What Is It Like to Be an Alcoholic?
It occurs to me, even after all the articles I have written about alcoholism, that many out there simply do not understand what goes on in the mind of an alcoholic. How could they? Many alcoholics do not even understand their own thought processes—at least until they find sobriety and have done research on the matter. So how could we possibly expect normal people to comprehend what is inside of our minds?
I am going to take you on a little trip. We won’t be gone long, and the length of the trip will not tire you. It may, however, exhaust you emotionally if you have a loved one who is or was an alcoholic. What is maddening about alcoholism is that it affects everyone in the family—not just the alcoholic. The alcoholic, of course, suffers physically when heavy drinking occurs, but the family also suffers emotionally and psychologically in dealing with the alcoholic, and that may be the true tragedy of this disease.
Alcoholism does not discriminate; in a way it is the perfect democracy in the disease world, allowing membership to any race, creed, or gender. If left unchecked this perfect disease is a ruthless killer, and taking prisoners is not in its vocabulary. If you have been affected by alcoholism then you most likely have read about it, researched it, and tried to better understand the disease and its possible “remedies."
But you cannot see inside the mind of an alcoholic no matter how much research you do, and so I will attempt to be your guide.
There are millions of alcoholics around the world, so naturally what I say in the following paragraphs does not apply to all. However, there are a great number of similarities among alcoholics, so I will tell you what I have observed and heard from others and we will have this little disclaimer that it certainly does not apply to every single alcoholic. Having said that let us begin our tour inside a rather scary place.
Intelligent and Troubled
Alcoholics are generally intelligent beings; we would have to be to manufacture as many excuses and lies as we do. It is not an easy thing to juggle hundreds of lies at a single time, remembering which lie was told to which person. I am not saying that in jest; just stating my experience. If an IQ test were given to a group of alcoholics I think you would find a rather high reading for most. What relationship high intelligence and drinking have is anyone’s guess but it seems to be the norm rather than the exception.
We are also a troubled lot, usually suffering from low self-esteem and poor self-image. Alcohol tends, at first, to give us the extra something we need to forget our supposed deficiencies and move about the general public with our heads held high. Once the disease kicks in, however, alcohol no longer blots out these troubled memories but only intensifies them.
Well worth watching
A Feeling of Being Different
I sensed during my childhood that I was different from others. I am not suggesting that I was different but rather that I felt like I was completely detached from the rest of the human race. Social settings completely confused me (and truthfully still do) and the simplest mechanisms to get through life seemed to have passed me by at some point in my life. I did not understand how to function around people; I felt completely different and weird around people; and I lived in fear that people would find out just how strange I was. I have heard this often in AA meetings so I finally realize that I was not alone in these thoughts.
Moving from Normal Drinker to Problem Drinker
The slow but inevitable decline of an alcoholic typically starts with normal drinking although the effects of alcohol on an alcoholic could almost be described as heavenly. The first time I had a dark German ale I literally fell in love with the effects and could hardly wait to have another. That is not a normal reaction for the casual drinkers out there.
What is so difficult for an alcoholic as they move into the troubled stage of the disease is that by that time they cannot conceive of not drinking and yet they begin to understand that they do not drink like normal people. They sense a problem but in no way are they willing to admit that they have a problem; that requires a serious shrinking of ego to admit that and alcoholics are ego-driven. In the Big Book of AA they describe alcoholism as self-will run riot and that very accurately describes an alcoholic as they reach the problem stage.
Ego, and fear, prevents them from admitting to a problem, so they go about finding a way to drink normally. Adjustments are made to their drinking habits. Maybe they try only drinking on weekends; next they try drinking a different drink, possibly beer instead of wine. They are constantly searching for the key that will allow them to be a “normie.” That key, however, will never be found.
Secrecy Is a Must
Once drinking becomes a necessity and once the alcoholic realizes that fact then the hiding and the lies begin. By this stage it has become apparent that loved ones do not approve of your drinking habits, and you realize that you cannot or will not quit drinking, so the only solution is to hide the amount of drinking and lie about it.
For many this is also the stage where inhibitions break down and moral decay begins. Now we are not only covering up the drinking but we also have to cover up our behavior, whether it be affairs or stealing or cheating someone in a business deal. Now the self-loathing kicks into high gear for we not only hate ourselves for our weakness in not being able to quit drinking but we also despise ourselves for our moral decay.
Telling lies at this point is almost second nature. I found myself fabricating stories when I had no reason to do so and I know for a fact most alcoholics do the same. Quite frankly it is exhausting being an alcoholic, constantly hiding the truth, constantly telling lies and constantly beating ourselves up for our lack of character and strength.
Living in Fear
Our very existence at this point becomes fear-based. We are fearful that you will find out what we are. We are fearful that you will find out who we are. We are fearful most of all that we will eventually have to live a life without alcohol in order to survive and that is unthinkable. By this time alcohol has become who we are; we are so tied to it psychologically and physically that we cannot and will not entertain thoughts of living without it. We will do anything to protect ourselves and our disease for truly the two are so intertwined that it is impossible to distinguish between them.
The World Is Our Stage
We need control by this time in the disease. We sense we are losing complete control and so we try harder to establish control in every facet of our lives. If people do not act the way we want them to act we become angry. Everyone is out to get us, to screw us, to keep us from achieving what we want to achieve, so we exert more control over everyone. The boss at work hates us, the wife is a bitch, the kids are a pain in the ass and nobody understands us because if they did they would leave us the hell alone.
The sad thing is that by this point in the disease the alcoholic has no control over anything in his or her life. The lies have been found out; the poor performances at work have been discovered. Friends are dropping like flies and the family is embarrassed, shaken to the core, frightened, angry and considering options in life that have nothing to do with the alcoholic. The end is very near and that terrifies the alcoholic who by now is helpless to mount a defense.
And so It Ends
One way or another it ends. The lucky few find a way whether it be by treatment or some other form of intervention. The unlucky either find themselves in prison, in a mental institution, or dead. There is no magical cure for this disease, and the number of deaths attributable to alcoholism is staggering.
Without a program of rigorous honesty the alcoholic is defenseless. Without completely changing their lives there is no hope for happiness. Those, my friends, are truths.
I truly hope that this has helped someone out there who is either suffering from alcoholism or who loves someone who is an alcoholic. If my experience can help someone else, then it has all been worth it for me. May peace be with all of you!
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© 2012 Bill Holland