Over the New Year’s weekend I heard David Brooks, New York Times opinion columnist and author of How to Know a Person, describe social media as performance art. I like that. It is not connection or interaction no matter how many people we can reach, how fast or how far across the globe. Social media is not about growing closer. It is about screaming our opinions into the wind and posting pictures of our best, fake selves.
I have never really interacted with social media on a personal level, and we ditched facebook, Instagram and X for promotion of our blog and podcast in mid 2023 as an experiment. Our platforms continued to grow at the same slow and steady pace. No social media had no impact.
I do watch Instagram reels in bed most nights looking for funny cat videos to send my wife. It makes her giggle, so in that way, social media does create connection in my life. A wife who giggles because I show interest in her passion is about as good as it gets.
This is the time in the annual cycle when we all vow to make profound changes in our lives. You know it is the start of a new year when some of the beer commercials during the football games are replaced with ads for exercise equipment and tax preparation websites. But change doesn’t come from gym memberships and diet plans. Change comes from pain, and a few pounds gained from eggnog and sugar cookies doesn’t hurt enough. That’s why in January, when we realize our winter sweaters are sufficient cover for our holiday indulgences, our resolutions are fleeting little traumas of unwelcomed self-restraint.
But what if you are in enough pain?
For a large part of my seven years of sobriety, I had conscious thoughts about alcohol. I was alert for potential triggers. I considered how alcohol would enhance, then ultimately unravel, various situations. I worked to combat the shame of addiction, then the shame of sobriety in a society that reveres alcohol.
I felt pity for people who tried to quit drinking to appease a frustrated spouse. I felt pity for people who tried to quit drinking without a plan for recovery – as though not drinking was some sort of solution. I felt pity for people who put rules around their drinking and tried to control it. I thought about all the people I pitied, and it helped me maintain my commitment to sobriety.
But I don’t have a commitment to sobriety anymore. Not really. I don’t think about drinking or not drinking. Sobriety isn’t my thing anymore. At least it isn’t my thing any more than not drinking Drano or gasoline is my thing. I have no intention of ever drinking battery acid, but I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about not drinking battery acid. It is hard to consider your thing to be something you never consider. How can I claim sobriety to be my thing?
I have vivid memories of the high school English teacher who ruined writing for me. I don’t remember her name, but she was tall and slender, and she wore flowing, button-down blouses and kept money and slips of paper tucking into her left-shoulder bra strap. I cringed every time she reached behind those shirt buttons and pulled something out.
She was propper and groomed and articulate and full of herself. Her criticism of my writing was consistent. It wasn’t about punctuation or grammar. She corrected what I still remember to this day to be stylistic differences. She only knew one way to write, and if my classmates and I wanted good grades, we had to conform. I couldn’t do that. I wasn’t an idealist or full of confidence and rebellion. I just couldn’t write her way. I lacked the talent. So I dropped out of advanced English down to regular English, and I spent the next couple of decades or so convinced I couldn’t write and feeling traumatized by rare glimpses of money tucked under bra straps.
Addiction is a coping mechanism.
It is not weakness or a moral failing. Addiction is not a choice, although with rare mental and behavioral health education, we can avoid making lifestyle decisions that set us up for disaster. Addiction has very little to do with genetics, and much more to do with generational trauma and familial patterns that can result in a family tree dripping with alcoholics.
That first paragraph is thick with stuff it took me over a decade to learn. You don’t have to understand it all. But if you can’t reject the fallacy that addiction is about willpower, genes and morality, then you’re stuck, and none of the rest of this is going to make any sense.
“There’s more food on the stove. Please have more dinner! I’m glad to see you like my cooking.”
One hour passes.
As you take the Tupperware from the refrigerator, you hear, “You’re eating again?”
Sometimes the judgment is so subtle, it is hard to hear. Keep listening.
I spend time with the ocean.
When I visit her, we have conversations about life. I throw all of the pain and grief that has accumulated into the waves, and I talk to the people I’ve lost. We catch up, and I leave feeling cleansed and healed and whole.
I spent time with the ocean.
I traveled back in time in my thoughts as I walked along the water’s edge, back to when my struggles really began, to a fragile adolescence with big feelings and no skills to surf the waves.
“Antidote” – Definition, Merriam-Webster: a remedy to counteract the effects of poison
There is no arguing that alcohol is a poison. You can claim that the key is moderation, or that when consumed responsibly, alcohol can enhance your life. The science and medical communities are slowly uniting around the fact that there is no safe amount of alcohol for human consumption. So, it’s a poison with a toxic impact on our neurology and biology. If you can accept that fact, I hope you’ll keep reading. If not, nothing else I have to say is going to reach you.
I’ve been studying alcohol and alcoholism for over six years now. If you include my own personal first and second hand research, I am in my fifth decade of alcohol, and its impact, taking a high priority in my life. After all that time, all the reading, all the watching and listening, all the stories, all the successes and all the failures I have experienced and witnessed, I am absolutely convinced of one thing:
As an active alcoholic, the only connection I could imagine between orgasm and addiction was that I sure liked to have sex when I was drunk. Even years into sobriety, when I thought back to the relationship between my drinking and sex, my sloppy, handsy, unromantic and insistent predatory behavior brought a wave of shame crashing over me.
And now – even as I’ve studied the issue from a scientific perspective – even as I make a pitch here based on what I’ve learned – I still feel compelled to defend myself. The compulsion for self defense can only come from one place. It comes from an indelible mark of shame stamped permanently on my soul. All of my sexual attention was always directed only at my wife, and I never raped my wife. I was often disgusting. I was verbally and emotionally abusive. But I defend myself by insisting that I did nothing worse, as if my transgressions are not far more than enough.
I attended a Billy Joel concert at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey about 30 years ago. When he played one of his biggest hits, “Pressure,” he had two grand pianos on stage. They were carefully positioned with a precise distance between the keyboards. At one point in the song, there is a brief lull between piano notes – just a few seconds. To illustrate the title of the song, he hit the last note before the lull on one of the pianos, sprinted to the other piano, and arrived just in time to pick up the piano part without missing a note.
That’s something alcoholics like me know a lot about.
“You’re awful proud of yourself,” he scoffed. “I’ll save a seat for you at a meeting for when you relapse.” I’d just met this AA lifer at a church service that catered to people suffering from addiction. He had asked me how I got sober. When I told him Alcoholics Anonymous wasn’t part of my solution, I guess he didn’t like my answer.
I couldn’t possibly count the number of times I’ve heard that pride leads to relapse. From the best I can surmise, the idea that “pride is dangerous” is a foundational tenet of twelve-step philosophy. There’s just one problem.
The concept is total bullshit.