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Diary of A Quasi-Alcoholic - Page 2

By Jenna Hollenstein 07/29/11

What if you decide that drinking is a problem for you, but find it hard to identify as an “alcoholic,” or to be accepted as one? One woman found a very personal path through her minefield.

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Perhaps my interpretation of the results was narrow and riddled with denial—I did get a 75% after all, a grade I would have killed for in AP Calculus...

In an attempt to assess my problem, I also took other questionnaires, but the results were decidedly mixed. By and large,  they grouped drinkers in to two two categories: People Who Had Obvious Drinking Problem (Have you ever been hospitalized because of your drinking?) or Everyone-I-Know-Does-That (Do you drink to deal with stress?).

Later, I consulted friends and family. Often with a drink in hand, I’d begin, “Maybe I should think about my drinking...” But four out of fivefriends I approached assured me that I didn’t have a problem. Maybe they were sincere. Maybe they weren’t fully aware of how much I drank. Or perhaps classifying my drinking as normal drinker allowed them to avoid facing their own alcohol issues. The few people who agreed that I might have a problem suggested I cut back on my consumption. But nobody thought I  needed to stop drinking  altogether.

But over time,as my drinking mounted,  I grew convinced that alcohol was doing me more harm than good was mounting. Finally, with the encouragement of my therapist and a referral to an outpatient addiction program in Boston, I decided to try life without booze. The four-week program served as a bridge between sobriety and the hazy period that came before. I still did not identify as an alcoholic. But my consistent moderate-to-heavy drinking caused me guilt and shame that I wanted to put behind me. The other people in my group ha suffered much harsher penalties than I had.  I was the only one who had not just left rehab, hospital, or jail.

A sweet, middle-aged man risked being kicked out of his halfway house if he didn’t stay sober. A woman my mom’s age had been so committed to drinking that she would only leave home to buy more booze; staying drunk had become a full-time job for her. A handsome and successful young banker cried that he couldn’t count how many times he’d cheated on his wife while high on cocaine. Everyone clearly belonged there—except me.

I felt some kinship with an articulate young man who admitted to “experimenting” with psychotropic drugs. Like me, he intellectualized the question of whether he had a problem. Didn’t these drugs in fact broaden his experience of life? Then I learned he had shot himself in the head while high.

During discussions, I noticed a lack of receptivity from other people in my group when I spoke about my comparatively moderate issues, even some disdain. I identified with so much of what was shared: insecurity, restlessness, depression, feeling unlovable. I desperately wanted to connect. But it was becoming clear the others didn’t think I belonged. Eventually they turned away from me mid-sentence or said outright, “you’re not an alcoholic” and “maybe you’ll understand in a few years.” I felt like the kid who didn’t meet the height requirement for the roller coaster.

There is an AA saying: “Alcoholism is an elevator that keeps going down, but you can get off at any floor.”  So why was I able to get off the elevator earlier than so many others in that room? Why had I waited even that long? And why was it so difficult for those who had kept going down to accept me?

Despite my outpatient experience, I haven’t had a drink for the past four years. I downed my last one on my 33rd birthday—but I have still never set foot in an AA meeting. Ultimately I decided that labeling myself an alcoholic had little to do with my decision to quit. And that the opinions of others were no substitute for my own experience, and my own choices.

Jenna Hollenstein is a medical writer, registered dietitian, and author of Understanding Dietary Supplements. She blogs about drinking and awareness at www.drinkingtodistraction.com and her work has been featured on www.mindful.org and www.drinkingdiaries.com.

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