For all of its devastating repercussions, alcohol really is soothing and medicinal in many ways. We alcoholics use booze to alleviate stress, to dampen anxiety and to silence our chaotic, swirling minds. But alcohol can do more than that. It can make congestion tolerable sooth a cough and wash away the pain of fever and body ache. Even while alcohol is slowly destroying our lives, it can feel like a miracle in a bottle.
A friend reminded me this week that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, The opposite of addiction is connection. That is a very popular saying in the recovery community. Never before have I felt as connected to my community as this past week when my wife, Sheri, and I closed our whole grain bread bakery after dedicating fifteen years of our lives to the business. You might think the grief, failure and emotional finality would threaten me with an alcoholic relapse. No way. Not even close. In this final week with our customers, there was simply too much connection.
Between sex education class in school, and, “the talk,” with our parents, we were thrust eagerly into our teenage years prepared to defend ourselves against pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease. When we graduated without contracting AIDs or becoming parents, there was a collective sigh of relief.
But the truth is, like every other kid I knew, we were woefully unprepared for a sexual relationship in adulthood. We didn’t know what we didn’t know.
Now we know, but the damage is done. We are left in midlife – parents of teenagers ourselves – trying to pick up the pieces and heal our wounded hearts.
The frozen, desolate, grey rocks shoot vertically from thick layers of untouched white snow making a majestic contrast. The bitter cold and howling wind give the peaks a deadly and isolated feel, while my proximity – just a few hundred yards away – give the tippy-top of the mountain an uncomfortable accessibility. The clear sky is a rich, dark blue reminding me how close I am to the edge of the atmosphere. The last thirty seconds of the ride on the Lenawee lift at the A-Basis Ski Area is one of my favorite places on earth. Getting so close to such uninhabitable beauty should not be so easy. The splendor is never lost on me.
Let go and let God is the cornerstone of Alcoholics Anonymous. My rejection of this mantra is one of the main reasons AA never worked for me.
Let me be clear: I reject the slogan. I do not reject God. Quite to the contrary, actually. I have been a believer and practiced my faith to varying degrees my entire life. God is everything to me. I just don’t believe He wants us to hand Him the steering wheel of our life. I think He wants us to listen to His call and point ourselves in His chosen direction.
We all know that alcohol abuse wrecks relationships and destroys families. But getting sober doesn’t fix anything. Just like recovery from addiction requires hard work, when alcohol leaves a relationship, the couple must be prepared to address the damage the addiction caused.
Sometimes, hard work isn’t enough to save the marriage.
I expected big things to happen when I got sober two years ago. I expected weight loss and financial gain. I thought my marriage would improve and shame from over-drinking would diminish. I expected major, life-altering transition.
What I didn’t anticipate were the subtle, seemingly unimportant ways my life would transform in recovery. I spend a lot of time screaming about the dangers of anonymity and the death count from alcoholism. But when I’m quiet – when I take a break from screaming – when I lift my head up from my determination to battle the stigma – when I shut-up and listen, that’s when I am surprised by the unexpected.
One of our cats died last week. Even with an opening line like that, I can assure you this is not a story about a cat. I don’t like cats, so I would never write about them. I do like my family, however. In fact, I love them. So I’m going to tell you a little bit about my dead cat for context.
They called him Royal. I called him The White One or Princess. We had three cats, and two of them are orange. So, The White One was descriptive enough that my wife and kids knew which cat had drawn my ire. I called him Princess because as he walked, he crossed his back feet side to side, one in front of the other, like a fashion model walking down the runway. His tail was always pointed straight up as he sashayed along giving him a royal aloofness and sense of superiority. My wife found it majestic. I couldn’t understand why Princess was always showing me his pooper. I think he liked me about as much as I liked him.
A reader contacted me last week and explained that he had five consecutive months of sobriety in 2017, but then decided he could handle drinking again. He didn’t go into detail, and I didn’t ask, but he told me 2018 ended very badly. He has been sober since New Year’s Day.
He asked me about my rock bottom. I told him about that and the many times I relapsed before I finally made it over the daunting and invisible hump to permanent sobriety. I shared my reading list of memoirs and brain chemistry explanations.
He would read one of my blog posts, comment about how strikingly similar his story was to mine, then ask me to point him to another of my posts from the past. This went on for some time, and it didn’t surprise me. There are lots of reasons people become addicted to alcohol, but the disease works basically the same for all of us. My reader was amazed to be reading his story in my words.
While we were discussing how I made it over that elusive hump, I told him that exactly one year prior, on January 10, 2018, I sent 3,000 emails – one to every email address I possessed – coming out about my alcoholism.
And that’s where my story and that of my reader diverged.
“Go to Dairy Queen and get your favorite flavor of Blizzard,” says my good friend and Untoxicated Podcast partner, Jason Polk. Jason is an addiction therapist who has for his entire career offered this advice to clients when they are dealing with cravings to drink alcohol or use. It is basic, fundamental advice given not just by Jason, but by most addiction recovery professionals and on every social media platform in early sobriety communities. The idea is that a sugar-filled treat will take the edge off the craving and be an alcohol or drug substitute. The associated phrase is, “harm reduction.” It makes sense, and it works in the short-run. The problem with this advice is it’s dead wrong and actually provides oxygen to the very addiction the sufferer is trying so desperately to suffocate.