Sobriety and alcoholism recovery literature by Bert Pluymen
tel: (512) 415-9111
When I quit drinking eight years ago, my family, friends, and law partners all said: "You don't have a drinking problem. Why are you stopping?" But they didn't wake up in my body on a Saturday, when I'd feel horrible. I once heard that orange juice was good for a hangover, so I'd drink half-a-gallon with aspirin. Then I'd look in the mirror and promise myself that I'd never, ever do that again. And I wouldn't. For about three weeks.
I would also stop drinking completely for a week, a month, even three months. Then I'd think, I don't have a problem with alcohol. I can stop anytime I want. So I'd say, "Give me a beer. Please! . . . In fact, make that two." I had no idea that alcohol addiction was an off-and-on disorder and that half of all addicted people are not drinking in any given month.
When I got sober I had a severe case of the "yets": I had yet to be arrested, yet to lose a job, and no drinking in the morning or shaking hands for me, thank you. But I knew that alcohol was a problem because I was regularly trying to moderate how much I drank. And the desire to drink moderately is known only to guess who? People with drinking problems. Normal men and women drink moderately without giving it a second thought.
And even though my drinking didn't interfere with work, my personal life was in a shambles, which prompted my recovery, as well as the chapter entitled, "Thirty Minutes Of Begging Is Not Foreplay."
Luckily I met many people in sobriety with drinking stories similar to mine. I could see myself in their lives, and perhaps you will, too. Included here are the eloquent voices of women (a marathoner, British flight attendant, basketball star, chemical engineer, and interior designer) as well as men (a writer, Australian entrepreneur, realtor, and San Francisco investor).
How do women and men of good will become addicted to alcohol? Well, we know that addiction runs in families and that some people are genetically predisposed to the disorder. In fact, I have one friend who laments, "If I hadn't inherited my alcoholism, my family would have left me nothing." However, for every person like him, with an unfortunate genetic tendency toward addiction, there are two of us who apparently manage to acquire this disorder on our very own. How? Through years of heavy social drinking. And what influences us most is the culture in which we live.
I once saw a bumper sticker that said, "God Created Alcohol So The Irish Wouldn't Conquer The World," and later realized that was an accurate reflection of the impact culture has on our drinking behavior. Many Irish men raise pint after pint with a group of their mates at the pub, because that is integral to their culture. And in this country, if you closed your eyes while speaking to some people in their 30's and 40's, you'd think you were talking to a 19-year-old. They still call each other during the week to plan Happy Hour on Friday, a lake party on Saturday, and a beer-and-chips football gathering on Sunday. As a result, they normalize each other's drinking behavior.
And the greatest difficulty is that it's not the elbow or kneecap that becomes addicted, but the brain. The very organ that likes alcohol is making the decision on whether to change the behavior. Guess what it will always decide? That's why The Thinking Person's Guide to Sobriety advises, "Your Mind Is Like A Bad Neighborhood: Never Go In There By Yourself."
Many women now drink like the guys, not realizing that their bodies are more sensitive to alcohol. And when they become more intoxicated, some naturally blame their smaller size. But if you selected a woman and man of equal weight, say 125 pounds, and gave them both the same amount to drink, do you know who would be more intoxicated? The woman. Do you know by how much? Her blood-alcohol level peaks 40% higher than the guy's. That has terrible implications not only for her behavior, but women averaging just two drinks a day have a 50-100% increase in the incidence of breast cancer.
We forget that alcohol is a toxin that is so harmful that 1 of every 3 addicted people dies of a heart attack. Half die of either heart disease or cancer. Average age of death: Fifty-two. By contrast, liver disease kills only 2%. Because I like irony, I'll read the newspaper when a prominent person dies of a heart attack at age 45 to see if the family says, "Joe just loved life," or friends remark, "Jane lived life to its fullest."
Many of us have poisoned ourselves striving to have fun. And don't get me wrong: I still want to have a good time. After I'd been sober a year, I promised my support group that if life was not as much fun sober, I would go back to drinking. But when one of my old drinking buddies later offered to take me to "retox," I declined because life was goodand promising to get better. Through the lives of sober friends, I could see dreams becoming reality.
In fact, if you are performing at 80% of your
capacity and life is going fairly well, but your dreams are unfulfilled,
why not function at 100% and have your fondest dreams in life come true?
One of my dreams was to stop practicing law, and I could never figure
out how to do that while I was drinking. Now my greatest fear if I ever
start drinking again isn't that I'll end up on a sidewalk or in jail,
but in a law office; and the secretary will come in and say, "Mr.
Pluymen, your next client is in the waiting room." I'll think,
Damn, when did I start drinking again?
The difficult words came haltingly out of my mouth. Around the room sat total strangers, except for the one good friend whom I'd asked to bring me. The strangers smiled sympathetically. I choked back tears that would soon overwhelm me in this unknown place.
My friends would never have fathomed my being here. I was a trial lawyer who had twice been recognized in The Best Lawyers in America on the recommendation of judges and fellow attorneys. Earlier, I had been named the outstanding young lawyer in Austin, Texas. I had argued and won a major case in the United States Supreme Court just two years out of law school. I had been co-counsel in the three-month jury trial over the Howard Hughes estate that eventually resulted in a $50 million payment to the State of Texas.
I had never been arrested for drunk driving, public intoxication, or anything else. I'd never hit another car because of drinking. Never had a memory loss due to drinking. Never had complaints from friends, law partners, women I dated, or anyone else about my drinking or even about any single occasion when I drank.
So what on earth possessed me to ask my friend to take me to a meeting of anonymous people who had chosen not to drink anymore? It was because my wife of six months had just left me to spend her life with another manand I knew that I would die if I drank enough to stop the incredible pain.
Excruciating as that experience was, it unwittingly presented me with an opportunity to have a high bottom, a good place to get off the descending elevator of alcohol. "Fifth floor? . . . Thanks, I'll get off here." No sense in riding this baby to the third floor of the basement.
At the time, all I knew was that I faced a clear choice. I could either stay sober, and walk through my pain of rejection and abandonment one day at a time, or I could drown the feelings in alcohol . . . and die.
Staying sober had the advantage of getting to the other side as quickly as possible, but offered no relief from the agony. Drinking offered the allure of temporary pain relief, but risked death because of the amount of alcohol required to mask the feelings. Even if I survived the attempt to anesthetize my feelings, I would be dealing with painful hangovers while wallowing in self-pity and prolonging the recovery process indefinitely.
What made me think that I was capable of reacting to tragedy by drinking so much alcohol that I could die? To answer that, I have to tell you my story.
THE FUN'S JUST BEGINNING
My discovery of alcohol did not begin at home. Neither Mom nor Pop drank, unless you consider a glass of sherry during the holidays "drinking." There was obviously no genetic predisposition to my affection for the fruit of the vine.
I had been born in Holland and spoke no English when my coal-miner family immigrated to America. I was just 10. School in Holland had always been easy for me, and my first semester in America, I made all A's except for a B in English. Of course, I was your typically driven immigrant child, a product of parents who gave up all they had to move 4,000 miles to a foreign place, with no job or family or friends in sight.
I was a curiosity piece in my Port Arthur, Texas, grammar school because of my heritage and accent. Being a celebrity was fun, but it was also dangerous boys would pick fights with me because I was different, the dappled horse in the chestnut herd. Teachers liked me, though, because I was courteous and made good grades. Most students accepted me, too. By high school, I was president of the student body, quarterback of the football team, and class salutatorian.
My love affair with alcohol began in my senior year, after I had played my last football game. Training and self-denial were over now the fun could begin! PARTY TIME!
After the first few cans had acclimated my tongue, beer tasted terrific. So did the camaraderie of friends cruising up and down The Drag together, shooting pool, and going dancing across the river in wide-open Louisiana. Remember the exciting and bonding conspiracy of buying alcohol under age? I can still taste the beer from the cans we passed around opened in celebration, and shared in friendship. The cold sparkling foam of brotherhood!
No fun activity seemed incapable of being enhanced by drinking. The summer following graduation, we spent numerous nights playing poker until dawn. We threw ski parties on the river, with the laughter of the girls ricocheting off the bayous. Our macho football crowd even camped out and danced naked in the light of the full moon. We knew that, soon enough, our fun would end in work, college, or the military, and we were determined to celebrate our freedom and friendship before we parted.
I knew that my future lay in continuing with school. Pop was a pipefitter and former coal miner; Mom, a housewife and part-time maid by day, a nurse's aide by night. Like their parents and grandparents, they had struggled their whole lives to make ends meet. College, for me, was an attractive escape route from this heritage. The only real question was whether to go party or study.
Knowing that I was capable of either, I purposely chose a challenging academic environment supposedly free of temptation. Rice University gave me both a scholarship and all that I had bargained for intellectually. Every student had excelled in high school. National Merit scholars roamed the campus.
The competitor in me came out in full force. I took dead aim at the Honor Roll I had to make it. My college friends had the same ambition. We all studied feverishly, driven as much by fear of embarrassment as by the desire to succeed. Everyone was accustomed to being top dog. Some now would end up in the middle, others at the bottom. The bottom?Unthinkable!
I remember the day that the first test grades were posted in freshman Chemistry. I made a 24 out of 100. I was horrified. Then I learned that the highest score in our class of a hundred students had been a 42, and the average was a mere 18. A couple of my friends had actually scored below 10.
Nothing could have done a quicker job of convincing us cocky 18-year-olds that we weren't God's gift to the universe after all. Until then, most of us had never met anybody we couldn't outscore no matter how hard we tried. Suddenly, here was an entire group of us feeling outgunned.
Two things about humility you either have some or you are going to get some. I learned humility about my intelligence then, but I never dreamed I would later learn humility about alcohol.
I'LL HAVE WHAT THE GENTLEMAN ON THE FLOOR IS HAVING
Drinking in college was fun. We would study fiercely all week, then cut loose with "beer mattress parties" on weekends. Here's how it worked: A student organization would rent a barn outside the city, hire a band, and provide a bunch of kegs. We would then haul scores of cheap dormitory mattresses out to the site, lay them against the barn's interior walls on the perimeter of a dirt dance floor, and drink and dance 'till we dropped.
Besides relieving tension, I found, alcohol made it easier to relax with a date. Raised a strict Catholic, I'd been taught that even French kissing was a mortal sin that would condemn me to eternal hell. The tug-of-war between these teachings of my childhood and the hormones of my adolescence reached a climax in college.
In my innocence, I truly believed that sex before marriage was immoral and that its beauty and significance were tainted without that sanctification. As a result, I broke down in tears the first time I gently stroked my girlfriend's breast.
In retrospect, the beauty and power of love was mesmerizing while we were virgins. We would sit under the stars for hours and stare into each other's eyes, enchanted by mutual promises of love and the belief that its magic would last forever. We would kneel naked in a secluded dorm room, bathed in candle light, and touch each other wondrously . . . lovingly . . . gently, our spirits soaring in mutual love that reached out and caressed the very universe.
But of course this passionate purity couldn't last. Kids playing with matches could never dream of starting fires so intense. The raging inner conflict between faith and hormones was eventually resolved in favor of the urgings of nature with the grateful and indispensable assistance of alcohol.
In the years that followed, I don't recall ever going on a date or making love without alcohol being an intimate part of the romantic occasion. We toasted wine glasses by candlelight, sipped champagne in front of a crackling winter fire, washed down barbecue in the hot summer sun with ice-cold beer, and refreshed the tongue with frozen margaritas after spicy Mexican food.
It wasn't that alcohol was a necessity; it just made every occasion seem that much more fun. It also made "making moves" on a date a lot less awkward.
Alcohol also lubricated our group activities. We skinny-dipped at the lake and in the university president's pool. We swam in the public fountains on Houston's Main Street and were chased out by the police. We danced in clubs, frolicked on Mustang Beach, screamed during football games, and stayed up all night while playing in a rugby tournament all in no pain, pleasurably anesthetized by our favorite brew.
Drinking was fun, relaxing, social, ubiquitous, and virtually problem-free.
YOU CAN ALWAYS TELL AN ALCOHOLIC
Both during high school and college, I had the occasional friend who drank so much that the rest of us recognized he had a drinking problem. One of our high school buddies, for example, drank a case of beer every weekend during the summer after graduation. We whispered to each other that he was drinking way too much and might be an alcoholic. In college, I knew a couple of guys who drank until they were toasted nearly every night.
In such situations, we all thought the amount of alcohol being consumed was abnormal, and we made friendly comments to them about our concerns. Then we wrote it off as boys being boys, particularly when they had just relished freedom and had no parental figure around to squelch their fun. We figured they would probably tire of carousing after a while. Failing that, work responsibilities or exams would inevitably pull their chain.
I recall reading during that time that alcoholism was a disease. "What a cop-out!" I thought. "Some guy makes a habit of drinking way too much and wants to blame his behavior on illness? Tell him to stop drinking so damn much! Nobody is forcing the alcohol down his throat."
With minor exception, most of us drank normally, at least by college standards. We would study during the week, then party on weekends and special occasions like birthdays and holidays.
NO HAY PROBLEMA
But even we normal drinkers would experience some problems with alcohol. Throwing up occasionally was one. Yet there were apparent reasons for that. It didn't take us long to discover not to drink on an empty stomach. Or to learn that "beer after whiskey was mighty risky; whiskey after beer, never fear."
One of the most unpleasant sensations was to lie down after over-indulging, only to feel the room spinning round every time you closed your eyes. The sole remedy was to stay awake until it passed.
College and graduate school were a time not only of learning, but also of experimenting. Simply drinking great-tasting beer, many brands of which had at first tasted lousy, soon wasn't enough. A person had to be more sophisticated, which made it important to learn to drink Scotch. But that presented a problem the stuff tasted terrible. And unlike other liquors that richly deserved the moniker "fire water," it was not proper to mix Scotch with a soft drink.
Luckily, a friend had a proven method for acquiring a fondness. "Buy a bottle of Cutty Sark," she advised. "Wrinkle up your nose, and drink it over time until you finish the bottle. After that, you'll love the taste." And she was right. It took two weeks to finish the nasty stuff, but I loved it after that.
Denial Is Not A River In Egypt
Once out in the real world, I continued to enjoy drinking for many years. At first, it was mostly on weekends and other special occasions. Then, some co-workers invited me to join them for a drink after work one Thursday. That proved such fun that we made it a regular event. A bar nearby ensured that we'd see friends we would otherwise miss. When Monday Night Football began, a lot of us guys would get together to watch, drink, and cheer. That left only Tuesday and Wednesday.
Eventually, Tuesday became a day to have a drink with a friend. And then it became, in addition, a good time for a little "hair of the dog," for something was needed to cure the hangover generated by celebrations now running from Thursday through Monday.
Pretty soon, Wednesday night ended up a drinking night, too. I'd find myself drinking after work with friends at a bar, with a date at dinner, or even with the dog while watching TV.
I might have turned into a pudge with all these empty calories, but fortunately I was fairly vain. To look good, I would lift weights after work several days a week, followed by a three- to five-mile jog around the local lake. Many days, while sweating the previous night's beer out of my system, I'd wonder just how much faster I might fly down the running trail if I weren't drinking.
Because of the drink calories and the added food I ate to counter my worst hangovers, I'd also diet occasionally to shed a few extra pounds. Although none of the diets prescribed alcohol, I logically modified their recommended regimen to include two glasses of low-calorie Chablis a day and found that I could still achieve the predicted weight loss.
During this period, I was in the early years of my legal career and routinely worked long hours. The accompanying stress created a need for the relief afforded by exercise and alcohol. The harder I worked, the more alcohol I'd consume, although during intensive projects, I'd hardly drink at all perhaps a glass of wine or two to help me fall asleep.
In due time, the long work-hours and drinking caught up with me. I didn't know what was going on. All I knew was that I often felt exhausted. I was also experiencing some numbness down my arms, which really frightened me. I went to several doctors to be sure I didn't have a heart problem and here I was only in my late 20's! Though I was still running regularly and lifting weights whenever I could, increasing my level of exercise to feel better proved no solution. Things got so bad at times that I'd want to hospitalize myself for exhaustion. It never dawned on me that this popular "treatment of the stars" might be medically indicated because of my drinking.
At the time, thanks to a lawsuit I was working on, I was chasing the ghost of Howard Hughes all over the western United States, interviewing people who had known him. It was a fascinating time talking with John Wayne on the back patio of his Newport Beach house, discovering through Hughes documents confiscated in Acapulco that the reclusive billionaire was an intravenous codeine addict, and listening to the then-unbelievable descriptions by his former servants of a long-haired, naked, paranoid man.
When our scattered legal staff was temporarily united in the same city, I learned the art of drinking Chateauneuf du Pape, Bordeaux, and other fine wines, and to discern which wine complemented each dish. Thoughts of buying good young wine in quantity and harvesting an excellent wine cellar years later entranced me. I even bought a couple of cases for that very purpose, no bottle of which aged more than three months! I also learned to drink gin the best, of course. Bombay gin on the rocks, garnished with a skewer of tiny marinated onions, became my favorite hors d'oeuvre.
It seemed all I ever did was work, drink, and sleep. Of course, the sleep was not truly restful because my body was occupied each night processing the latest refill of alcohol. So my exhaustion was actually resulting from sleep deprivation. But that wasn't all. Because I didn't feel good and my body was hurting, I started experiencing sporadic heart palpitations and anxiety attacks.
A doctor diagnosed my exhaustion and occasional anxiety as being stress-related. His prescription? Valium for relaxation. I was working long hours on the road, so the diagnosis seemed reasonable. My doctor, however, didn't know how much I was drinking in the evenings, in part because I truly wasn't conscious of the amount, and also because I told him I drank "socially a couple of drinks a night on average."
The truth was, I was averaging four to five drinks a night. I discovered this when I began counting my daily alcohol intake. I had begun running daily, but I was still experiencing destructive hangovers. So I limited myself to no more than two mixed drinks or three beers or glasses of wine a night. I still have the running calendar from the year in which I ran a thousand miles and recorded my daily mileage, the weather, the terrain, and my alcohol intake.
A typical entry: "Cool, sunny day. 5 miles with 2 in the hills. Sluggish at first, gliding at the end. 2 Scotches. 2 beers." Note what's happened to my "limit."
It's incredible, in retrospect, that I did not realize the extent of the challenge that faced me. I thought I was a normal drinker who needed to slow down. The truth is that no normal drinker finds it necessary to regularly count his alcohol consumption.
THE GREAT FOG MACHINE
While enjoying the nectar of the gods, I knew that drinking hurt my body at times. But I was still unaware that its cumulative effect included an undercurrent of low-level exhaustion. And I certainly would never have guessed that it was also causing an imperceptible disturbance in my brain. Alcohol was affecting my very perception.
"You are like a person driving down a highway at night with your parking lights on," a friend once told me. "There are people who have their headlights on and some even their high beams." I had no idea what he meant; I just knew life was a struggle.
Alcohol is tricky because it affects your ability to see without your knowing that your sight has changed. The perception of the brain, the instrument that really "sees," has been altered by a regular intake of alcohol, and the brain does not know that it is seeing a modified reality. In other words, alcohol creates its own invisible fog which hides the impact it is having. Its effect is like arrogance in that an arrogant person is the last to discover he possesses that quality. Its very existence hides that trait from the person who has it.
Hoping to see better, I began a journal and inscribed its cover with a life-exploring mission: "Dedicated to today so that the thoughts and lessons of yesterday can flower and bear fruit."
In journaling, I noticed that I still savored the companionship and elegance of alcohol. As with many drinkers with successful careers, I got to enjoy alcohol in some posh places. For example, I had the chance to sip Courvoisier VSOP cognac in Amsterdam's Hotel Corona, where it was served by elderly tuxedo-clad waiters in an exquisite Dutch atmosphere of dark mahogany walls, white cloth-covered tables, and lace-embroidered curtains. Inevitably, alcohol soon became associated in my mind with a comfortable, refined lifestyle.
"When I get back from Holland ," I wrote in between drinks, "I'm moving to a cozy home with my antiques, hang the handmade lace curtains and Douglas Whitfield paintings, open my bottle of Dom Perignon, and listen to music. It must have a fireplace and a wet bar! And must be near good running territory."
But the joy carried a tiresome price: "Last night I ate in the elegant Hotel Corona dining room and consumed four Courvoisier VSOP's before a four-course sumptuous meal of fresh, unpickled, uncooked herring, veal, potatoes, carrots, peas, clear hot vegetable soup, salad, and desert, with lots of black steaming coffee from a pot on the table."
The combination of excessive cognac and coffee left me feeling so bad that the next day I implored in my journal:
Do not drink any more coffee or caffeinated tea or alcohol other than beer.
Even to take the edge off loneliness.
Your body can recuperate only so often.
Yet within days, the romance was back: "Quaffing a half liter at the sidewalk brasserie at the Arc de Triomphe on the Champs Élysées. The sky is hazy overcast at noon with a touch of chill in the breeze in late August. Un ver de vin rouge, s'il vous plait."
In the midst of this roller coaster of merriment and torment, I reflected on my recent loss of a girlfriend: "Women have been on my mind since I arrived in Europe. Women are seemingly always on my mind, but now I am without one altogether as my last one said that she never wanted to see me again just before I left on vacation. That parting was one I had feared for a long time; surprisingly, at this moment it doesn't feel unsatisfactory in the least. For the first time in my life, I intend to remain free until something really special happens, until a very desired person comes into my life. I am no longer willing to burn time as if it does not exist."
At times, life felt like a puzzle and my heart a veritable mishmash of feelings. On leaving Paris, I traveled back to the Dutch province in which I was born, and was unexpectedly overcome by emotion: "Reading a novel on the train to Maastricht, I glance at the Dutch countryside and feel tears welling in my eyes. Why? Is it because I am alone? Because I am always alone? Because I left here alone and am coming back alone?"
My solution to loneliness? A woman, of course: "I want to find a smart, pretty, funny, sexy, honest, caring woman with great legs. Also, don't leave out a desire to have kids. And don't forget to live to be 100 years old to find such a woman! No I absolutely, categorically refuse to believe that."
In the murkiness that was my mind, I perceived a connection between my deep desire for love and my use of alcohol:
I have brains, which is supposed to be advantageous. But this mind, which is so useful professionally, becomes such an albatross in my spare time. And that's why I drink: to still my brain. But eventually alcohol will kill my brain, and there's the rub.
But the dream is possible! My equal exists. We will find each other. Just be faithful to self.
It will no longer be necessary to alter reality with alcohol in order to suppress the thought that my dream is an impossibility and to soothe the pain of surrender.
And remember, you are only looking for one.
INSANITY IS DOING THE SAME THING OVER AND OVER WHILE EXPECTING A DIFFERENT RESULT
During this time I dated some of the most beautiful women on Earth. I was single, athletic, articulate, and attractive. I told myself that I was looking for a wife, but my behavior indicated otherwise. All I really wanted was to have a good time. I would take a date to a fine restaurant, toss down a couple of Scotch-and-sodas with my appetizer, have a bottle of wine with dinner, and perhaps enjoy a cognac as dessert. And I do mean that I would have a bottle of wine. Most of the women I dated did not drink much. Many were runners I'd met on the jogging trail, and their interest in alcohol was limited to a glass of wine. So, during dinner I found myself sucking down the rest of the bottle, which of course was fine with me. And if we skipped the pre-dinner drinks, often I would order a second bottle and drink half of it as well. Luckily, I had the ability to remain articulate while intoxicated, and so people rarely suspected that I might be overdrinking.
I was also able to drive well drunk. I vividly remember one outlandish occasion. The lakes and hills around Austin were especially dazzling that night the silver moonbeams splitting the black water, and the blinking stars seemingly within reach of the sunroof of my new red Porsche. I was racing around sharp curves and jumping over hills, accompanied by a totally naked brunette wearing spanking new store-bought breasts who was singing and squealing and bouncing through the night. In my mind's eye, I suddenly imagined a headline in the morning's paper: "Drunk President of Young Lawyers Arrested with Naked Woman." But that was quickly followed by a surge of pleasure and "Oh, what the hell!"
My various women friends never realized that I had a problem with alcohol. Each thought that I celebrated only when I was on a date with her, perhaps because she only drank while out with me, and she assumed that I was doing the same. In truth, I was drinking nightly and was beginning to pay for it with major hangovers.
At work during the week, I found myself getting increasingly impatient for 5:30 to arrive. Many afternoons, I painfully watched the clock, awaiting the time when I could down a few quick beers to stop the aching in my head and chest. And that's exactly what I did as soon as I got home or even on the way home, after a hasty stop at the convenience store, if I was feeling particularly bad. The remedy usually worked, although my initial two beers would ordinarily be followed by another two, perpetuating the situation until the next day and starting the cycle all over again.
Weekends were even worse. I controlled my drinking during the week because of work, but on Friday nights I could let go and party. Margarita time! Followed, of course, by a six-pack of beer for variety. All the worries of work and cares of life were blissfully washed away.
But Saturday morning would come, and I would find myself incapacitated by a hangover. On several such occasions, I made solemn resolutions never to do it again. When those failed, I recorded my agony in a journal so that my crazy amnesiac mind could recall my body's suffering after the pain was gone and another Friday Happy Hour was at hand. Here's one such entry a particularly disturbing one:
The day after being inebriated is hell on earth. My body feels like it will die any minute. My chest cavity has a dull, constant ache. Sometimes my heart skips. Aspirin affords no relief. Sleep is the only real answer, but I am unable to make myself sleep during the day. The digesting of meals taxes and tires and depletes the body's energy even more. The dull ache spreads and becomes more intense as the day passes. Only sufficient alcohol at night stops the body's scream for relief from the awful aching. A tapered dose of alcohol with a prayer that sleep will bring rest and peace, not death in the night.
I would continue to drink for five more years after writing that entry. Why? You tell me. Seriously! Let's examine my thought process in the aftermath of that entry and maybe one of us will understand it.
The very next Tuesday, I wrote: "Taking care of myself feels real good. Have not had a drink since Saturday. Running is next."
Two days later, my journal states: "Ran 4 yesterday and 3 today." So far, so good.
The next week: "Did not drink for one week. Nice. Limiting intake now. Doesn't make me feel good now even when I am consuming alcohol."
What's going on here? I feel good when not drinking for three days, and even better when it's been a week. But then I begin "limiting intake now." Why start at all when it makes me feel so bad?
The very next day after "limiting intake now," I am writing this: "I'm feeling tired because I drank wine last night and stayed up late. Hope tonight's soccer game and sleep will cure it. My body really needs lots of rest."
And three days later: "Sick since the night of the soccer game. Drank beer and smoked cigarettes right after the game."
My "limited intake" has quickly become a late night of drinking that saps my energy and causes my body to demand rest. Yet I immediately go out and drink beer to the point where my judgment is so clouded that I smoke cigarettes and get sick from self-inflicted physical abuse.
It would be an entire year before I would write again. A hopeless, disheartening cycle had started whirling, and I declined to report for the Daily Dervish. But when I next checked in, it was to offer myself the fruits of some significant introspection: "I'm afraid that I am psychologically addicted to alcohol. It's interesting to go back and look in this journal and see my repeated promises to myself to quit and my recognition of the harm I do to myself physically and emotionally by hiding in alcohol."
And if it's a psychological addiction, there must be a psychological cause: "One of the reasons I drink is that my life is not fulfilling. Making money can't be all there is. It's disappointing to live for work and money and to see no hope for much beyond that. So I escape into inebriation. I also date women who have little to offer or challenge me. It reinforces my world view, discourages me, blinds me to hope, and leaves me in the status quo of making money, being unconsciously very discouraged, and escaping into the fog of alcohol. Such a waste to wallow in a self-induced fog that obscures possibility, the path to happiness, light and love! I want to be in a wonderful relationship with a bright, beautiful, and nurturing woman, and am willing to risk staring disappointment, rejection, and failure square in the face. I pledge to myself that I will not have a sip of alcohol today. I will deal with today only because otherwise I get frightened."
My pledge "not to have a sip" failed to survive the night. Here's the next day's entry: "Because of lack of sleep and much alcohol the night before the pledge, my body crashed around 10:00 last night and I drank 2 Scotch-and-sodas just to have any energy at all." Then a new pledge: "No alcohol today." That day, I "ran and lifted weights. Wanted glass of wine badly after dinner. Resisted."
What was going on here? I took up the question with my therapist, and here's what I reported afterward: "My therapist thinks I'm not ready to give up alcohol. [A brilliant deduction.] That I'm psychologically, not physically, addicted because of the lack of physical withdrawal symptoms. [ Sorry, no points for agony unless your hands shake.] And that I'm not ready to stop drinking because I haven't solved the question of what I'm here to do. [Just how in the hell am I supposed to solve that riddle sporting my ever-fashionable beer goggles?]"