Alcoholism is about more than just drinkflickr: carbonnyc

I am writing this because I need to. Seems like an odd thing to say, but I have found that one of the best ways of staying sober is to be of service to others. I had planned something like this for a while but never quite took the plunge; it was Francesca Ebel’s brave, inspiring column last year that pushed me over the edge. I thought if she can be so honest and so open in order to help others then why can’t I? What’s my excuse if even one person can be helped by my experience?

I should back up a little bit. I am an alcoholic in recovery. I am also a Cambridge undergraduate, over two and a half years sober and likely of a similar age to those of you reading this. I mention this because it took me until my third stint in rehab to consider that alcoholism wasn’t just for the older, the tragic and the impressionable. I began to see its scope was broader, encompassing businessmen, movie stars and in my case, young adults.

This is one of the things I want to focus on in my column; perceptions of alcoholism and recovery, but I also hope it will appeal to those interested in or suffering from other addictions. In my experience, alcoholism as an addiction is incredibly similar to any other: it actually has very little to do with alcohol at all.

In getting sober I found there was a huge gulf between how recovering addicts viewed addiction and almost everyone else did. Perhaps we need to see it in a particular way in order to stay sober. Regardless, the way I and pretty much every other recovering addict I know view addiction is that it is a disease, a mental illness. This disease is active years before we have ever picked up our substance of choice. It makes us difficult, obsessive, angry, self-pitying, controlling, insecure, prone to isolation and many other attributes to boot. From a young age we have a very difficult time dealing with life. Many addicts I know say they feel like they were born without the playbook of how life works.

Thus, life tends to be hard until we find our addiction of choice; alcohol, drugs, self-harm, anorexia, bulimia, overeating, work, exercise, shopping, nicotine, caffeine – these are just some of the possible options. They become our medicine, the way we get by in life. And this is fine, it works, until it doesn’t. Some people, I know several, get by with their addictions never reaching breaking point, never reaching the emotional or physical rock bottom that causes a person to come into recovery. But when it does the bottom line is always the same – the addiction isn’t working anymore.

Several times I have been asked why do I continue doing things to stay sober on a day-by-day basis, long after I have stopped drinking? In short, it is because despite putting down the drink I am still an addict; controlling, insecure and all the rest of it. Now though I am without my medicine and so I need to do two things: actively work a recovery program to find and maintain a new way of coping with my disease, and secondly I need to stay away from the first drink. This might seem easy to non-addicts, surely anyone could avoid drink if it meant they couldn’t walk? Or were repeatedly kicked out of home? Or caused their family misery? Well, you would be surprised how manipulative the brain of an addict can be around their substance of choice. When I am around alcohol for too long I forget past woes and instead remember the good times; somehow avoiding jail with my friends after one of them had stolen his mum’s car and was drunk-driving us around London, or sleeping on the streets for the night after a house party in a distant city. These stories might sound horrible to you but to me they are the kind of badass stories that I relished when drinking and a little part of me still does.

Why am I saying this? Well I guess to point out that despite past horrors it is incredibly easy to go back to alcohol. Many do, many remember the good times of their medicine and forget the bad. And that is why it is so important to work a continuous daily program: to first find a new way of dealing with life and living, and second, to remind yourself, to remind myself, of what life used to be like.

So that’s me – that’s column one. I have left a link below if anyone is interested in the organisation that helped me, I should add a caveat – in no way shape or form do I speak or represent this organisation – it is just what helped me. Apart from that I will see you next week, hasta pronto X.

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