I only had a few options available to stop the PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) insanity and pain:
- Intense psychological therapy
- Live with insanity and pain for the rest of my life
- Kill myself
Obviously, I chose the intense psychological therapy, but during that horrible time drugs, alcohol and killing myself all started to look like viable choices. That’s why PTSD is considered a mental illness. That’s also why I was not going to live with the insanity and pain for the rest of my life.
During my therapy, it was suggested that I attend Al-Anon and Alcoholic Anonymous meetings to help better understand myself and to understand a close relative who had been sober for decades, but was exhibiting the characteristics of an alcoholic even though they were not drinking. That kind of person is often referred to as a “dry drunk” because they aren’t drinking (dry), but have the traits of an alcoholic who is drinking (drunk).
After I was laid off and lost my insurance, I continued attending both Al-Anon and Alcoholic Anonymous meetings because they were free meetings that still helped me cope with my job loss, feelings of worthlessness and enabling personality. The people there don’t “know” me because of the anonymous factor and their stories helped me to count my blessings. More importantly it helped me to better understand the workings of an alcoholic mind and indirectly the insanity of the PTSD brain.
Although I still have not ever drank alcohol, I wanted to share information that might help someone who is an alcoholic in denial, someone who loves an alcoholic or someone who has PTSD and is thinking about using alcohol to numb the pain. Just as I feel everyone should understand PTSD, I also believe that if everyone understood alcoholism, there would no longer be a stigma for that disease either. We would be able to talk about it like heart disease or cancer.
Someone with PTSD who succumbs to the temptation of drinking enough alcohol to remain numb 24/7 can’t heal their mental illness. It is IMPOSSIBLE to heal PTSD while being continuously drunk. Someone who is an alcoholic that continues to drink can’t live a rich, full life and essentially is slowly destroying their body. On average, an alcoholic will usually make it to the grave a whole lot faster than a non-alcoholic.
Today I am going to interview a recovering alcoholic who regularly attends Alcoholic Anonymous meetings. They will remain nameless because their identity isn’t the information that’s important. What’s important for everyone to glean from this post is the real, experience-filled information that I hope EVERYONE will take the time to read and understand. It could save your life or someone you love. Alcoholism is no respecter of persons. An alcoholic looks like your grandparents, parents, aunt, uncle, cousin, sibling, children, friend, boss, co-worker or neighbor.
What is alcoholism and an alcoholic?
To start the discussion, let’s make sure we have the same basic understanding of a few words.
Definition of ALCOHOLIC
: a person who frequently, habitually or compulsively drinks too much alcohol and is unable to live a normal and healthy life
: a person who is affected with alcoholism
Definition of ALCOHOLISM
: a chronic disease characterized by excessive and usually compulsive drinking of alcohol that leads to psychological and nutritional disorders caused by the compulsive consumption and dependence on alcoholic liquor
: prolonged and excessive intake of alcoholic drinks leading to impaired social functioning, destruction of health, an addiction to and dependence on alcohol
So an alcoholic is someone who has a mental, physical and emotional dependency on alcohol and that dependency is a progressive, chronic and fatal disease called alcoholism. An alcoholic is unable to control the amount of alcohol they consume regardless of the destructive effects it has on their life – relationships, home, work, health.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that there are at least 140 million alcoholics in the world and most of them are not treated.
In the in the July issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, one of the JAMA/Archives journals, a US study estimated that about 30 percent of Americans claim to have experienced an alcohol disorder at some time in their lives.
In December 2013, the data in Alcohol-Related Disease Impact (ARDI) were updated to provide average annual estimates of alcohol-attributable deaths (AAD) of 88,000 per year in the United States for the years 2006-2010.
Now let’s listen to an alcoholic…
Interview With A Recovering Alcoholic In Alcoholics Anonymous
QUESTION: How did you know you were an alcoholic?
ANSWER: That’s a difficult and interesting question. I believe that when someone reaches the point that they no longer have the choice to drink and they can’t stop when they want, it’s probably a good sign you’re an alcoholic. For me, I wanted to stop for a long time, but in spite of everything I tried, I simply could not stop drinking. Whatever I tried by my own willpower simply did not work. I knew I was a real alcoholic long before I sought help. It’s one of the baffling things about my disease and yes, alcoholism is a disease. It is the only disease I know of that constantly tries to convince you that you’re not sick.
QUESTION: Describe alcoholism in one word?
QUESTION: What occurred or changed in your life that turned your “drinking too much” into an alcoholic “loss of power over alcohol”?
ANSWER: I don’t know if I can pinpoint exactly what or when that took place. But in the life of most alcoholics I have talked to, they crossed an invisible line where they could not stop drinking despite the fact that they truly wanted to stop. Everyone has a different bottom. I guess, I finally reached mine.
QUESTION: What is a “bottom” as it pertains to an alcoholic?
ANSWER: That’s a good question. For me the insanity to drink was more important than not hurting the people that cared about me. I was fortunate that I had no DWI or other legal consequences directly because of my drinking. I had, however, lost everything that I cared about. Bottom is a tough thing to define, but I suppose we all choose our own bottom and believe me, you know it when you reach it.
QUESTION: Did people tell you that you were an alcoholic? If so, why didn’t you believe them and immediately seek help?
ANSWER: Oh sure, for years people told me that I had a drinking problem. I realized it for years and years. I just did not know how to quit or maybe I was just unwilling to face the reality that yeah, maybe I was an alcoholic. Until I was ready to confront the issue, nothing anyone said made any difference. I think that’s true for most alcoholics.
QUESTION: Were you a closet drinker or did you drink in front of everyone?
ANSWER: My drinking progressed over the years and the last several years I isolated and drank. I knew I had a problem and no one wanted to be around me when I was drinking anyway. I certainly can’t blame them. I didn’t want to be around me either.
QUESTION: What was the turning point that caused you to seek help from AA (Alcoholics Anonymous)?
ANSWER: It’s funny how a seemingly innocent question that I couldn’t answer bothered me enough to finally seek help. The question was, “Why do you continue to drink and destroy yourself?” That question really bothered me because I could not answer the question.
QUESTION: What keeps you returning to meetings?
ANSWER: I think any recovering alcoholic would tell you that recovery really is one day at a time. We have a daily reprieve from alcohol based on the maintenance of our spiritual condition. It’s no different than non-alcoholics going to the gym every day or going to counseling, etc. It’s what I have to do to make sure I keep my ego in check and stay humble enough to admit I’m powerless over this disease and I need the help of people who suffer like me to help me remain sober.
QUESTION: Why did you choose AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) instead of another means to quit drinking?
ANSWER: It was either AA or rehab and I did not want to go through the embarrassment of formal rehab.
QUESTION: Do you find being an alcoholic an embarrassing label?
ANSWER: There’s such a misconception among many people about alcoholism and what the disease is all about. Many people don’t think it’s a disease, but that it’s a moral choice. I don’t go up to everyone I meet and say, “Hey, I’m an alcoholic.” It’s just not prudent, but I’m also not ashamed of it. It’s who I am and I can’t change that. All I can do is stay sober a day at a time and try to live life in the best way I know how. The program of Alcoholics Anonymous is really a design for living that works for me.
QUESTION: Is it difficult staying sober?
ANSWER: As long as I do the things I need to do on a daily basis and don’t get ahead of myself and spend too much time inside my own head, it’s really not difficult. That’s not to say that stopping drinking has solved all my problems. Life still happens, but as long as I stay sober there’s a chance I can have an okay day regardless of what happens. If I drink, my choices are taken away. I know how the day will go if I drink. It’s been proven to me too many times. Not drinking at least gives me a fighting chance.
QUESTION: Has there been any dramatic changes in you, your attitude, or your life since becoming sober?
ANSWER: I’m not trying to kill myself or the people around me anymore. I’ve ceased fighting pretty much everything. I try to accept the things I cannot change. Those things just don’t seem to control my life anymore.
QUESTION: Do you feel that your alcoholism controlled you?
ANSWER: Not in the way most people would define “control,” but it’s who I am and I have to accept every day that I’m an alcoholic. There’s no getting around that fact. I have lost the power of choice in drinking and my sobriety has to be the most important thing in my life. Without it, nothing else good can happen.
QUESTION: What would happen if you gave in and had just one drink?
ANSWER: As a real alcoholic, I don’t have that option. One drink would never be enough. Too many times I have heard people inside the rooms (Alcoholics Anonymous meetings) share their experience with how quickly their lives fell apart and they began steadily drinking again. I never want to feel that way again. So one drink is out of the question for me.
QUESTION: What happens at AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meetings?
ANSWER: People share their experience, strength and hope to help other alcoholics stay sober. You should check out a meeting for yourself. It’s not a bunch of old, fat guys smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee. It’s a necessity for me to hear other alcoholics share their experience. It’s how I learn daily to stay sober.
QUESTION: What is the hardest part of staying sober?
ANSWER: Coming to terms with the wreckage of the past has been the hardest part of staying sober. I hurt so many people that cared about me that didn’t deserve the pain I caused them. That’s a difficult thing, but there’s nothing I can do to change the past. I can only try to make amends for my mistakes and continue to live sober.
QUESTION: What is the easiest part of staying sober?
ANSWER: Waking up in the morning is much better than coming to. LOL Physically I feel so much better that it’s crazy to me to think I felt so bad for so many years. I only have to worry about staying sober today. That’s it. Not next week. Not next month. Not next year. Just today.
QUESTION: Speaking of physically, has your health improved since you became sober?
ANSWER: I’m sure that I have done irreversible damage to my body by drinking for as long as I did. Yes, I feel so much better. My mind is so much clearer and I actually try to take care of my body. Who would have thought it?
QUESTION: How many years did you drink?
ANSWER: I drank for 37 years.
QUESTION: Other than going to AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meetings, what other things help you stay sober?
ANSWER: I begin my day reading recovery related literature. I meditate and pray a lot. I stay out of situations that historically have been a trigger for me to drink; people, places and things. Keeping things very simple. If I am feeling the least bit out of sorts, I pick up the phone and call someone in the program and talk about what’s going on. It really is a very simple program. Not necessarily easy, but simple.
QUESTION: You mentioned literature. What type of recovery literature is there for you to read?
ANSWER: There is so much literature available with the Internet. It’s difficult to list them all. The Big Book of AA, 12 Steps And 12 Traditions, As Bill Sees It, Daily Reflections, and the list really is a long list.
QUESTION: How can other alcoholics help you in such a profound way when family and friends could not?
ANSWER: Only an alcoholic truly can understand how another alcoholic thinks. People that are not suffering from this disease, despite how hard they try and despite their best intentions, just can’t understand the way we think and feel. It’s hard to explain. All alcoholics have different war stories, but on a very basic level it’s all the same. It is the reality of my alcoholism.
QUESTION: What would you want to tell people who believe that alcoholism is just a choice or weakness?
ANSWER: It’s not my job to educate the world on alcoholism. I can only speak of what my experience has been and it is a disease, an allergy of the mind and body. Pour alcohol into the body of a non-alcoholic and watch what happens. Put alcohol in my system and you will see a complete disaster unfold before your eyes. Not everyone that drinks or even everyone that drinks a lot is an alcoholic. For me it’s a fatal progression.
QUESTION: Without all the drama that alcoholism brings, do you find life, work, and relationships boring now?
ANSWER: Boring is too strong of a word. It’s much calmer and takes a lot less energy to get through the day. At the end of a day I love to look back and be able to say, “It was an okay day. Not great. Not spectacular. Just okay.” There’s a lot of comfort in that and a lot to be thankful for.
QUESTION: In my experience with people who drink alcohol, they all tell me that the alcohol numbs their feelings. Since you are now sober and not numb, do you find it difficult to feel all the emotions the rest of us non-numb people have been feeling all our lives such as happiness, contentment, sadness, frustration, anger, fear, desperation or love?
ANSWER: I’ve heard many alcoholics say they drank to numb their feelings and that may have been true in my case. It is strange to experience feelings without the effects of alcohol. I’ve heard a lot of people say that has been really difficult for them to deal with. That has not really been my experience. I started feeling better very quickly once I became sober. Not drinking did not solve all my problems, but at least I wasn’t making them worse by drinking anymore. Life got better for me very quickly and I realize that’s not the case for everyone in recovery. I’ve been lucky.
QUESTION: Now that you are sober and you do things daily to remain sober, are you “cured” of alcoholism?
ANSWER: I won’t ever be cured of this disease. I have a daily reprieve based on the maintenance of my spiritual condition.
QUESTION: What can people do if they suspect someone they love is an alcoholic?
ANSWER: I suppose they can encourage the alcoholic to get help through AA or some type of treatment program. I would also encourage anyone who lives with someone they suspect is an alcoholic to attend Al-Anon meetings.
QUESTION: What are Al-Anon meetings?
ANSWER from the Al-Anon website:
“Al-Anon is a mutual support group. Everyone at the meeting shares as an equal. No one is in a position to give advice or direction to anyone else. Everyone at the meeting has experienced a problem with someone else’s drinking.
Al-Anon is not a religious program. Even when the meeting is held in a religious center, the local Al-Anon group pays rent to that center and is not affiliated in any way with any religious group. Your religious beliefs—or lack of them—are not a subject for discussion at Al-Anon meetings, which focus solely on coping with the effects of someone’s drinking.
It will take some time to fully understand the significance of anonymity to the Al-Anon program. But at its simplest level, anonymity means that the people in the room will respect the confidentiality of what you say and won’t approach you outside the room in a way that compromises your privacy or the privacy of anyone who attended an Al-Anon meeting.”
In short, Al-Anon is a group of people who enable or have enabled an alcoholic. They have the enabler personality. So they meet and help each other to overcome their enabling ways and to heal.
QUESTION: Why do you think there is such a stigma for being an alcoholic?
ANSWER: Maybe it has to do with people not understanding the disease or maybe it’s because most alcoholics are destructive and narcissistic. Frankly, I deserved most horrible things people thought about me.
To the alcoholic that agreed to this interview, I wish to thank you for all your candid answers.
I hope that this post will help at least one person find their way to sobriety or resist the temptation to numb their PTSD brain. If you are suffering, please reach out for help.
- Alcoholics Anonymous: http://www.aa.org/
- National Suicide Prevention Website: http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
- Go to the nearest Emergency Room
- Call 911
- 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433)
- 1-888-SUICIDE (1-888-784-2433)
- 1-877-SUICIDA (1-877-784-2432) (Spanish)
- 1-800-273-8255 Veteran’s Crisis Hotline