Anything, Everything, Not to Take a Drink Again

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Anything, Everything, Not to Take a Drink Again

By Anne Giles 05/26/16

In my abstinence, I fight for a life of calming kindness and against brutal self-judgment.

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Anything, Everything, Not to Take a Drink Again
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It takes a ridiculous amount of time for me not to take a drink.

Between getting out of bed in the morning, when I pause to recite words I have found meaningful to me, till just before I go to bed at night when I recite those words again, I have taken dozens of actions and consciously managed countless thoughts, all in order not to have a glass of wine.

Before I became a person with alcoholism, I was a person with a free mind. I could think whatever I wanted whenever I wanted and I treasured my mind's wanderings and journeys. I used my mind for passionate creativity as a teacher, business founder, and writer. For the six years I was drinking alcohol at increasing levels, my mind became enslaved by drinking or anticipating drinking. In the three years that I have been abstinent from alcohol, my mind is now indentured to recovery.

I am one of the predictable casualties of community violence. I began to drink in Blacksburg, Virginia, during the year of the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007. When I realized I could not stop drinking, I did what was popularly believed to be the only choice in southwest Virginia in 2012: tell no one of my shame and go to a support group meeting.

In 2016, thanks to heroic efforts by people in recovery from addiction, relentless researchers, and intrepid public officials, we know now that abruptly stopping using a substance to which one is addicted releases one - not into just a world - but into a universe of pain. That anyone with alcoholism remains abstinent in year one is nearly impossible.

If I knew then what I know now, I would have done things so differently. First, I would have hugged myself. Then I would have taken myself to a doctor before I stopped drinking. I'm not sure what a primary care physician would have known to do for alcoholism in 2012 in my small town. But I'm guessing I would have at least heard words along the lines of, "Let's work on finding a solution to this problem," instead of the words in my mind: "How could you have let this happen, Anne? What is the matter with you? You should be ashamed of yourself."

I cried when I read Nora Volkow's essay in the Fall 2015 issue of Advances in Addictions & Recovery : "People suffering from addictions are not morally weak; they suffer a disease that has compromised something that the rest of us take for granted: the ability to exert will and follow through with it." I thought alcoholism was the final eruption of the inner pox I believed was who I truly was and had worked with all my might for a half-century to remedy. My formidable will failed me when I tried to stop drinking. I didn't know that my first drinks were volitional but then something turned. After that, I didn't have alcoholism. It had me.

I am a bright and highly educated woman. A bitter irony: I finished a master's degree in mental health counseling in 2006, choosing elective courses in, you guessed it, addictions. Six years later while attending a support group, I had to be taught over and over how to make the coffee. My cognitive functioning was impaired by years of overconsumption of alcohol, shock from untreated withdrawal, and under-treated post-traumatic stress. With what was left of my mind - or returning - I started Googling. What was wrong with me? How could I fix it?

I found a blaring cacophony of opinions and contradictory research about what addiction is (even about what terms to use: substance use disorder? Illness? Disease? Spiritual failure?) and what treats it. To the anguish of abstinence was added the despair of being directionless. What in the world was a woman in southwest Virginia to do to save herself?

I did everything. I tried something, anything, all day and all night to attempt to relieve myself from abject suffering. I went to support groups, I attended individual counseling sessions with a psychologist, I exercised, I ate recovery-supporting foods, and I meditated. I read and read. Philip Flores asserts addiction is an attachment disorder. I bought a teddy bear to serve as an attachment object.

Like an untended infant, I failed to thrive. Small towns are the wilderness when it comes to addictions treatment. No counselor in my town outside of the community services agencies specializes in addictions treatment. Only recently has my psychologist told me that when I began to reveal towards the end of my first year of abstinence the deep layers of trauma I had experienced did she shift her treatment of me to dialectical behavior therapy. In my opinion, if my psychologist hadn't had broad knowledge of human psychology, compassion for the unusually suffering, and the boldness to apply her knowledge in novel ways, I wouldn't be here to write this piece.

My primary source of suffering in abstinence is self-slaying and self-judgment. I cower under the lash of my own brutal thoughts: "What's the matter with you, Anne? Why aren't you more ____? Can't you get anything right?" Under this kind of onslaught, the mother love of drinking would be mercy.

I now try to catch those thoughts as they fire like fast balls out of my mind into the catcher's mitt of my consciousness. Then I hold the thought to my heart as if it were a startled baby clutching a teddy bear. "There, there," I say to my terror-borne thought. "It's okay. It's going to be okay."

All day, every day, I catch thoughts. All day, every day, I comfort and calm myself through the mean ones. I am slowly, slowly replacing self-cruelty with self-kindness. I dare not let my mind wander freely.

I am bound to the labors of recovery: I go to support group meetings, I go to counseling, I exercise, I eat recovery-supporting foods, I ready recovery-supporting books, I meditate. I still sleep with the teddy bear.

This takes hours and hours each day.

I preferred the life of free and passionate creativity, but one of calming kindness isn't so bad. I'll do anything - and I do everything - not to have a drink again.

Anne Giles, M.A., M.S., writes at annegiles.com. She's a part-time addictions counselor and, as of this writing, has been abstinent from alcohol since December 28, 2012.

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