This post was originally published on October 14, 2014.
We hear all the time that alcoholism is a disease. Still, people new to sobriety or who haven’t struggled with it can’t seem to wrap their heads around what it means to have alcoholism. With “alcohol” in the title, many assume the illness is confined to an addiction to alcohol and the subsequent lifelong battle not pick up the next drink. While these are definitely characteristics of the disease and can suffice as a laymen’s definition of the bottom line—as far as when it means to have the disease—it’s merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
A lack of control when it comes to drinking causes problems—jails, legal problems, broken hearts, failing health, ruined families, even death—but alcohol itself isn’t the problem as much as it is our (very poor) solution to our real problem: a disease that tells us we are horrible people, that the world is against us, that we are doomed to fail. Alcoholism is a mental disorder that warps our perception of reality and tells us that our feelings are facts, when typically the opposite is true. Alcoholism is characterized by a disproportionate ego that tells us we are the most important piece of shit in the room. Alcoholics are plagued by self-obsession, selfishness, self-hatred and lack of self-esteem. We are riddled with resentment, victimization and a debilitating fear.
The drink was our solution to a negative self-talking mind that speaks to us in our own voice and tells us we aren’t worth a damn. Take the drink away and alcoholics are left with a total asshole in their head that gets louder and louder as the days go on; without a spiritual solution, in my experience, we are goners. But having a spiritual awakening through the 12 steps and staying connected to a Higher Power can be an easy thing to let slide. That is why, no matter what is going on in my life, some days I just wake up sick with alcoholism. I don’t usually consider drinking as a solution anymore but if I don’t treat my alcoholism and don’t quiet the asshole in my head, a drink is never far away. Here are four things I do when I wake up with alcoholism:
1) Call Another Alcoholic
The program of Alcoholics Anonymous was founded on one drunk talking to another and I have found this to be an efficient solution. Trying to share my feelings with a “normie”—often someone who doesn’t understand why I am having these feelings and where they are coming from—can be futile and sometimes make things worse. When I call other alcoholics, whether it’s my sponsor or a friend in recovery, I am immediately relieved when they tell me they know exactly how I feel, what they have done to feel better and remind me what the program says about alcoholism—that this too shall pass. I also get an immense amount of relief talking to someone who is new in the program that needs me to tell them how we do things. It helps me get out of my own alcoholic mind to help someone else and it also reminds me how to help myself.
2) Get to a Meeting
If you are lucky enough to live in a city like Los Angeles, you have access to over 2,000 AA meetings a week within driving distance. So when I wake up in the morning and know things in my head aren’t right, I make sure I know when and where my next meeting is. But much like a child ready to be born, alcoholism can descend upon us at any hour of the day and night without much concern for what we have planned the next morning or how little sleep we had the night before. It arrives when it damn well feels like it and often that is at 2 am after hours of tossing and turning. Since most of us don’t have access to all-night AA meetings or a sponsor or sober friend who’s awake at that hour to talk to, it can be a difficult predicament. So when in doubt, I take action—I get online and find out when the soonest meeting is (even if it’s five hours from then) and I ask my Higher Power to relieve me of my self-obsession and to handle my problems and I write (see below).
3) Write in My Journal
“Write about it” were the three dreaded words I would hear from my sponsor in early sobriety every time I called her to bitch about other people and my life. It took me a few months to realize that I never hung up the phone with her without having been assigned homework. I hated it and it made me not want to call her but thankfully I continued to anyway. She would then follow up and ask me how my writing assignment was going I would have no problem telling her I didn’t do it. She would say, “Why? Are you afraid it might make you feel better?” Ugh. She was right. But I didn’t really see the benefits of writing until I did The Artists Way—a 12-week program that requires three pages of handwritten journaling a day. Within a week of doing it, I felt saner than I had in years and began to understand the benefit of taking all the mishigas that is knocking around in my sick alcoholic brain and getting rid of it on paper.
4) Cancel Everything
It took me five-and-a-half years to understand what it meant to put my sobriety and my 12-step program first in my life. I always thought urging people to make AA meetings a priority was one of those conceptual things. But inside, I also thought most alcoholics were sicker than I was, that they had the disease worse than I did and that they therefore needed more diligence in the program. At somewhere around three years of sobriety, I drifted away from the program and stopped going to regular meetings. At five years of sobriety, I learned the hard way what it means to live with untreated alcoholism. When I was close to taking my own life, I decided to recommit to AA as a final ditch effort to see what “those people” had to offer me. I wasn’t hopeful but I figured if I was going to end my life, I should at least be able to include in my suicide note that I tried everything. For 30 days, all I did was go to meetings and return home. By the end of the month, I felt happy, hopeful and had a new lease on life. I had been restored to sanity. This is when I finally understood what it means to put AA first: it means to work my program and get to meetings like my life depends on it, because it does. If I wake up with an alcoholism flare up, I cancel everything I can that day—dentist appointments, birthday parties, business meetings, lunch with friends—and I treat my disease by getting to a meeting.