I am not one of those people who think no one should drink. If you enjoy your drinkies, by all means, I want you to have what you want and be happy. But because I’ve been sober for a long time, I often get asked, “Do YOU think I have a problem?” First thing you should know is that one can tell you whether you’re an alcoholic or an addict – this is a question you can only answer for yourself, and you probably already know if you’re really honest with yourself. But my stock answer involves two questions:
1) When you drink (or use), do you typically not stop until you pass out or the liquor store closes? Or have you never TRIED to stop at like three drinks, like me? My rule of thumb was, If you can’t have four drinks, don’t start – you’ll just get a headache. But I was fairly clear on being an alcoholic from the beginning.
2) Is your drinking or using creating problems in your life? It’s not a problem if it’s not a problem. But if your friends and family avoid you when you’re drinking, if you have more than two hangovers a week, or if you stop laying down the memory track the minute you pick up a drink (and sometimes wake up in unfamiliar locations), you may want to look into the situation. Acknowledging you may have a problem does not mean you have to stop this minute, or get sober forever (though I did). But if you try to stop for a while and you can’t, that generally indicates there’s an issue. There’s a lot you can do and I’m here to tell you it’s worth it.
When I first got sober I thought I was just a guy who really, really enjoyed getting drunk and high, and I was good at it, but I got carried away with myself. It was the substances that were the problem, and if I could just reel it in for a while, everything would be fine. But one of the first revolutionary things I heard in AA was that ALCOHOL treats alcoholism. It in itself is not the problem. But when you put aside your substance of choice, and you have to deal with yourself unaltered, and if that’s absolutely NOT OK, that is a problem. Note I am not talking about medications here, if taken as prescribed. But I know I needed to put something in my body just to feel safe, relaxed, or alive, and it wasn’t medication I reached for. I liked a little more juice! But I needed control over my emotions because they had the capacity to ruin me. And I loved having that “control” for a long, long time.
The problem with this routine is that it has a shelf life. For me, it just stopped being fun. Drinking had become compulsory, and my tolerance was enormous–I couldn’t really keep up. My very happy cocktail hours and weekends turned into a single golden hour after work, and then all I could hope for was to dull my senses and slow down my racing mind. It became impossible to actually get drunk, and my excesses were showing–on my face. My first love, tequila, was now giving me broken blood vessels. And I was generally bloated, sweaty and pallid. It became fairly clear that something must be done. It may be very different for you, but it had to become absolutely undeniable that my drinking was killing me before I was willing to take action. If this story is ringing bells with you, it may be something to think about. “Normal drinkers” do not have these problems. But problem drinkers can have different problems as well. This is just what happened for me.