This is part three in an ongoing series.
A few weeks ago I posted a video on YouTube called ‘Alcoholism is a Choice’. I lost a few subscribers to my channel that day, and I can only speculate that this was because of my bold claim. The idea that alcoholism is a choice is not such a popular one these days. Some might even say that it is victim blaming – that it harks back to the nineteenth century when drunks were viewed as moral reprobates, and therefore deserving of anything bad that happened to them. That is not what I’m claiming at all, but I still view alcoholism as a choice.
Becoming a Drunk Might Not Be a Choice
There does seem to be good evidence that genetics play a part in addiction. Some of us may have come preloaded with certain quirks in our brain that make us prone to this type of behavior. There is also no doubt that people can have shitty childhoods and this pushes them into alcohol and drug use. I’m not disputing any of this. I never made a conscious decision to become a rock bottom drunk, and I doubt many other people did either. I might even be able to put a pretty good case together to prove that falling into alcoholism was not my decision at all. What I wouldn’t be able to do is provide justification for why I stayed that way for years. The evidence that drinking was ripping my life apart was undeniable yet I continued with the behavior. It is for this reason that I say that alcoholism is a choice.
Free Pass to be a Drunk
By the time I‘d hit nineteen years of age it was obvious to everyone who knew me that alcohol was causing me problems. The final straw came when my then girlfriend kicked me out, and I had to get my dad to save me from destitution. I’d been living in Scotland and he had to arrange my passage back to Ireland because I’d spent the last of my money drowning my sorrows. My family convinced me to go to a doctor who then referred me on to an addiction specialist. This expert told me that I had a disease called alcoholism.I wasn’t sure that I believed him at first, but I sure wanted to. It would almost give me a free pass to be a drunk – of course I’m drunk, I’m an alcoholic.
I remember one afternoon shortly after this sitting in a bar with some friends. They had all said that I was a ‘madman on the drink’, but I’d taken this as a compliment. I mentioned my diagnosis in a jokey fashion, but they didn’t react the way I expected them to. They couldn’t understand why I was still drinking with them if I’d just been told that I was an alcoholic. Duh – for me the answer was so obvious – it was because of my alcoholism that I was drinking with them.
The Proud Alcoholic
I learnt to fully embrace my new status as an alcoholic. When I thought about it more it just made so much sense to me. It meant that I could hold onto the idea that deep down I was a really nice guy but I’d fallen victim to some horrible disease. None of this was my fault – I was the victim here. I joined Alcoholics Anonymous and found that there was no shame in this diagnosis, I even suspected that being an alcoholic meant that I was a special kind of person – one of the chosen few. I loved the idea of angels with dirty faces. After all, so many of my heroes were drunks. Perhaps this rotten disease only affected those of us who were naturally sensitive and creative?
I don’t know if alcoholism is a disease, but I do know that thinking that way didn’t help me at all. I used it as an excuse for the inexcusable. It made me weak. I also picked up on the other excuses that could be used to justify my often appalling behavior. I said things like, “of course I’ve relapsed – relapse is a normal part of the recovery process”. In order for me to fully escape from my condition I had to completely give up on the idea that I was an alcoholic. I’m not saying here that other people should do the same, but I would strongly advise that they stop using it as an excuse.
Taking the Power Back
I gave up alcohol forever by realizing that this was a viable option. I accepted responsibility for my future happiness (and future pain), and I stopped seeing myself as being at the mercy of an uncaring universe. In Alcoholics Anonymous they believe that, ‘a Power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity’. I tend to agree with this but believe that this power also exists inside of each one of us. Our drunken selves numb this power so that it is only a dim light. It doesn’t take much to get this power pumping again though, and all we have to do is to allow that to happen. We do this by becoming completely willing to do whatever it takes to stay sober and by no longer accepting any excuses for failure. It means realizing that not only can we create a great life for ourselves, but that this is also something that we truly deserve. We take back the power and by doing so we take control of our lives.
I remember what it was like to have a drink in my hand and tears rolling down my face – feeling like some mysterious force was making me do something that I really didn’t want to do. I had all the excuses but my self-pity didn’t help me one bit. I was the problem, and only I could find the solution. The secret to ending my addiction was so simple that I missed it for years. All I had to do was say ‘enough’ and really mean it and then develop he humility and willingness to do whatever was necessary to move on with my life. I had to become 100% convinced that my full recovery was possible. I developed that faith and that is what allowed me to succeed. The only time that we can stop drinking is now. There is no value in waiting to hit some magical rock bottom because we might not survive the impact.
How to Quit Being a Drunk Series
Part one – Welcome to the Series
Part two – The Payoff
Part Three -Alcoholism is a choice
Part Four – Rock Bottom Myth
Part Five- The Problem with Ambivalence
Part Six- Getting Motivated
Part Seven – From Arrogance to Willingness