The great fantasy of every drug addict and alcoholic in the world is that they can learn to control and enjoy their intake.
Every alcoholic goes through this mental game.
What they want is the best of both worlds:
They want to drink like a “normal” person and not experience negative consequences as a result of their behavior, and yet at the same time, they want to over indulge and totally lose control and achieve total and complete oblivion when they drink. They want to get wasted without experiencing the negative side effects of doing so.
The perfect balance.
And the reason that this fantasy is so pervasive is because we have all achieved it, if however briefly.
This is why denial is so difficult. This is why alcoholism can be so tough to overcome.
Because at one point, every alcoholic and every drug addict can remember when it was perfect.
They got drunk or they got high and nothing bad happened. They remained in control of themselves but they also got high enough that it was still a lot of fun.
And this memory persists. This specific memory is why they are addicted. Because they know that it is possible, to achieve that perfect balance where they stay in control and yet have a lot of fun.
The trick, of course, is that your addiction is progressive. It gets worse over time, just like any other progressive disease gets worse. So that memory that you have when things were perfect and you got really drunk but you stayed in control and nothing bad happened…..those days are gone forever. That fantasy is no longer an option. You achieved it once, and it was real, and it actually did happen. And it will pretty much never happen again.
OK, let me be straight with you. Actually, I lied. It is possible to achieve that perfect balance again, but there is a huge catch.
Here is the catch.
What you would have to do is first sober up for a number of weeks, possibly even months. Total and complete abstinence. Of course you will be miserable during this time because you are planning to drink again at some point.
Then after a few months of misery you indulge. You drink again, and you take it a bit easy. So for a day or two you strike that perfect balance. You have a few casual drinks, your tolerance is way down, and so you feel pleasantly buzzed yet stay in total control. And it is wonderful for a very brief period of time.
Suddenly you are miserable again. The solution, of course, is to drink a bit more. You can see where this is going. Full blown addiction, chasing that perfect high that you can never seem to fully reach.
And how quickly this happens! You got that perfect balance for a day or two at the most!
Before I became clean and sober I experimented with this once. I took a few weeks off once and then went back at it. I was happy for a matter of two or three hours and then I could feel my tolerance shifting. In just three hours my body adjusted and started demanding more alcohol in order to make me happy. I was astounded. And a sad little part of my brain said to itself: “Really, the good times are over in just a few hours? I am already back to craving more and more with this thing that can never be fully satisfied?”
And so that is the real truth of how your tolerance and addiction works. Once you are an addict or an alcoholic, your body chemistry has changed forever. Your tolerance has cheated you out of all of the fun, forever. You can “reset” your tolerance by grinding out a few weeks of abstinence, but then once you start back on your drug of choice, your body will quickly revert back to your old level of consumption.
Don’t believe me? Go to an AA meeting and ask the group what happens when you relapse and specifically how quickly you get back to your old level of consumption. Most of them will tell you “within a week or even a few days” you will be right back where you left off. Seriously. So if you quit drinking ten years ago and you were consuming a half gallon of vodka every day, then after a relapse you will be right back to drinking half gallons within a week or less. Do you really think that will be fun, if you have to consume that much liquor every day within the span of just one week into the relapse? Think about how unhappy the alcoholic must be in order to revert back to that level so quickly.
You relapse, you start out with a few casual drinks, and within a week’s time you are back to drinking a half gallon each day. Ridiculous. That is total and complete misery. Ask yourself this: If you weren’t miserable during that week, how in the world would you get back up to a half gallon of vodka?
Now you might be saying “but I didn’t drink half gallons of liquor! I was only drinking X amount of beers per day, or a few glasses of wine,” or whatever.
It doesn’t matter.
It does not matter one bit. How much you drank or how much you consumed is completely irrelevant when it comes to relapse. The point is this: You were miserable when you first quit, and if you relapse, you will revert right back to that exact same state of misery. And because the disease is progressive it gets slightly worse as well.
This idea I am talking about is universal. The progressive nature of addiction is not up for debate. It is real. I just want for you to realize it so that you don’t get caught up in the idea that you might be able to drink like a “normal person” again some day.
Being sober for long periods of time does not turn you into a non-alcoholic. That, too, is fantasy.
You know what is really scary about people who have decades of sobriety and then they suddenly relapse? Most of them don’t come back to AA and tell their story, because it kills many of them. Then the people who remain have to tell their story, and use it as a warning, and try to learn from it. Complacency kills, and relapse can be deadly. Not every time, of course. But many times it is fatal.
What it means to fully surrender and break through all of your denial
For the real alcoholic, controlled drinking is a fantasy.
Surrender is a tough nut to crack, because it is so depressing to think that you will never, ever, ever take another drink of alcohol.
That was crushing to me at first. Today after 13 years of sobriety I never even give it a second thought any more. I am no longer “missing out” on anything by not drinking. But that took some time, that took some years in fact, before I really felt that way.
In the beginning and before I surrendered the thought of swearing off alcohol and drugs forever was truly terrifying. The bottom line was fear. I was afraid. I was afraid to face life sober. That was what kept me drunk for a long time.
My denial told me that I would be even more unhappy if I were sober than I was in my addiction.
I admitted that I had a big problem. I knew that I was alcoholic.
And I admitted that I was miserable too. I knew that much of my misery was caused by my addiction as well.
So where was my denial coming from? What was the problem? What was the hold up?
The problem was that I was in denial of the solution. Fear kept me out of AA and out of rehab. I was afraid to face my own shadow, to get honest with myself, to ask for help and allow myself to become vulnerable.
I was afraid to put my trust in others, to let me tell me how to live.
And the misery of my addiction continued. Things got worse and worse. I was drowning in a sea of misery, bordering on becoming suicidal. I was sick of life, sick of addiction. I was trapped between my fear and my misery.
Because of my addiction I was completely miserable. Because of my fear I was too paralyzed to do anything about my addiction. This was how my denial trapped me. Because I had convinced myself that I would be even more miserable if I were sober.
This was wrong, of course, but I couldn’t know that at the time. Because I had gone to rehab twice already and failed, and I knew what it was like to be sober for a few weeks. And of course it was not fun. Because I wasn’t really “in recovery” after being in rehab for 28 days. That did nothing. The real benefits don’t kick in until you have a few months under your belt and you are truly doing the work, taking positive action, and so on. It takes a bit of time to get your life back on track in sobriety. Less than a year, but it takes more than 28 days in my opinion. And much of that work has to happen once you leave the safety of rehab.
And so my denial kept me stuck in fear, because I had not yet given myself a chance to work past the misery.
Finally after 2 failed trips to rehab I became miserable enough that I was willing to face my fears. This time was different. This time I was truly defeated and I was completely sick and tired of my life. I was almost ready to throw in the towel on my life altogether, I was just so sick of being miserable. And I was tired of being afraid. I was tired of living in fear. It’s exhausting.
So I asked for help and went to rehab. It was different this time because I let go of everything. I was able to let go because I no longer cared. I cared so little for my own life that I was willing to face my fear head on. To go to rehab and to actually listen. To throw my hands up and do whatever I was told to do. I had become willing.
If there is a formula for HOW to reach this point, then it has to do with self honesty. You have to work through your denial. You have to admit to yourself how miserable you are. You have to admit to yourself that you are afraid of sobriety, afraid of rehab, afraid of AA, afraid of the changes, or whatever your fear is. Acknowledge the fear and realize that you would rather face that than to keep living in misery. That was how my own denial finally unraveled. I became willing to face my fear once I fully acknowledged how miserable I was.
And I had to be honest with myself. I realized internally (did not tell anyone this at the time) that I would never be truly happy if I continued to drink and use drugs. I finally saw how my tolerance had cheated me. How I could possibly get that “balanced buzz” in the future but only after being abstinent and miserable for a while and that it would be very short lived. Then it would be right back to the misery. I finally saw the truth of that. I glimpsed the future. And I decided to face my fears instead. Roll the dice on rehab, on AA, on changing everything.
Have you experimented in trying to control your drug or alcohol intake? Almost certainly you have
Be honest with yourself:
Have you ever tried to control your drinking?
Denial is powerful stuff. I can control my drinking. Every alcoholic can control it. That’s not the problem (at least in the short term).
If you ask an alcoholic to control their drinking for the next 24 hours and you put up a very powerful incentive (in-laws are in town, million dollar prize money, etc.) then they can pull it off. Seriously, they can do it. The alcoholic can, and will, control their drinking just fine…..in the short run.
But here’s the thing:
1) They can only do it in the short run, and
2) They will be miserable while they do it.
This is what alcoholism is. It’s not that you cannot control your drinking, because I believe that every alcoholic actually CAN. But they can only do it in the short run, and they will be completely miserable while they are doing it.
So what you need to do is to get honest with yourself about this.
Think back to the times when you were challenged with a need to control your alcohol intake. Maybe you were at a family wedding. Maybe you had relatives visiting. And so maybe you were able to slow down and drink like a normal person for a short while.
But then ask yourself: Did you enjoy it? Or were you constantly thinking about how nice it would be to get totally smashed?
This is the dilemma of every alcoholic. They can either enjoy their drinking, or they can control their drinking. But not both.
And the reason that their denial is so powerful is that they have memories of times in their past when they were able to do both at the same time. And those memories are real. Because they were not always an alcoholic. The evolved into one. So at one point they had great times while still being in control. But again, that is gone forever. Tolerance has cheated them. The disease is progressive.
Every alcoholic has probably tried to control their drinking at one point or another. And most can do it for a short while. It’s just not any fun. Moderation is awful.
Moderation and two glasses of wine per month?
I once investigated someone who attempts to teach moderation to alcoholics.
The person who does this claims to be an alcoholic themselves who has learned how to moderate their drinking. And their current level of consumption is….get this…..2 glasses of wine per month.
Really? You are an alcoholic and you decide that you are going to learn how to control your drinking, and you limit yourself to two glasses of wine each month?
That is absolutely insane. My brain does not even know how to process this information. I can’t even comprehend what it means.
I am a real alcoholic of course. Perhaps that is my problem here? I am just trying to imagine what that would be like, drinking 2 glasses of wine each month.
I would have to, at the very least, mark off two days on the calendar each month, maybe the first and the fifteenth or something, and drink one glass on each of those days.
But then what is the point? What would that really add to your life? Would you just be doing it on that schedule to say that you conquered your alcoholism? Because at that point, you haven’t really conquered anything. In fact, the alcohol is still very much in control of you, in that you are following this ridiculous schedule. And even if you don’t schedule when the two drinks are each month, you are still limiting yourself to this strict allowance. It’s just too weird for me to comprehend.
I guess that makes me a hopeless alcoholic.
I would like to think that after 13 years of total and complete abstinence from all mood and mind altering substances (including alcohol) that I have conquered alcohol more thoroughly than somehow who “moderates.”
I suppose they might argue that I am still controlled by alcohol because I avoid drinking it completely, but I don’t think I mind that argument too much. The freedom that sobriety has purchased for me is so incredibly vast and powerful. Having two drinks each month is just…..awkward.
Why would an alcoholic want to moderate?
Would you really even want to moderate if you could? What is the fun in that?
I never drank for the taste. I never drank to be social. I drank because I liked the effect that it had on me. Period.
From my very first drink, I was hooked. I wanted the buzz, and nothing else. I did not care about social norms. I just wanted to be high, wasted, transformed.
The idea of moderation sounds nice at first, but it’s a fantasy.
If I am really honest with myself, what I truly would want is not moderation. What I really want is to be able to get totally smashed without any of the negative consequences. That is what the real fantasy is.
Don’t kid yourself into thinking that 2 glasses of wine each month would actually be…..enjoyable? I don’t buy that.
A real alcoholic would not enjoy 2 glasses of wine per month.
Sure, you could increase it a bit. But to what level? And where do you cross that imaginary line when things start getting crazy? That line where, as it says in the big book of AA, “the man takes a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes the man.” After you dump a certain amount of chemicals into your body, the chemicals take over and your moderation efforts are out the window.
For an alcoholic, that point will forever be a fine line.
How to love your life and have fun without any alcohol or drugs in it at all
So what is the alternative to all of this moderation fantasy?
There are two alternatives, actually. One is to give up and just be addicted and miserable. Surrender to the darkness.
The other alternative is to surrender to recovery. Surrender to the light. Ask for help, go to rehab, get professional help.
The truth is that you WILL be happy again one day if you surrender to recovery. If you surrender to a new solution. If you ask for help, follow through, and do the work.
You may believe that you will never be happy again. But that is a lie. That is denial at work.
You can be happy and content again in life if you are willing to face your fears.
What about you, are you willing to face your fears and recover? Or are you still working through part of your denial? Do you still entertain the fantasy that you might drink like a normal person one day? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!