I’ve been talking with him for months about whether or not he’s an alcoholic. I point this out to him and ask him to consider that he doesn’t have to be an alcoholic to not drink. He is stuck in the black and white thinking of whether or not he needs to label himself and whether or not he has failed himself. Nobody sets out in life with the goal of being an alcoholic.
It’s terrifying to him to consider that he’s followed the same path that his parents did of being high functioning alcoholics. He wants to be like them in business and especially in becoming an entrepreneur. This gives me an idea. I ask him to allow me to pitch a product to him. He’s excited to change the subject and readily agrees. I tell him that I know of a program that is guaranteed to improve his health, his memory functions, cause him to lose weight, AND save him money. I tell him I have scientific evidence – mountains of it – that completely backs up my claims. He can barely stay in his seat. “How much would the program cost?” I tell him that’s the very best part – that I am planning on giving it away for free. He’s outraged. He tells me I’m a fool – that I could make millions. I keep my poker face and insist that it is free and that not only are the results instantaneous but that the program involves only one step and one decision. He can’t stand it anymore and demands to know what the program is. I hold his gaze and say, “It’s simple. Don’t drink.”
His face falls. He’s disappointed. He thought I really had something marketable there. Turns out I do and the folks who know the most about it (experts in fact) are giving it away too – they are the men and women of Alcoholics Anonymous. Now again I stress – you don’t have to be an alcoholic to not drink. In fact anyone can do it…er, not do it. To mollify my client’s outrage I offer the following challenge:
1. Keep track of the amount of money you spend on alcohol for the next 30 days 2. Keep a running tally of the amount of time you spend in bars and taverns over the next month record each time how much fun you had and how much of the time was boring or unsatisfying. 3. Weigh yourself at the beginning and end of the month. 4. Write down how many drinks you will have before you go out for the evening and then write down how many you actually had. 5. Write out your current goals – occupationally, relationally, financially, and health wise at the start of the month. Record your progress at the end of the month.
He stares down at the floor. “I don’t know if I can do that.” Time to push the envelope. “Why not?” He shifts uncomfortably in his seat. “Well, I find the more I pay attention to my drinking the less I enjoy it.” I ask him to describe to me the last time he had fun drinking. He sits and thinks for a long time – too long. He goes back to arguing that by giving up drinking he will be sacrificing a great deal. I remind him that the program is completely optional and suggest that he write a list of pros and cons. He looks progressively conflicted. I close out the session by again appealing to his business side and ask him to conduct a cost/benefit analysis of alcohol use.
The following week he arrives looking very displeased. He recorded his drinking from the previous weekend and is amazed that his bar tabs totaled $53 in two evenings. I ask him if he also consumed alcohol at home before going out. He stares at me like one of the kids from South Park. “Oh, you mean pre-gaming?” Um, sure. “Well yeah, I had a few drinks before going out. I save money that way.” I suggest that there is a time in a man’s life when he puts aside certain behaviors. He grasps this. I explain to him that I’m not interested in drawing those lines for others but perhaps the line for “pre-gaming” is somewhere south of being a 40 year old man. He goes back to studying my carpet.
The following weeks show progressive discomfort. He reports greater awareness of his hangovers and he notes that he is in fact gaining weight. He makes several attempts to argue with me that he is not an alcoholic even though I haven’t brought it up. I suggest that people who are not alcoholics generally do not seek to start arguments with me about whether or not they are one. I ask him how many types of alcoholism he believes there are? He stares at me as though I am speaking a foreign language. “Multiple the number you’re thinking of by a hundred.” My carpet is fascinating.
I marvel at intellectuals. He arrives for session with a folder full of research. He has determined much to his shock and dismay that binge drinking is unhealthy. This is somehow surprising. I ask him what type of alcohol consumption is healthy? He proudly declares, “Wine!” Cool – red wines in moderation – which he doesn’t drink. He likes Vodka because it’s the type of alcohol that, “tastes the least like alcohol.” I ask if any amount of liquor consumption is safe? He is very displeased to tell me his findings are that some people can drink small amounts of liquor and not derive serious health risks. I ask if he is one of these folks and he shakes his head. I suggest that he make a conscious choice regarding how much further harm he is willing to do to himself. “I really don’t want to think that I’m an alcoholic!” Right. That’s not what I asked – that’s a debate that will keep you stuck. As my friends in AA say, “think, think, think…drink, drink, drink.”