You Dont Find All Drunks in the Gutter: The Story of a Functional Alcoholic!
Today, August 22, 2005, I am clean and sober for eight years which simply means today I am still an alcoholic and on this day I will choose not to pick up a drink. If you look at me today and compared my appearance to eight years ago you probably would not notice much difference (with the exception of a few more wrinkles). Back then I had a pretty high-powered job with a good salary and was working towards my master's degree. Today I work as an administrator for a church and I am developing a life and leadership coaching practice. I am not attending school I am teaching at a local college as an adjunct professor. My life is probably just as hectic now as it was eight years ago. So the question is besides not picking up a drink what is the difference between then and now?
First, it is only through a graceful and loving God, AA, meeting rooms in which other alcoholics openly shared their faith, strength and hope, and a sponsor who saw right through my charade that I can claim eight years of sobriety.
Second, back then I thought I had control of my life and now I realize I do not and everyday I try to remember that fact.
Finally, I have come to learn the difference between change and transition and that has and continues to bring a new perspective to my life.
When I first started to attend AA meetings I remember thinking that the stories these people were telling about their lives aren't even close to the life I live. I only drink a little and I am very careful to monitor it so I can maintain my image in the community and the church I attend. These men and women are talking about horror stories in which they lost their jobs, families, savings and literally their self-respect. I would question my sponsor about the possibility that maybe I really wasn't a drunk. Maybe it is just in my head, that perhaps I could drink. He would just laugh and say the mere fact that you have to think about is evidence enough.
My sponsor used to ride in a Hell's Angels motorcycle gang. He was one tough dude and probably the complete opposite of me or at least that is what I thought. I actually remember when I began looking for a sponsor God kept putting this man in front of me and I kept asking God to get him out of my way so I could find a sponsor like me. It is odd how I was looking at the outside appearance and God was looking at what was going on inside. I was working from my head (a dangerous place to be for an alcoholic) and God was working from my heart. As it turns out I was just like my sponsor and my sponsor was just like me, at least where it counts, in our hearts and souls.
For the most part of my life I really believed I was in control. Actually I suffered from an anxiety disorder and panic attacks so the only way I could live my life was to be in control, or at least I thought I was in control. Actually my behavior was more obsessive ? compulsive than orderly. My daughters used to twist the phone cord when they got home from school just so the could watch me faithfully go to the phone each day I got home from work and untangle it. I would vacuum the rugs and then not allow anyone to walk on them. I would comb the little fringes on the ends of the rug. My drinking was just as tidy. I would only drink at certain times and at certain places. Even though most weeknights I would only have one drink or think one drink is all I needed. If the liquor bottle would be only three quarters full I would get another one just in case I decided to drink more and maybe run out. If I was going out somewhere to eat, to a party, trips for work, or vacations I could not wait for the moment when I could justify having that first drink.
As a functional alcoholic it wasn't so much about how much I drank, I would do my best to control when I would take a drink or how much I thought I could safely drink and not get tagged as a drunk. Having an anxiety disorder that centered on low self-esteem and the fact I did not believe I was good enough as a person really helped to maintain my control. The issue with me was the fantasy or the delaying of that first drink. If I were traveling I would be thinking about when I got there and could have that first drink. If I were on a business trip my thoughts would be with once the business was conducted how great it will be to have that first drink in the bar. Many years ago I used to play softball and it got to the point I could not wait for the game to be over so I could go to the bar with the guys to drink. The issue was not just taking the drink but just as importantly, the permission to take the drink, albeit I set the rules in most cases. Unfortunately right before I went into AA I was giving myself more and more permission.
I was giving myself more permission because I was dealing with some changes in my life. Two months before I went into AA my mother passed away. My relationship with my father really was more strained then ever after my mother died. My wife had become ill and she began a month long stay in a hospital and as I had mentioned I was working towards my master's degree. Spiritually I felt dead even though I was faithfully attending church and teaching Sunday school as though nothing was wrong. That is the point; it was becoming tougher and tougher to keep putting up a front or pretending the world was a great place, only to go home and feel so depressed and sad about life that I wish I could just run away and hide.
So what did I learn in AA? Although today I am intellectually describing the process it is obviously the heart wrenching desire for sobriety and the feeling that you have no other place to turn that is at the core of recovery. For me recovery is about understanding the difference between change and transition. We say we want to change our lives and often we do just that. Perhaps we take a new job, a new spouse, a new place to live, a new car, or we want to change our drinking habits. William Bridges in his book, "Transitions" says, "Our society confuses them (change and transition) constantly, leading us to imagine that transition is just another word for change?In other words, change is situational. Transition, on the other hand is psychological. It is not those events, but rather the inner re - orientation and self - redefinition that you have to go through in order to incorporate any of those changes into your life." If you want to change your habit of drinking alcohol the solution is simple just don't pick up a drink. If you want to get into recovery from alcoholism than as the saying goes you have to deal with the "ism" part. That means a life transition and now we are talking about a change of heart not a change of thought.
Eight years into recovery I don't believe a day goes by that my head doesn't try to tell me it is OK to have a drink, you probably weren't an alcoholic anyway, it is not like they found you lying in the gutter. There isn't a time when I am going to a party or getting ready for a vacation that I don't think what is the fun of going if I can't drink. But then there isn't a day that I wake up that I don't thank God for allowing me to be sober for just one more day. My father died just three years after my mother. I was a year into my recovery when I realized the problem I was having with him was not about him at all it was about me. When I looked at my dad I saw me and that is what got me so angry. That awareness gave me the two best years of my life with my dad. Now each day I see myself becoming more and more like my dad and I could not be more proud of that fact.
Years ago when the USA was seconds away from defeating the then USSR hockey team in the Olympics the announcer shouted, "Do you believe in miracles?" If you can find someone in recovery they will tell you all about their miracle. Remember God creates miracles and God resides in your heart, not your head. I believe in miracles, I am one!
By Robert Wummer
Robert Wummer of http://IntersectionsCoaching.com is an ontological coach who specializes in life's transitional times and the intersection (or collision) of an individual's personal and professional goals. His work is extremely effective in the development of integral leadership practices.
Direct Answers - Column for the week of February 9, 2004
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