What does untreated alcoholism look like?

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.

The In Between Place

I’m not the best speller just ask my boss who frequently corrects things that I type for him. In high school I was worse I misspelled several things that I look back on now as just foolish, how on earth could I spell those things wrong. I’ve found that the more I realize my mistakes and correct them the more I remember how a word should be spelled and then I catch myself, mid word sometimes, and correct it.

One of the words I used to misspell in high school was friend. I always wanted to put the e before the i and kept getting corrected on papers when using the word.  Until one day Ms. Gretch, my English lit teacher, explained how to spell it.

“A friend will always END”

I’ve never forgotten that. It seems a little harsh to be telling a high schooler, but it really did work.

Sadly, it also appears to be true.

but, that’s not the miracle…

This last weekend I was at the Gopher State Roundup in Bloomington, MN. Over 8,000 people attend this round up each year and it can be a bit overwhelming. I haven’t been in a few years, the last time I was in town for the Roundup there were about 4,500 folks, so it just keeps growing. At the Saturday night speaker we found ourselves without seats in the main room, thankfully they show all the speakers on the closed circuit TV that you can see in your bed room.

Love and Tolerance was the theme this year, I only heard two of the speakers reference it even though a huge banner was draped over the curtain right behind them. Almost every speaker did have one phrase in common though: “but, that’s not the miracle…”. Each one said it about some part of their journey in recovery and why it wasn’t as special as the real miracle.

I had met several old friends who live in the greater Minneapolis area and go to meetings up there, it was nice to catch up and relive old times. Each of them, without mentioning it, reminded me of how pissed off I was in AA. It really made me remember all the bitterness, intolerance and selfishness that I displayed and honestly felt during the first few years of my recovery. Some people still fondly remember me as the “angry guy”.

You see, in early recovery I still thought I should run the show and believe me, my actors and actresses kept screwing up the production. I would honestly look around the room before the meeting a criticize (in my own head most of the time) what others had done to help set up or get ready, sometimes even what they were wearing. Didn’t they know how important this was to me? Didn’t they understand how hard I was struggling to just make it through a day – they could at least try to do things the right way. But of course that was me being my selfish, self-centered, ego-centric self and wondering why you didn’t realize that pleasing me was the most important job in AA.

At one particular meeting I was so angry you probably could have toasted marshmallows near me, other people were not living up to my expectations one more time and I was just pissed. My friend at the time turned to me and said: “no one said you have to stay here”. That was it, I really needed to hear that and I looked at her, relieved and walked out of the meeting and away from that group, but that’s not the miracle…

Luckily, I didn’t drink or go postal during this time but I assure you that was probably where I was headed if I didn’t find release soon. I didn’t know what to believe in anymore, I had seen the program work in other people and knew that something had happened that gave them an entire psychic change, something or someone gave them a solution. I didn’t have that nor did I really know how to get that all I really knew to do was read the Big Book and pray to a God I didn’t really want to believe in. That’s all I needed to stay sober – taking actions that didn’t believe would work. But, that’s not the miracle…

For years after leaving this meeting I would attend meetings, I wasn’t interested in sharing my experience, strength, and hope as far as I was concerned my experience was flawed, my strength missing and I had little hope. I would listen to people yammer on in meetings about their problems, rarely hearing a solution (the book, the steps) and sometimes would be so pissed off again that I would stand up and walk out of the meeting. Sometimes I would walk out just knowing who the lead was, that person will never grow or change and I’m not interested in hearing the same crap that they’ve said countless times before. That’s not real recovery that’s just bringing your body and hoping that you learn by osmosis.

I was in double digit so-called sobriety still the angry young man. I was lost and just didn’t know it. I had put my Big Book on a shelf to collect dust, hadn’t talked to God in quite a long time (unless something was wrong and I needed a pinch hitter), and wasn’t trying to be of service to anyone except myself. I didn’t drink in any of these years, nor take a drug… but I might as well have. I had the chance to go to a meeting with my friend Suzanne out of state and I spent the whole time obsessing about what they didn’t do right that I didn’t hear the message. Afterward, Suzanne remarked on the powerful stories of the speakers and I just wasn’t at the same meeting – I was still director and my actors were out of control again.

So that’s how I found myself on a ship, a cruise ship, looking out over a beautiful starlit sky and thinking to myself “If I just throw myself off that would be the end of it.” That thought shook me, how did I get here again, how was I at the jumping off place? I was honestly pretty frightened and avoided the balcony the rest of the trip. I was lost, again.

When I returned home I sought out help from someone who had what I wanted – serenity. I explained that I was lost and asked for direction and help finding a path again. I committed myself to shaking everyone’s hand before a meeting. I started reading my Big Book regularly again. I sought out step meetings and examples of service and action. Slowly, I got better (I guess that’s a personal opinion).

The miracle is that I asked for help.

The miracle is that I remembered “Faith without works is dead”.

The miracle is that the anger is gone.

The miracle is that I remembered God doesn’t make to hard terms to those who seek him.

The miracle is things are exactly as they are meant to be and every once in a while, in the group therapy sessions the locals think is AA, I hear the real message of Alcoholics Anonymous and remember that someone else might be hearing it too.