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Understanding Alcoholism

Updated: Jul 17, 2020

This piece is shared by someone near and dear to my heart who has struggled with alcoholism for many years. Their writing highlights how truly cunning, baffling, and powerful the disease is.

I’m what might be known as a chronic relapser. I’ve been in and out of AA for 5 years. Prior to that, I had 5 years of sobriety in my twenties, and 5 years in my late 30s/early 40s. In between, I suffered. And I have for the last fourteen years. Since attending AA daily, the most cumulative time that I have put together is 9 months.

When I quit at age 26, I did so because I saw the writing on the wall. I knew that I couldn’t give it up for just one day, and I had to, so I did. It took me exactly 14 1/2 weeks to stop craving alcohol every day. I was enormously depressed and began to realize that it would be the end of my first marriage.

What happened after that was that I wanted to have a new career. So, I got three jobs and went to school. One of the jobs was in a restaurant, and after some time I let my guard down and had 1 1/2 glasses of wine at a baby shower, and I was drunk. That started the descent back into relapse. I had a hard time getting to work all of a sudden. I gained weight, and I lost any bit of confidence I had.

I drank until I was in trouble. I got arrested in my nursing scrubs at age 36, and that kicked off a rehab stint. It was successful, largely because I also got pregnant just before, so I had a gift to treasure and it made it easier to be sober. After two babies in 2.5 years, I was tired but committed. Those babies were a lot of work.

But so is nursing, and after long 12-hour shifts and putting the babies to bed, I started to sneak one beer. Just one, just once a week.

But it always grows. I started to make decisions that would allow me to drink, like moving to a new area, closer to work. That worked pretty well for years. I had divorce number two. In the midst of that mess, I drank as much as I wanted. Finally, I could. I got really sick. By the time I came into AA in 2016, I could not go more than six hours without a drink. I had to hire someone to babysit me to get me through 3 days of detox until I thought that I would be OK. And then it was AA every day. I had physical pain for a year.

Being a chronic relapser is the most painful thing I have ever lived through. It’s being up, and then being way down. It’s feeling like I’m a constant failure, an embarrassment to myself and my loved ones. It makes us lose our children, spouses,

and sometimes our housing, often our jobs. I always think it’s a new start, and it doesn’t usually last long. The most time that I have had in a year, is 35 days.

I’ve met a lot of people like me in the last year. Here are some things that I know:

  1. It is extraordinarily common. Very few people stop drinking forever on the first attempt.

  2. We’re not bad people trying to get good, we’re sick people trying to be well

  3. People in 12 step programs are happy to love you until you can love yourself

  4. Keep going back…find meetings that feel good to you

  5. If we relapse, we are just trying to have a normal day. A normal day for an alcoholic is drinking

  6. No number of fails will undo us if we continue to pick ourselves up after each one

I also know that I am just as lovable as someone with 20 years or 50 years of cumulative sobriety. We are deserving of good things and we continue to strive for the best we can be, one day at a time. I have detoxed at least 4 times this year, maybe 20 in a lifetime. Sometimes detoxes are physically painful, and sometimes not so much. They are always emotionally painful because we start out with a lot of hope and don’t know if it will still be with us in a week.

If you know someone suffering like this, please be kind. Without hope and kindness, there is nothing to live for.

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Thank you for writing this. I hope you can continue to be sober.

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