My Journey To Alcoholism
My Journey To Alcoholism
Today I would like to share my journey to alcoholism, or if you prefer, Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). With so much information out there, it can be difficult to know whether you have a problem with alcohol or not. For example, some people binge drink on a regular basis, but they aren’t an alcoholic. Some people get DUI’s, or get arrested, but they aren’t an alcoholic. Confusing, right?
Before I got sober, I had no idea I had an AUD. I didn’t know what it meant to be an alcoholic. I didn’t know that my hands were shaking in the morning after a heavy night of drinking because I was withdrawing from alcohol. My idea of an alcoholic was someone who was homeless, drinking cheap beer or wine out of a brown paper bag. But, the truth is, you don’t have to lose everything to be an alcoholic.
My hope for this post today is to explain what being an alcoholic means, what it doesn’t mean, and shed some light on a confusing subject. My goal for this post is to help those of you out there wondering “am I an alcoholic?”, and help you find the answer you’re looking for.
I didn’t lose everything on my journey to alcoholism. A common misconception is that you must lose everything in your life before you have a problem. This isn’t the case in my experience. I am what is known as a “functioning alcoholic”. Or, high bottom alcoholic.
When I got sober I still had a place to live, a job, and a car. My family hadn’t disowned me, but I had stopped talking to them. I never got arrested. I was never stopped by police while drinking and driving. No DUI’s. The only consequence I experienced while drinking was retaliation from my managers at work because I copped an attitude with them, and didn’t perform my work well.
The above consequences, like DUI’s or getting arrested, do not make a person an alcoholic.
For me, genetics played a role in my journey to alcoholism. My maternal grandfather was probably an alcoholic. My mom may have been. My uncles on my mom’s side may be. And, two of my three uncles on my dad’s side may be. Growing up, there was always alcohol at family gatherings. I cannot remember a time when my uncles, or my grandpa, were without a beer in their hands.
For that reason, genetics may have predisposed me to alcoholism. I say may have because scientific research isn’t 100% clear. But, I believe it played a part.
Being raised in the environment I was raised in also played a role. What I mean by this is, seeing the adults around me drinking at family gatherings showed me it was acceptable to drink. They made drinking look cool, grown up.
I remember being fascinated by alcohol at a very early age. The Aftershock bottle my mom kept at her place fascinated me because it had sugar crystals in the bottom of the bottle. Or, the worm in the tequila bottle. Wine coolers. Mogen David wine. I could go on and on. But my point is, I’m pretty sure little kids aren’t generally fascinated by alcohol.
What makes me an alcoholic isn’t the consequences that resulted from my drinking. What makes me an alcoholic is, once I start, I can’t stop drinking. Have you ever heard the phrase “One is too many, and a thousand isn’t enough”? That is what makes me an alcoholic.
From the time I turned 21, I couldn’t control my drinking. I remember many times when I would go to the bar and say, “I’m not going to stay all night”. But, I did. I would stay until closing time, or until I ran out of money. When I was drinking with my neighbors, I would tell myself I was only going to stay for a couple of drinks, but I got drunk every time.
I would buy vodka, get drunk, wake up the next day and say, “I’m never doing that again” while I poured the leftovers down the drain. By the afternoon/ evening I was drinking again, with no memory of the previous evening.
I drank because I couldn’t live life on life’s terms. I never learned healthy coping mechanisms when I experienced pain or loss. When I was uncomfortable in social settings, drinking helped me cope. When my mom died, drinking helped cover up the pain of my loss. When I had a bad day at work, drinking helped me forget. As time went on though, I had to drink more and more to get the desired effect. Pain that was covered up with a couple of beers morphed into a monster. A monster that could be tamed only with more and more alcohol.
Soon, blackouts became the norm. I would begin drinking, black out, and have no memory the next morning of what I did or said the night before. I’ve cooked supper in a blackout.
I shut down my computer, and put my picture CD and flash drive away in a blackout. I woke up the next morning with no clue where they were.
I would get on Facebook in a blackout and comment on posts. Wake up the next morning and remember that I was on Facebook, but not remember what I said.
Morning shakes followed. I would wake up in the morning, and my hands would shake. Not knowing I was suffering from withdrawals, I would eat something, and the shakes would go away. Night sweats were common as well. I would wake up around 3 am every night/ morning, drenched in sweat, like I had just broken a fever.
When I realized that I had a problem with alcohol, I tried to quit on my own. I would tell myself I wasn’t going to drink that day. But then something would happen, or nothing would happen, and I would find myself buying beer after work. Or, driving to the gas station on my day off to buy beer.
The longest I made it on my own was 24 hours. After the 24 hours had passed, the obsession to drink was so strong that I had to drink. My skin would get itchy. My head was screaming with every thought imaginable. My thoughts were a jumbled mess. I couldn’t sit still. My stomach was in knots. My body could not cope without alcohol. At that point, I had to drink. I was reliant upon alcohol.
There are three stages of an Alcohol Use Disorder. Mild, Moderate, and Severe. When I got sober, I was at the moderate going on severe level. I received this diagnosis by going to a treatment facility in my city, and undergoing what they call an alcohol evaluation.
For now, I won’t go into details. Next week I will dig deeper into what an alcohol evaluation is, what it was like, and what to expect.
For me, being at the moderate to severe level means, I needed outside help to get sober. My counselor suggested Intensive Out-Patient (IOP) treatment, along with a 12-Step support group. Since I had no family or friends to support my sobriety, I was at elevated risk for relapse. My home was also a potential trigger for relapse.
My experiences described above are just that. My experiences. I hope that I have given you a general idea of what it means to be an alcoholic/ have an Alcohol Use Disorder. My question to you now is, after reading the above, what does this information mean to you? Only you can answer that question. Does it mean you have an AUD? I don’t know. Does it mean you’re an alcoholic? Again, I don’t know. Only you can answer those questions.
If you think you might have a problem with drinking, I urge you to reach out to a qualified addiction counselor. They are there to help, and will not judge you. Be open and honest with yourself, and trust your gut. If you feel like you have a problem with drinking, there’s a good chance that you do.
For now, be well.