What does untreated alcoholism look like?
Maybe it’s not what you think it is. It’s not just the bum lying on the sidewalk with a brown paper bag reeking of alcohol, nor the guy or gal that comes to the bar every night and passes out or gets in trouble.
My mothers stepfather was an alcoholic (not supposed to diagnose others as alcoholics – but if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck…). At 60 some years of age a doctor told him that he had to quit drinking or he would die. So he did – all by his lonesome. Grandpa was one of the orneriest people I’d ever met when I was a kid and we had a code word for when he was in a particularly dangerous drunk and it was time to high tail it out of there. When he was not drinking his disposition didn’t change much, if anything he got angrier and angrier. Until eventually one day my sister found him in his apartment where he had shot himself in the head. Untreated alcoholism.
We can see it in A.A. meetings to. The drunk that keeps going back out to experiment – doing more research. They keep coming back and we keep hoping this time they will get it, this time they will start to change. Sometimes they “get it” after the first relapse, sometimes after the 50th and sadly sometimes never at all. But other people who help those folks try, they stay sober and the act of them helping the person who is struggling shores up their own sobriety ten fold. Our book says:
“Of alcoholics who came to A.A. and really tried, 50% got sober at once and remained that way; 25% sobered up after some relapses, and among the remainder, those who stayed on with A.A. showed improvement. Other thousands came to a few A.A. meetings and at first decided they didn’t want the program. But great numbers of these—about two out of three—began to return as time passed.” Alcoholics Anonymous, page xx
Those are some encouraging numbers and keep up my hopes.
We see a different kind of untreated alcoholism in A.A. in addition to the chronic relapser. That’s the alcoholic who’s been coming to meetings for 19 odd years but not growing spiritually. They may be angry, indignant, self-pitying most of the time and sometimes they catch a sliver of serenity that brings a brief respite to the turmoil of their mind. But more often than not its only lip service. Their hoping to stay sober by osmosis, leeching off the wellness of others incognito.
Sadly, they’ve only put the plug in the jug and not taken the action steps to recover. There’s an old saying in A.A. “What do you get if you sober up a horse thief? A sober horse thief.” Our liquor was but a symptom, and working the steps we get down to causes and conditions which lead to finding a power greater than ourselves to recover. It’s not easy, but usually it’s less painful than a dry drunk.
I believe there is a solution to alcoholism in the 12 steps. I believe, based on my own experience, that it is a limitless load of serenity and happiness – if I work for it.