Monday, September 22, 2014

The Dysfunctional Debate Team in My Head

That's what a fellow denizen of an online sobriety group called that exhausting, maddening mental dialogue that goes something like this:

I think I drink too much.
But you don't get falling down drunk and end up in bed with strange men.
Yeah, but I don't stop at one glass when I say I'm going to.
Yeah, but you don't drink the whole bottle.  Not every time, anyway.
Often enough.
But sometimes you just have two and it's cool.
But sometimes not.
Alcoholics can NEVER stop at two. They drink till they pass out or run out.
Aren't there gradations of alcoholic?
You're not that bad. Really.
Really. You're a gainfully employed professional who gets to work on time, with make-up on, gets the kids to school on time, pays her bills and her taxes on time.
Maybe I'm what they call a "high functioning" alcoholic?
But you don't always finish the bottle.  Alcoholics always finish the bottle.
But I'm tired of thinking about whether to finish the bottle...

And on and on it goes.  There are some in that online group who never take the first drink without finishing every drop of alcohol within reach. There are others like me who had a "high bottom" and stopped because they found trying to moderate too exhausting, and worried about the problem getting worse.

Allie writes of this on her blog, And Everything Afterwards, which I just discovered, happily. She quotes an email she sent to a friend nine years ago:

And when there’s wine in the fridge I have a glass or two of an evening just generally…
And sometimes it’s not a glass or two. It’s the best part of a bottle. Every now and then, it’s a bottle….I have a problem, don’t I?...[but] I’m functional. I don’t miss work, I don’t damage relationships, I don’t spend money I don’t have, I don’t do any of the things that scream ‘alcoholic’.

That was me, all right. I can relate to so much of what she writes, like this piece on AA, about how people make these dire predictions about how no one can get and stay sober on their own. I am also with her on this one, about the one day at a time vs never drinking thing: I want to make the decision once, never to drink again, rather than every day. But, as she writes, maybe that is because it isn't hard for me to get through each day without drinking. Most days I don't think about it, except when I'm reading sobriety stuff, which only makes me grateful not to be drinking. Fancy restaurants and Fridays right after work are the only times I think a little wistfully about having a drink, but it's not a big struggle not to.

Mrs D has written often, as here, about being resolved never ever to drink again.  In addition to the "one day at a time" rule, she hits another AA hot button in this post: surrender. She writes:
I choose sober over drunk.
 I choose it. I do. Me. This is my life and if I choose not to touch alcohol ever again then I won't touch alcohol ever again. I have no-one to fear but myself. I don't fear myself. I trust myself.
 Call this determination. Call it grim reality. Call it sad and boring, call it brave and amazing. Call it what you like. I don't mind. I'll just be over here staying sober for the rest of the days of my life.

Throughout her blog, she emphasizes her determination, her resolve, her choice not to drink. She, like Allie and me, was a high functioning alcoholic with a "high bottom" who stopped herself before things got really scary. AA says alcoholics can only get sober by admitting their powerlessness and surrendering, and devotees of AA call people who try to "white knuckle" it to sobriety "dry drunks".

There is something to this. I think if you "white knuckle" it, force yourself to keep away from alcohol by sheer willpower without doing any of the serious emotional work that AA promotes, then you probably will exhaust your willpower or, if you stay sober, you'll stay miserable as well.  But I think it's possible to do the emotional work outside the context of AA. Blogging is how Mrs D (and presumably Allie, whose blog I am just beginning to explore) did it.

I am not opposed to AA. I go to AA meetings when I can, but a busy schedule makes this irregular. I don't have a sponsor (which horrifies people at meetings when they find out) and have not systematically worked the steps, in part because I'm having so much trouble with the early ones. But more about that in a future post.

For now, I will just say a heartfelt thank you to Allie for her blog, and head back there to explore a bit more. 

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