Does it make you feel better to know your misguided behavior and misery while drinking, is caused by a disorder or a syndrome or a disease or a D2 receptor that limits your pleasure like a nun at Catholic boarding school? I think it makes me feel better…
No excuses. Only reasons.
Recently, a friend of mine who is in the early stages of recovery asked me if the regretful things she did while drinking were her “choice”. She was smarting from a scolding she had received by an acquaintance, who told her that her alcoholism is caused by a series of bad choices she should not have made. Hopefully this was not her AA sponsor, right?
My initial reaction to this snippet of ignorance was fury. How dare the uninformed and unimpared cast aspersions (I always get all Emily Bronte when I am angry…)! Then, as is my wont, I started to think about it… The fact is, even my most empathetic friends remain confused (and a bit disgusted – let’s face it) by the ridiculous things I did while I was in my cups. I get communications all the time from sober people who struggle to understand why, with all there is to lose, their alcoholic friend has a hand on the bottle.
Alcoholism may be the only disease that lacks sympathy … No one in their right mind would shake a finger at you and say, “Why did you choose to get that tumor? It is so inconvenient to us – for God’s sake, cancer is a choice.” But, oftentimes cancer is caused by bad choices – smoking being the obvious.
My friend said she stood there with her mouth open and her head hanging, chagrined and unsure of how to explain herself. Shame on the person who made her feel that way, especially because she is several weeks sober and needs this to worry about, like a new set of wineglass-fobs.
I’m going to do what everyone has done when they get blindsided and stand like an idiot in front of a verbal bully with no clever response. I’m going to replay the situation in my mind, and answer the question the way I wish my friend had answered (or how I wish I would have responded if it had been me). Here goes:
“Wow. You have some light reading to do. Alcoholism has been classified by the AMA as a disease – under both the psychiatric and medical sections (see how informed and articulate I am in my mind?). When I was drinking, I felt like an empty tin box filled with razors. Does that make sense to you? I didn’t think it would. I was bone dry and hollow and filled with sharp edges all at the same time. The only temporary relief seemed to come from the bottles of wine in the refrigerator. I wanted them to be cheap, so I could fill myself up and remind myself how worthless I was at the same time. I drank alone. In a dark room. Does that sound like a “choice” you’d like to make, living on the ocean on a beautiful day?
Let me give you an example (now I’m really on a roll). Did I “choose” to get pie-eyed drunk? I guess filling a glass with wine over and over and drinking it is a choice. Did I “choose” to get a bee in my bonnet and “need” to drive to an ex-boyfriend’s house to explain myself afterwards? No one put a gun to my head. Did I “choose” to bang on his locked door, scream like a banshee, stumble on his welcome matt, hit my head on his doorjamb and bleed all over his porch until the police arrived? Probably not.
For me, alcohol is like the full moon to a werewolf.
To someone as ignorant as you, that is probably too metaphorical. You probably do not understand. So let me just say this – you are not helping me. I am trying to get better and make the right “choices” and you are making me feel badly about myself…
It’s funny isn’t it, how some of the most well thought out responses can be effectively upstaged by an F-bomb?