A Brush with Alcoholism

Alcoholism | ˈalkəhôˌlizəm |

– noun

an addiction to the consumption of alcoholic liquor or the mental illness and compulsive behavior resulting from alcohol dependency.

The idea of drink away the pain is stupid. Yet, some of us do it, polling indicates roughly 10% admit to it. The idea is prevalent, so much so that it was a hip-hop hook (hip-hop heads know the track):

I think the whole world’s going insane

I fill my brain with the Henny and drink away the pain

I think the whole worlds lost its brain

I sip away on the liquor and drink away the pain

A favorite artist of mine showcased his pain and his choice to drink with lyrical precision (a small sample):

The reason that I want to be alone

Tired of all the things that went wrong

That would have went right if I would have did it on my own

Take another swig

The more I drink, the more I think bad thoughts

Fake friends who hung around who want to bring you down

Not knowing who to trust, …

Or what to believe, that’s why I’m on the low lately

Choosing a Henny bottle over a friend, driving again…

There’s love through it all, things to live for

I swerve, almost crash into a wall

Think about the good, find myself laughing…

Reminded of the positive, I take my drunk ass home…

I’mma ride to the end of the road if I have to

Praying no car speeds by for me to crash to

Steering wheel in my hand

Trying to hold it steady

Anything in my way is dead

Cause that’s the way I feel I am already

When I’m drunk by myself, alone in the zone

Drunk by myself

My grandmother’s life ended a couple of years ago. I mourned her. I did not go through the typical stages of grief; I started at acceptance. She lived well into her 80’s. I will die a happy man if I live to see 80 years old. I mourned because I loved her, she could have been 110 years old, and my feelings of sorrow wouldn’t have changed one bit. I started at acceptance because her death was inevitable, so is mine, and so is yours, everyone will experience death one day. The time and place, well, that’s another story. She lived a long life, and I had already begun mentally noting that her time was near, I was hoping, as we all do concerning our loved ones, that she would live as long as possible. To you, the reader, I wish you a long and prosperous life. And let me be clear, I want to live a long and vigorous life. To my point. I accepted her death, and I understood that she was physically gone and that she had a good run of it. I was not and continue not to feel ok, or, alright about her loss.

When I learned of her death, I was underway at sea on deployment in the Middle East. I flew home to attend the services. I obtained closure and spent time with family and friends that I had not seen in years. The funeral was like a family reunion, and while we mourned, we also celebrated her life and each other. Overall, everything went as well as one could expect. I flew back to the ship feeling ok, but I wasn’t. This is where I believe my brush with alcoholism started.

I’ve always been a casual drinker at home and during port visits. Furthermore, I’ll admit that I’ve binged on occasion, but it was in the company of friends. For the remainder of this deployment, I was ok with hanging out with friends, but I preferred to hang in my hotel room with a bottle. If we couldn’t agree on what to do, “Hey, y’all go ahead, I’m in the room.”

I returned from deployment and received the worst news. My detailer wanted to move me to fill one of three “hot fill billets.” I chose the best option for my family and me. I did not want to relocate my daughter, a high school junior to another location for her senior year. My wife was in the middle of her degree program; I didn’t want to interrupt her progress either. Lastly, two of the billets were in San Diego; I did not want to go out West. The choice was Bahrain. I would transfer within six months of returning from deployment, and of course, the news of deploying again didn’t go over well with my wife. As far as I’m concerned, the events going on in my life at the time are not an excuse, I chose to have a drink or two after work on a regular basis. It was just that, a drink or two to knock the edge off, you know, to relax. Then a drink or two became, a drink or four, then a drink or half the bottle. My performance at work was never impacted, but in retrospect, I was continuing steps toward developing the habit that had begun at sea, only now I had greater access to alcohol.

Bahrain. The new duty was great. My belief, in general, is everything is what you make it. Nevertheless, I landed at a command where I would be challenged, provided opportunities to lead, have an influence on decisions made by the Commanding Officer, and make positive changes to policy. All of which I took full advantage of. Overall it was an excellent place to work, and I made some friends for life. The problem, going home to an empty apartment.

I read fiction, I read non-fiction, began drafting a novel, watched television and movies, hung with friends, hosted parties, spent too much money, and everything else you can imagine to occupy my time. But, even with all that, there was still plenty of time alone. I missed my family. I missed my grandmother. I would lose my step-grandfather (he stopped taking care of himself after his companion, which was my grandmother, passed) and an aunt during my time in Bahrain. While their deaths did not affect me the in the same way as the passing of my grandmother, I mourned them. I was bored at times; I didn’t go out every weekend, and I was trying to save a little money. Being in that empty apartment made me wonder how single people do it. I assume it had just been too long since I lived alone. I started out casually drinking on some weekends with friends, then I began to drink during the week sometimes with friends and often alone. Again, my performance at work was never impacted. I would half-heartedly joke with friends, “Hey, I think I’m turning into an alcoholic, I need help. I can’t go out this weekend.” They laughed, “Oh we going out, you there fam,” and I would laugh it off. I casually told the Drug and Alcohol Prevention Advisor (DAPA) I had a problem. This DAPA just happened to be a friend, laughed in my face, “Stop clowning. You the man LT. Now let’s talk about that watchbill you’re in-charge of SWO…” He too thought I was joking. I began to wonder if I was trying to reach out for help but scared to admit it outright to them and myself.

My family life never suffered beyond that of separation, which had nothing to do with alcohol, and we stayed in contact. In addition to going home for funerals, I took two 21-day periods of vacation with my family. I remained the responsible individual. There is a difference between alcohol abuse and alcoholism, and I never came close to the abusive use of the substance. My wife showed concern when she felt I drank too often but trusted my ability to maintain control and gave me space. She attributed my alcohol consumption to mourning, but she kept a close eye on me and often engaged while tolerating my rebuffs. She was right on both accounts, I would maintain control, and I was mourning. I do want to emphasize that my family and friends didn’t know. At best my wife suspected. The facts are, I did not display signs of having a problem, and I do believe had I entered the realm of alcoholism my family and friends would have been there for me.

I recognized that I was developing a problem when I finished a 1.75L bottle of Ciroc Vodka in two days of a three-day weekend by myself. During that third day, I conducted a self-analysis as to why I was drinking at that frequency and amount. During my introspection, I kept coming back to my grandmother’s death and the gnawing distress about her loss and how I hadn’t spent enough time with her during the last years before she died. The overall situation concerning the separation from my family and the additional loss of loved ones also played a role. However, I concluded that I was making excuses. Here I am, Mr. No Excuses, trying to justify my stupidity. I often joke with people when I perceive them making excuses; mid-conversation, I’ll interrupt, “Do you smell that? (Sniff, sniff)”

“Do you smell that?”

“Smell what?”

“Excuses…”

I knew drinking would not solve any of the issues that I identified as reasons influencing my choice to drink. The truth was life was good for me, except for living roughly 7,000 miles away from my family, I had nothing to complain about. I admitted to myself that I was developing an urge to consume that had nothing to do with anything going on in my life and everything to do with what was going on with my body as a result of my choices.  I decided that day that I would not succumb to alcoholism. I wouldn’t joke about it, and that I would drink casually or not at all. No excuses.

I used to be extremely judgmental and unsympathetic to addicts. I wondered why someone would allow themselves to become a drug addict or alcoholic when there are numerous examples to learn from and reasons to avoid the abuse of drugs and alcohol. I recall the president stating that he lost a brother to alcohol abuse and that is the reason he doesn’t partake. I lost my mother to drug addiction, and that is the main reason I don’t use drugs and only take over-the-counter or prescription pills as a last resort. True story: I had my wisdom teeth removed while under general anesthesia. I awoke at home feeling good under the guise of Vicodin. I didn’t appreciate the medication’s effectiveness and decided I wasn’t going to take the next dosage. My wife, who was with me throughout the surgery and provided the initial oversight post-op, laughed, “ok, we’ll see how long that lasts.” It didn’t last long, but I hope you get the gist — LAST RESORT. With alcohol, I’ve been able to maintain control over my consumption. I engage in and support responsible alcohol consumption. However, for a brief period, I was headed in the wrong direction. I was able to stabilize and navigate back to the right course. I now realize how slippery that slope is first hand. Casual use can become compulsive use rather quickly.

If you suspect a friend or family member is slipping toward unhealthy habits, consider taking a moment to engage. Should they turn down your help, stick with them and try again later if needed. If you are reading this and are going through a similar situation or have already crossed the line, reach out to a loved one or a friend. Don’t allow compulsion to evolve into abuse. Get help now; there are caring people available to help. I would eventually share the full extent of my alcohol excesses with my wife. In part, because she is my wife, and in part, because she engaged me without being judgmental. I’m sharing now to be an example to learn from. Harking back to why I was uncaring towards addicts, I believe in personal responsibility. While I’m compassionate about the topic and can empathize with the situation, relying on yourself is the best place to start. If I can catch myself through self-reflection, you can too. Responsible alcohol use is the goal; if you are beyond the point of self-help, and don’t have anyone with whom you feel comfortable getting help from, there are societal support systems available, use them.

Alcoholism Support Resources:

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

SAMHSA’s National Helpline – 1-800-662-HELP (4357)

https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline

SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357), (also known as the Treatment Referral Routing Service) or TTY: 1-800-487-4889 is a confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year, information service, in English and Spanish, for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders. This service provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations. Callers can also order free publications and other information.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)

https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/treatment/treatment.htm

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) is one of the 27 institutes and centers that comprise the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NIAAA supports and researches the impact of alcohol use on human health and well-being. It is the largest funder of alcohol research in the world.

NIAAA leads the national effort to reduce alcohol-related problems by:

Conducting and supporting alcohol-related research in a wide range of scientific areas including genetics, neuroscience, epidemiology, prevention, and treatment.
Coordinating and collaborating with other research institutes and federal programs on alcohol-related issues.
Collaborating with international, national, state, and local institutions, organizations, agencies, and programs engaged in alcohol-related work.
Translating and disseminating research findings to health care providers, researchers, policymakers, and the public.

Through both research within NIAAA, and by funding grants at institutions worldwide, NIAAA aims to:

Better understand the health risks and benefits of consuming alcohol, as well as why it can cause addiction.
Reveal the biological and socio-cultural origins of why people respond to alcohol differently.
Remove the stigma associated with alcohol problems.
Develop effective prevention and treatment strategies that address the physical, behavioral, and social risks that result from both excessive drinking and underage alcohol consumption.

Alcoholics Anonymous

https://www.aa.org/

Alcoholics Anonymous is an international fellowship of men and women who have had a drinking problem. It is nonprofessional, self-supporting, multiracial, apolitical, and available almost everywhere. There are no age or education requirements. Membership is open to anyone who wants to do something about his or her drinking problem.

 

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