This post was originally published on December 2, 2014.
The brilliant, hilarious and late Robin Williams once said, “As an alcoholic, you will violate your standards quicker than you will lower them.”
I can give you a list, also known as my fourth step, of examples that prove this statement to be true for me. If you heard someone say this sentence at a 12-step meeting, you would see a sea of heads nodding in agreement. We alcoholics know exactly what he means.
I grew up with set standards, respectable morals and core values. I knew right from wrong and my behaviors and core values paralleled one another—that is, until alcohol entered my life. I was constantly lowering my values to meet my behavior, instead of raising my behavior to meet my values. This was an immediate side effect of drinking for me, but like my disease, it only got worse over time. Just when I would think I couldn’t possible lower my standards and values any lower, I would somehow find myself in a position that proved me wrong.
How many times have you heard someone use “I was drunk,” as an excuse or blame alcohol for their bad behavior? Carrie Underwood sings about getting “served a little too much of that poison” and doing things she’s not proud of in her song “Last Name.” In “Last Friday Night,” Katy Perry sings about “Trying to connect the dots. Don’t know what to tell my boss. Think the city towed my car. Chandelier is on the floor. Ripped my favorite party dress. Warrants out for my arrest. Think I need a ginger ale. That was such an epic fail.”
Well, that’s cute for a top 40 hit, but not so cute when it’s your reality. You can only blame it on the Cuervo so many times before you’ve exhausted that as an excuse. I most certainly had. I had come to believe that the sum of all the bad decisions, choices and things I made and did while I was drinking had become who I was. I let it define me as a person, but that’s not who I was at my core. I knew that, but addiction doesn’t care about you or your values, and there came a point where I wasn’t just lowering my standards but I was violating them quicker than I could lower them. Yep, just like Robin Williams said I would.
I did things in active addiction that I would never think of doing sober. My values were flimsy at best. My friends would call me after their latest mistake and I would help them justify whatever it was they had done the night prior in a drunken stupor. My drinking took me to places without my permission, and I am talking literally and figuratively.
I woke up one morning in my San Francisco flat with several bottles of Opus One rolling about the floor, some remnants of absinthe on the counter, more than the normal number of people occupying each bedroom and a wheel chair in the center of the living room. Why was there a wheel chair in my living room? Why were there several people in my bed? Back to the wheelchair…where did we get it? Why did we take it? Who did we take it from? Oh, that’s right, a vague recollection of pushing my boyfriend down Pine Street is coming back. All questions I didn’t think anything about at the time.
Clearly my behavior when I was drinking conflicted with my values. I knew I wasn’t a bad person, so why did I constantly find myself in scandalous situations? Fast forward a few years and I had lost interest in anything that didn’t involve drinking. I didn’t take pride in anything anymore. Morning after morning, I would sit at my vanity to get ready for work, look at myself hung over in the mirror and think, “What happened? How did I get to this point? Get it together, Allison. Who are you?” I was not a fan of the person staring back at me.
As the alcohol became more and more important to me, everything else became less. My friends and family can attest that I was completely unreliable. I didn’t commit to anything. Most of my actions were irresponsible and dishonest. My motives were anything but pure. I wanted what I wanted when I wanted it and I would do whatever it took to get that. I didn’t care who I hurt in the process.
I so desperately did not want to be the person that was looking back at me in the mirror. I didn’t recognize that person anymore. The more bad choices I made, the more I wanted to drink to forget. And so the cycle continued. Alcoholism took away my self-worth. It left me physically, mentally and spiritually void. They say the way you treat others is a direct reflection on how you feel about yourself and it’s hard to see the good in others when you don’t see any good in yourself.
So when my counselor in rehab told me that I didn’t have to continue to be the person sober that I had become as a result of alcoholism, it was like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders.
“Want to have some self-esteem?” she asked. “Do estimable things.” That was a novel idea. But little by little it is exactly what I did, and then one day I looked in the mirror and really liked the person I was becoming.
Without drugs and alcohol in my life, I can actually get back to my core values. I am by no means perfect, but I make far fewer mistakes today. And now there’s no need to blame them on alcohol; I can take responsibility for all of them.