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.
I was leaning in toward her, trying to hear her next words just slightly sooner than the rest of her audience. I was mesmerized by the story to the degree that I was losing awareness of some of my physical presence. I didn’t notice that my jaw had dropped and my mouth was hanging open like a baby waiting for someone to insert a spoonful of pureed carrots. Have you ever heard a TV advertisement for the monster truck rally at the fairgrounds next, “Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!”? The part where the pitch-man bellows, “We’ll sell you the whole seat, but you’ll only need the edge!”? That was me. Mouth agape, surely drooling a little, butt cheeks barely hanging onto the front half-inch off my chair, and astonishment coursing through my body.
It’s not that her story was so captivating that I had never heard anything quite like it before. I had. I hear lots of unspeakable tales. It was that she was telling the story. Her. She had come to our little writing workshop every Thursday for months. She always wrote, but only read on occasion. Usually, she shared something that felt like the tip of the iceberg. Like she wasn’t sure if she could trust us with what was below the surface. I’m not sure she’d trusted anyone ever. At least not since someone ruined it for all of us – proving the human species so untrustworthy that she’d chosen never to trust again.
My wife loves her cats more than she loves me.
That’s not intended as an attention-grabbing joke. It’s the absolute truth, and I’m OK with it.
One of our cats only has one eye, and is not particularly adept at cleaning himself, and he is her all-time favorite of the dozen-or-so cats she has had in her life. I am sure I’ve disappointed her by not knowing the precise number of fur babies she has nurtured during the past five decades, but that’s not the point. The point is that I rank behind a cyclops with matted fur, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
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.
George spotted me in the drapery rod aisle. I had a list of measurements for the various windows I needed to cover in my new house, so I was in the aisle for a while. He paused at the end of the aisle, ready to offer good natured ribbing about what was taking me so long. I flagged him down to scan a couple of drapes that were in the clearance section. They would be perfect if they truly were the $7 or $8 that was advertised on the shelf, but the item codes didn’t match.
“I saw you in the aisle earlier,” he said, curious about what I was up to. “Yes, I just moved here yesterday, and I have a new house with a lot of windows to cover, so I’m prioritizing what needs to get done now. I have my list,” I held up for him to see. “Where did you move from?” he asked. “Tampa, though I’m originally from Chicago. You from North Carolina?” I asked in return. “Nah,” was his response, an answer I hear a lot here, just like Florida. Everyone, it seems, moved here from someplace else. “I’m originally from New York. My mom has folks down here,” he explained to my unasked question.
“What brings you here?”
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.
I scoffed at the weak and undisciplined among us. I felt superior to anyone who struggled to control his or her sweet tooth. At a restaurant with clients or friends, I boldly drank my dessert, choosing Irish Coffee over the Creme Brulee everytime. I drank extra-bitter, extra-strong IPAs. When I drank a bourbon and Coke, I asked the bartender to hold the Coke. There was nothing sweet about me…just ask my wife.
Then I stopped drinking.
It had never occurred to me that beer – even a bitter IPA – is basically carbonated sugar water. What the hell did I think malted barley was? As I weaned off of alcohol, I discovered a ravenous sugar addiction lurking just behind the booze bottle.
My ignorance about myself extends far beyond my alcohol-induced addiction to sugar. I also had a misguided interpretation of my relationship to other people – especially people in power who exerted influence over my direction and activities.
I didn’t write about the events that took place at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th, 2021. I didn’t talk about them in our Echoes of Recovery group. It wasn’t a writing prompt for our SHOUT Sobriety program. Not a word about it was mentioned during our monthly Marragevolution session, and I don’t even remember a related side discussion on our Untoxicated Podcast. I didn’t ignore it, Far from it, in fact. I internalized and anguished about January 6th. But as the most hyper-political and toxic event of my lifetime (if you think I’m exaggerating, please challenge me in the comments), I didn’t want to pour fuel on anyone’s fire by sharing my thoughts and emotions.
That was a mistake. People relapsed over January 6th.
I wouldn’t wish alcoholism on anyone. But…but…if I had it all to do over again, I don’t think I’d change a thing.
Do you remember the Kiefer Sutherland advertising campaign for Jose Cuervo? One of the taglines was, “Just don’t have any regrets.” That’s more than a little ambitious for a pusher of tequila, don’t you think? I have always assumed tequila was the Spanish word for regret. Has anyone ever started a night with, “lick it, slam it, suck its,” that didn’t end in regret? My life is chalked full of regrets, and more than a few of them can be directly attributed to Jose Cuervo.
I remember driving around behind Meteor Crater in Arizona, off Chavez Pass Road, on a deserted bare-bones dirt track. I was deliberately (perhaps illicitly?) skirting the crater from the outside, instead of looking into it from an officially-sanctioned observation deck. The crater visitor’s center had, honestly, offended my burgeoning amateur-astronomer sensibilities. It had a certain Diz-Nee no thanks, don’t mind if I don’t vibe, and the fee to venture onto the deck was exorbitant for me in my salad days. It seemed like someone had executed a daring daylight robbery, and ugly baseball hats with flaming meteors streaking across them sufficed to distract entire tour groups from even noticing.
I felt despair. This was ours, or at least I thought it should be, like Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon or Yosemite. And yet it belonged very specifically to someone, and they didn’t really care what I thought.
So in a vanishingly small act of rebellion, I took a drive instead.