powerful!” (those last three words are sometimes called out as a response to the beginning).

Cunning.

That’s the most significant word for me. In the one score meetings I’ve been to, the stories people shared have had common themes, and nearly all of those themes could be summed up in that one word: cunning–having or showing skill in achieving one’s ends by deceit or evasion. People of all walks of life have experienced a wide variety of impacts from consuming alcohol. Bright, accomplished people have consumed more than they knew was good for them. Smart people have sworn off drinking for decades. And yet, alcohol finds a way back into their lives. Alcohol, if I may personify the chemical compound, invites itself into their minds, reminds them of the good times they’ve had together (or the pain that it helped to alleviate), and convinces them that it’ll be OK to have just one drink.

One man at a recent meeting told about his decade long sobriety that ended with “just a glass of wine”. Less than a week later, he was in prison for three years, directly because of alcohol. This is just one anecdote of the dozens I’ve heard like it. And I’ve been to just a handful of meetings in my mid-sized city.

Lest you think I’m guilty of confirmation bias, I assure you I don’t think alcohol has this impact on everyone. Maybe not even most. Honestly, I’m not worried about the statistics of the impact alcohol has on people’s lives–it is very well documented.

What I’m interested in are the stories of that impact: the people who have been hurt, the lives that have been shattered, the attempts at recovery, as well as the people who manage to swear it off for good.

So I’ve been kicking around the idea of making a documentary of sorts. My goal is to tell the stories of alcohol’s impact on people’s lives, and hopefully have people rethink their relationship with the cunning substance. I’m not done formulating a plan, and I’m not even sure if I want it to be a “web series” where each story can be posted individually, or it if will be a finished single movie. Details, details, details.

I want to start with interviews of people whose lives have been impacted by alcohol in any way. Where I go from there, I don’t know yet. If you’re interested in helping with this project, please let me know. I can be reached at rick@nearbennett7.com (just be sure to remove the 7).

 

“Hi. I’m Rick, and I’m an alcoholic.”

FYI, I’m going to use the “n-word” lower in this post. And by “use the ‘n-word'” I mean I’m going to use the actual word that “n-word” represents. If this bothers you, don’t continue reading.

I’ve been to a fair number of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings over the last couple of weeks. Although I have been uncomfortable at times with the religiosity, I’ve finally come to terms with the label of “alcoholic”. I’ve become comfortable announcing myself as an alcoholic to whatever motley crue I’m interacting with. Given my prior apprehensions, what, you may wonder, has spurred this change in me? It was the realization that the only one judging me for using the label was myself. No one in the meetings were judgemental about whatever label anyone wanted to use: addict, grateful alcoholic, former dipsomaniac, someone who used to drink too much, and a few others. I had to finally accept that the only condemnations were coming from the voices in my head.

I also started to recognize that “alcoholic” was shorthand for “brother” or “sister” in much the same way that nigger can mean the exact same thing among certain communities. And I think this is an important parallel: calling someone nigger depends ENTIRELY on the context in which it is used. I wouldn’t dream of using the term to refer to anyone in general (or particular) because the context of a white man calling someone nigger is almost certainly going to be offensive (yes, certain contexts may make it acceptable among close friends, but those must be tread lightly). As such, I’m OK with calling myself an alcoholic within the context of those who also identify that way, because they probably fully understand the nuances of context in which I’m using it. I would not, however, introduce myself in any other context as an alcoholic, nor will I decline the offer of a drink with “No thanks, I’m an alcoholic”. I also would be uncomfortable with anyone outside of those meetings calling me an alcoholic because I wouldn’t be sure that the word means to them what it means to me, just like nigger can have a million different meanings, dependent on context, tone and intent.

This realization and acceptance has made going to meetings much easier for me. I almost enjoy them now. I haven’t quite developed fondness for a particular meeting group yet, but I can understand how that attachment can start to grow. I’ll continue to go, hoping to continue to progress in my recovery.

Euphoric Recall

Ever wonder why we make the same mistakes over and over? Why do we date the same kind of people that we know are bad for us? Why do we eat too much on Thanksgiving? Why do we start drinking again when we know it just isn’t good for us?

There’s a psychological term for what amounts to a rose-colored rear-view mirror: euphoric recall. Its the idea that you’ll be more likely to remember to good feelings associated with a behavior than the negative outcomes that may have followed. And its one of the major contributing factors for a relapse. It seems its easy for us to think about the good feelings that alcohol gave us. Those feelings are powerful, guttural even. But remembering what happens afterwards? That requires actual cognitive work. “Damnit I want a drink” just wells up, seemingly out of nowhere. “But things won’t end well if I do” has to be mustered up out of our psyche, pulled like a fish on a line, trying to stay in the water.

So one technique at remaining sober is to try to minimize opportunities for euphoric recall. Don’t go to the same restaurants. Don’t hang out with drinking friends. Don’t keep alcohol in the house. Unfortunately, the devil’s juice (I just made that up) is everywhere, and the devil’s pitchmen (advertisers) are cunning, and determined.

At a recent AA meeting, the reading was The Seven Month Slip, and it was written by a gentleman who had struggled with alcohol dependence, had sobered up, and then had a seven month relapse. While we were reading, I honestly thought “damn, I wanna drink again.” That sounds horrible now, and I can muster the fortitude to say “drinking again would be bad”. And it would be. But there’s just something enticing about the idea of being completely obliterated, and checking out for a while. But no, it would be terrible, I know that. I KNOW that.

So I sat there in the meeting feeling guilty, and blaming euphoric recall. During the discussion after the reading, one guy said “Damn, I really feel like a drink now.” My words coming out of his mouth. And there was nervous laughter throughout the room that told me he and I were not alone. We all felt it to some degree or another.

Which makes me wonder, why does AA share detailed stories of relapse? Yes, I think it is valuable to acknowledge that “relapse happens” and to work against the stigma and guilt a relapser has. But do we need to know what it was like for someone while they were relapsing? Its almost like having someone on a diet watching cooking shows. It is just simply going to be incredibly enticing.

My experience with Disulfiram

I’ve been managing my alcohol addiction with disulfiram for about 5 weeks. These are some random thoughts on what it has been like.

  • I’ve felt bullet-proof with regard to temptations to drink. I think in the last 5 weeks I’ve felt a longing to drink once. Maybe it was more like a “yeah, I would have had a drink in this situation”. I almost feel like I no longer have a problem.
  • Being around alcohol doesn’t bother me in the slightest.
  • My first week was fantastic. My mood lifted through the roof. I’m sure it was a combination of freeing my bloodstream of the toxins produced by alcohol, and also a change in my anti-depressants. It was such a high that I was sad to know that it wouldn’t last–I’ve felt it when I’ve quit before, but this time was stronger.
  • I’ve had one or two side-effects that I think I can attribute to the medication. I’ve developed, according to my wife, a persistent case of halitosis that isn’t solved with tooth-brushing and mouthwash. Its possible that this is also a dental hygiene problem since I’ve not been to a dentist in about 9 months, but that will be rectified next week, so I’ll know for sure then. The other thing I’ve noticed is that I seem to have more body odor. I don’t think it is strong enough for others to notice, but I can tell a difference. Now this may be because of other changes in my life (anti-depressants, more exercise, a change in diet), so take this one with a sizable grain of salt.
  • I’ve had one dream about alcohol where I had a single drink, then freaked out about what it would do to me. Fortunately I didn’t vomit in my dream or in real life.
  • Some people report sensitivity to alcohol-based mouthwash and cologne. I’ve used both without incident. I’m no more careful with the mouthwash than I was previously, and haven’t had a problem.

So that’s it. I really don’t struggle with temptation at all and that kindof worries me. How will I handle it when I stop taking the medication? I haven’t yet resolved that issue, and there’s no rush. I just have to be mindful of my ego, and make sure I’m prepared to go it alone when the time comes. Actually, my plan is to be sure I don’t go it alone, and that’s why I’m trying to be engaged in support groups.