Do You Qualify as a Hopeless Alcoholic ?

During the final days of my obsession with alcohol, it would have been a relief to know for certain I was a hopeless case – that my fate was out of my hands. This realization wouldn’t have been so bad. I would have been like the person who has been diagnosed as terminally ill and come true the denial to accept the reality of the situation. This comparison isn’t so far-fetched because I probably didn’t have long to live if I’d carried on drinking. You see, I could accept the misery of end-stage alcoholism – the real torture was the troublesome idea that my life could be better.

Drunk and Homeless, Guildford

How Low Can You Go

I entered my first treatment center in 1988, and I was still failing at sobriety in 2006. I doubt even Steve Jobs had enough tenacity to put up with this level of repeated failure. I remember reading somewhere that the average alcoholic dies within 15 years unless they are able to stop – so I suppose I was doing well to still be alive. I must admit, it didn’t feel like much of an achievement at the time.

I used to hear experts talking about the ‘downward spiral of addiction’, but it didn’t accurately describe my situation. It wasn’t so much that my life was steadily getting worse – it was more like my behavior led me into different arenas of suffering. My lowest point would have been at age 25 when I had an alcohol-induced mental breakdown and ended up living on the streets. I drank for another 8 years after this and never again experienced that level of dysfunction.

I knew after that first time in a treatment center that there was always going to be a price to pay for my drinking. I didn’t mind giving up on the chance of living a ‘normal life’ – I could fool myself into believing that a life without alcohol would be a living death. The idea of dying young didn’t bother me either – in fact, there were hundreds of mornings when I woke up upset because I was still alive. I could survive most of the lows of addiction, but it was the knowledge that things could be so much better made it unbearable.

The Hopeless Drunk

During my years of struggling with alcohol, I did have periods of staying sober – I once managed two years. These periods of sobriety were mostly wonderful, but I always felt like an imposter. When I entered my first rehab, they told me the best I could ever hope for was to become a ‘recovering alcoholic’ – my new life was always going to be conditional, and I’d heard lots of horror stories in AA about old-timers who missed a couple of meetings and ended up back drinking. I couldn’t relax in recovery because I believed it was only a temporary reprieve.

At the end of my drink, I’d almost fully accepted the idea that I was a ‘hopeless case’. I’d first heard this description years before at an AA. I met this old Donegal woman (at least she looked old) who was returning to the meetings after her latest relapse. She told me that she was a hopeless case, and from our short conversation, she suspected I was a hopeless case too. I was just young guy, so I easily dismissed her comment as the ravings of a crazy lady – later on, it felt like her prediction had cursed me.

The term ‘hopeless case’ is used to refer to those people who seem unable to ‘get on the program’ – usually the Alcoholics Anonymous program. In the AA Big Book there is a description of this poor unfortunate hopeless case:

“Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates. They are not at fault; they seem to have been born that way. They are naturally incapable of grasping and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty.”

I couldn’t give myself completely to the AA program, or to any recovery program, so it seemed obvious that I was one of these hopeless cases. My periods of sobriety gave me a real hunger for this life, but I also knew that it wasn’t possible. It was this combination of desperation and hopelessness that made the final months of addiction so horrible.

No Such Thing as a Hopeless Case

I no longer believe in hopeless cases. I began my new sober life at a temple here in Thailand called Thamkrabok. On my first day at this facility, a monk told me his simple theory of addiction. It didn’t involve words like ‘disease’, ‘daily reprieve’, or ‘recovering alcoholic’. He suggested that I’d somehow lost my way in life, and I’d been using alcohol as a tool to cope with this discomfort. The monk promised if I stayed sober, I would be able to get on track, and the need to drink alcohol would disappear. This theory sounds naively simplistic, but it made complete sense to me, and it has proved to be correct.

I’m not suggesting that all the hopeless cases should come to Thailand and follow in my footsteps. My point is there is no such thing as a hopeless case – if you are capable of hoping, you are going to be able to find a solution. It doesn’t matter how long you have been struggling, and how many times you have failed, there is always the possibility of a better life.

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14 thoughts on “Do You Qualify as a Hopeless Alcoholic ?

  1. What a terrific post in which you have such a fantastic message to give Paul.

    I was continually upset with myself knowing that life could be so much better, that it had so much more to offer me and that I had to offer to life but I chose to mire in the dark recesses of substance abuse and as you referred to in a former post; I busied myself with chasing altered states.

    There are any number of methods one can use to find and maintain sobriety but I believe that it begins with the hope you have described which leads to a decision by the afflicted to take action. The decision may have to be arrived many times but the hope has to be ever present.

    This was an excellent read Paul. Thank you.
    Glenn recently posted..3 Key Ideas in My Sober Life

    1. Hi Glen, I like what you say about hope. It’s strange, I felt so hopeless in the end, yet it was hope that saved me.

      BTW – I’ve visited your website, and it’s great stuff. I plan to be visiting more often.

  2. I really enjoyed reading your article. I’m 27 years old and first realized I had a problem last year after crashing my motorcycle intoxicated. Since then I’ve found myself oscillating between periods of abstinence and periods of intense drinking over a span of a few days.

    I’m particularly interested in your experience at the temples in Thailand. I currently live in the country and it might help me to visit the same one you went to. Also I’m wondering if you meant to write “discomfort” rather than “comfort”. Did the monk mean to say you drink to cope with the discomfort of losing focus on your life?

    Thanks

    1. Hi เนล, yes I did mean to write “discomfort” rather than “comfort” – I’ll change that. Thamkrabok was where I needed to go to quit alcohol. If you are doing stuff you don’t want to do while intoxicated, and you don’t seem able to stop, it does sound as if you need some help.

  3. I’ve lived in Japan 15 years now. After getting divorced in May 2015 my alcoholism has spiraled out of control. It hurts really bad now watching my daughter grow up from a distance.
    Alcohol is the only thing that calms me down at the end of the day. I desperately want to be rid of it but I feel bored not in the sense of monotony. My mind creatively speaking is used to alcohol as the counterpart. Processing images of my daughter growing up with me
    and now gone necessitate drink or I can’t see them. Alcohol is like food for me.
    going without it is like fasting.

    What I want to say is why? and How? do you get out of this situation.

    I feel hopeless now.

  4. alcohol is destroying my life day end day out yet, I feel powerless over its control in my life.
    if I don’t drink after work its like not eating dinner. almost more powerful. I would rather drink than eat dinner if I had the choice. Alcohol is food for me and I spend 2 times the amount of money on alcohol than food.

  5. and yeah I have been to numerous Vipassana retreats, lived in India for a year at ashrams
    still doing yoga and meditation reading sacred texts chanting Gayatri mantra, hiking
    every weekend, teaching as a career and still…hopeless alcoholic.

    nothing works for me.

    1. Hi Chris, I felt completely hopeless by the end of my drinking, but it was what made it finally possible for me to break free. There had been a war going on in my mind for years and years until I finally realised it was a war I could never win. So, instead of trying to think my way out of alcoholism, I began to look to see what exactly was keeping me trapped – I found mindfulness very useful for this because I could see that it was just thoughts keeping me trapped. Like you, I had been doing lots of meditation retreats and it didn’t seem to offer a permanent solution – it took me a long time to realize that this was because I was trying to escape my mess rather than trying to understand my mess. If you want to talk more about your situation, you can contact me on info@paulgarrigan.com

  6. Hi,

    My darling girl, fashion model, kind (when sober) was “constitutionally incapable of being honest”. She feared nothing, drunk or sober. She died when her oesophagus ruptured due to being worn out from +10 years of vomiting every other day. She certainly was a “hopeless case”. I think God took her from me since there was no other thing that could be done..

  7. Im afraid of everything right now.. I have been drinking for so long.. I crashed my car..Fell asleep.. got a dui.. Cant go more than three days without drinking.. Always say Im gonna have a few beers and end up blacking out or waking up in some odd place around the house other than my bed.. I think Id be better of dead..

    1. Hi Dan, the thought that ‘I would be better off dead’ regularly popped into my head during my years of drinking. I was right in a way because that part of me that was addicted to suffering needed to die. It can be really hard to quit drinking without appropriate support so I would urge you to find the support you need. It sounds like you are desperate enough to completely let go of your old life and that is good news.

  8. Hi Paul. I’m just 3 days without a drink. Still a little shaky and worried that I may drink agAin, but I don’t think so. I drank for about 9 days. I am totally worthless when I drink and no good to anyone. I was walking around the house doing weird things, using the bathroom on myself all the time. People think I’m insane. I’m sure it’s true.

    1. Hi Eddie, three days is great, and you will never regret staying away from the alcohol. One of the worst things about the booze is that it makes us feel worthless. This is how it keeps us trapped. There is no way we would remain trapped in addiction if we didn’t hate ourselves a bit. You are not worthless, and the fact that you are trying to quit alcohol is proof you are not insane. Eddie, I sincerly wish you all the best with this. Get plenty of support if you can.

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