Before getting into the meat of this week’s post, I want to offer a gigantic ‘thank-you’ to everyone. I published the news about my addiction almost one week ago. Since then, I have received hundreds of comment, e-mails and private messages, providing encouragement. Thank you for your grace, compassion and, most of all, love.
In addition to the encouragement, there have been scores of questions. Everything from how to support a family member who’s an addict to finding a good therapist. I love all of the questions and am happy to answer, so keep ’em coming! Though, fair warning, my response might take a little bit of time, as I’m frequently distracted. See Exhibit A.
One of the most asked questions after last week’s post was, “how did know you were an alcoholic,” and specifically, what separates an alcoholic from being a heavy drinker? I found a helpful article from Psychology Today that explains the differences. I reviewed the list and can identify with fifteen out of the twenty. But, the one particular line that stood out, and to me, makes a major difference is:
Obsessing about alcohol (ie, next time the person can drink, how they are going to get alcohol, who they’re going to go out drinking with)
I’m sure it’s different for different people, but reading this particular line struck me as the stark difference between who I was in my addiction, and who I am today. Certainly, the other fourteen aspects I identified with have changed, too, but at the crux of alteration of my outlook is the absence of unhealthy obsession.
Not so long ago, too many moments in my every day were occupied with strategizing about drinking. Take, for example, my standard workday. Being the organized, game-plan oriented person that I am, I would plan trips to the grocery store on the way home from work, using the excuse of getting groceries for dinner. I would hit the liquor department to purchase that night’s bottle of wine or other booze and stash it when I got home so I could sneak drinks throughout the remainder of the evening, attempting to hide how much I was drinking from Ryan. “Attempting” being the key word, in that he was roughly aware of what was going on and made many attempts to get me to stop. Specifics of that and addiction intervention to be saved for a later post (I know! So many teasers. Not fair! Sorry. Thing 1 and Thing 2 are hungry and demanding enchiladas.) But, as you can see, the inentionality of my drinking and daily patterns of secretive behavior, are what took heavy drinking into alcoholic territory. Tons of mental energy would go into getting the alcohol, hiding it, creating opportunities to access it and finding ways to drink more of it.
This pattern persisted because fixating on alcohol and drinking it created a way to numb my feelings and anxiety. As a people pleaser, I was deathly afraid of disappointing others or seeing them upset. I would invite other people’s anxiety to transfer on to me out of guilt, wanting to relieve their pain and taking it on myself (saving their flapping chickens). That much pressure, obviously, created major stress. Instead of getting to the root of my people-pleasing, I numbed it.
As mentioned in my first post, the process of moving from alcohol obsession to living with an open and joyful mind took serious therapy and creating new patterns of behavior. We unpacked and dealt with my need to people-please. It was painful and messy, and like anything worthwhile, not easy.
Such a rousing endorsement to visit a therapist, right? Seriously, though, a quality therapist is worth every penny! She walked me through, from crisis into clarity, equipping me to function in the midst of life’s messiness.
Of course, the anxiety still creeps in, conflict happens, people say mean things, but my identity is no longer tied to other people’s feelings about me and I don’t need booze to cope. But, it requires a constant check-point. When anxiety rises, I now stop to ask myself why it’s there. Is it because someone’s upset? Am I worried about someone’s potentially flapping chicken? Is the situation out of my control? Am I still whole? Am I still lovable? Does the Creator of the universe still love me? I go through these questions and if I still can’t kick the anxiety, that’s when I reach out to people who can help me process. I pray to God, talk to Ryan, call my parents, contact one of my friends who hold me accountable, and usually by then, I’ve come through the feelings. I might still be uneasy, but not so low that I need to drink. Accountability and opening up help take the power away from my stress and that’s why this blog is helpful to my recovery.
I just have one obsession left that I don’t have plans on kicking anytime soon: taking pictures of my food. Sorry folks, I’m just going to continue to make a spectacle in every dining room I visit. Can’t stop, won’t stop.
Going back to the original question that inspired this post. If you found yourself wondering what defines an alcoholic or an addict, my opinion is that it’s wrapped up in the obsession. The only person who can confirm an obsession is the addict themselves. It’s hard to admit obsession, but admitting is the first step in recovery:
We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable. We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.