Managing addiction

It has been a long time since I’ve written about alcohol, and my struggles with it. For some reason, I don’t like to write about it when I’m “off the wagon”. For several months this year I vacillated between drinking and not with a number of personal reasons for each swing of the sobriety pendulum.

The most difficult part about this past several months has been that I didn’t really want to quit. I knew I was in a “bad place” but I didn’t feel motivated to fully remove my self from the addiction and the temptation. After one night of drinking more than I should have, and half-heartedly hiding it from my wife, I apologized to her in the morning (for what, exactly, I’ll explain below). Her response wasn’t what I was expecting: she pointed out that I had apologized before, but it was starting to ring hollow because I wasn’t actually doing anything with that apology.

I’ve now turned over a new leaf, started a new chapter, or whatever metaphor you like, in how I’m managing my relationship with alcohol. Before I tell you what I’ve done, I feel compelled to convince you (and myself) that I’m not a reprehensible alcoholic.

  • I’ve never been fired (for any reason)
  • I’ve never been arrested
  • I’ve never defaulted on a loan
  • I have $0 in credit card debt, and only 11 years left on my home loan
  • It has been over 20 years since I’ve had a car accident, and that wasn’t alcohol related
  • My personal income places us firmly in the upper-middle class
  • I’m on track to have a comfortable retirement
  • I’ve never had a drink before or during work
  • I’ve never struck, threatened or verbally abused my wife
  • I’ve taught Sunday School
  • I was a Cubmaster and Den leader when my son was in scouts

OK, maybe that crap doesn’t convince you. Perhaps you know that people can have addictions and still be highly functional. Yup, that was me. Highly functional. But then why did I feel the need to quit?

  • I wasn’t fully in control–one drink easily became six
  • I was hiding my consumption from those who loved me the most
  • I wasn’t working at my peak potential
  • I wasn’t parenting at my peak potential
  • I wasn’t husbanding at my peak potential

I had allowed alcohol to take me from being a B+ human down to a B- or C+ human. Still above average. Still not reprehensible. But definitely not the best me I could be. This is what I apologized to my wife for. I knew I wasn’t what I could be, and I was letting alcohol degrade my life.

So, what have I done? I asked my family doc for a prescription and am now taking Disulfiram. This drug will essentially make it so that my body cannot digest ethanol and will therefore reject it violently. If I drink, even small amounts, while Disulfiram is in my body, I’ll vomit and feel like hell for a couple of hours.

“Sweet jesus,” you may exclaim, “you have to take a drug for ‘chronic alcoholism’ to not drink? What kind of reprehensible alcoholic are you?”

I view it as a tool to strongly influence my future behavior. I choose to take the drug when I’m feeling strong in my sobriety. The fact that I’ve taken it then causes a later version of me (still me, but perhaps 12 hours older) to avoid using alcohol to solve whatever problems I thought it might solve. In essence I now see alcohol as off-limits to me. Thanks to me.

You probably have used tools to influence your own future behavior as well. For example, retirement savings accounts are great instruments for making it hard to spend your savings before you reach a certain age. When you are feeling strong in your savings goals, you plop some money in a 401k. The fact that it is financially hard to get that money back makes an older you think of that money as off limits. You could put that money in some other financial instrument (possibly with better returns) but the 401k is a great tool for making sure you don’t spend it too soon.

I’ve now been taking Disulifram for two weeks, and I haven’t felt tempted to drink once. In previous pendulum swings to sobriety, I’ve felt like I’m “white knuckling” it a bit–holding on to try to make sure I don’t screw up. Constantly convincing myself that I need to change and this is how its done. In many ways taking Disulifram has been a relief. My sober me has eliminated the option of drinking for future me, and I’m happy about it.

Before I complete this post, please also know that Disulifram is not my only support. Or, at least I don’t intended for it to be. I’m going to be re-engaging with a couple of support groups, as well as seeking other assistance. And if you’ve read this far into my post, you can be part of that assistance as well. Nothing is required of you at this time, but I may need you to not think of me as reprehensible. I may need you to listen as I struggle with my personal identity in contrast to how our culture blames the consumer of alcohol for the chemical affects of alcohol. I may need you to ask “How are you doing?” when you really want an answer.

Right now, my answer is “Really well!”


2 thoughts on “Managing addiction”

  1. Rick I am always impressed with your honesty in these posts. I am always aware that I never have the nerve to be that bold. So I could never judge you. I could never find you reprehensible. What I do see is your struggle. Your attempts to logical when logic isn’t the tool you may need. I have worked in the addiction field. I have some people who are close to me that I believe have addiction issues. What I know from personal and professional experience is that true healing comes when the shame is healed. I hear that come through when you implore the reader to not see you as reprehensible. I get that society has stigma but fuck society! Society doesn’t know you. And you don’t need to list your “assets” to prove your “worth”. What I didn’t see in the list was how deeply you love your family. How fearful
    I imagine you are to hurt them. How disappointed you felt in yourself with Anne’s response. Those are only my imaginings. And may not be facts for you, I don’t presume to know. But my point is there is depth beyond your retirement plan and your credit card debt. I am not at all in the same financial place you are and my “failings” in those area also don’t make me reprehensible. But I am human and flawed in many ways. And I feel shame in those flaws. And that is the work I do each day to be a better person. And they would be the challenge I implore of you. To get comfortable with all the dark places where you hurt in your heart and soul. And then bring light to those dark places through sharing with others. Not necessarily publicly. But share it In a way that shrivels the shame. It can’t live in the light. Love you and Anne! And encourage your in your journey. Both forward and backwards because you are human and that alone is enough.

  2. I am with you Rick. Words can not express how incredibly proud I am of you. This post is powerful and raw and takes an enormous amount of courage to put out there. Stay strong and know I am thinking of you and praying for you. There is nothing worse than feeling that you or your life is out of control. You’ve got this and you can do it! Please reach out if you ever need an ear. Please give my love to Anne and big hugs to you both.

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