The Last Addictions Memoir (Hopefully): An Evidence-Based Recovery Story Pt. 16

By Anne Giles 07/25/17

And how are you crazy?

Anne Giles
Photo: Justin Cook

In his essay for the New York Times, Alain de Botton writes, "In a wiser, more self-aware society than our own, a standard question on any early dinner date would be: 'And how are you crazy?'"

If my date asked me that question, I would reply, "Thank you for asking me. I'm open to it. Would you be open to adding an additional question: 'And what do you do about that crazy?'"

If my date agreed, frankly, I would welcome getting the first answer out of the way. As he and I leaned towards each other, my wine glass sitting empty on the restaurant's white tablecloth, I would say, "I developed alcoholism when I was 50 and that has introduced crazy into my life in ways I never could have imagined and would never wish on anyone. I have abstained from alcohol for four and a half years."

And then I'd wait. Given that, at this age, we're looking for partners to see us through to the end, given that the ends of my last relationships can be attributable, in part, to alcoholism, and given the uncertainties even authorities have about what addiction really is and what effectively treats it, I would understand if he pushed himself away from the table. I have wondered if I would even date me.

Let's say he leaned forward again and opted in, at least for the dinner conversation.

Here's how I'm crazy.

I optimize everything. See above? I found a "better" way to ask an already great question. When problems need solving, I would want me on my team. When good enough will do, or when creative, informed, dynamic, fantastic solutions can't be implemented, I welcome my partner helping me pause to see and accept this. I feel giddy and moved when others value this trait in me enough to help me shift my attention to something else that needs bettering. I don't always sense when my zeal hurts others, but if they me let know, I am immediately and truly sorry and say so.

I live with a sort of undercurrent of terror. Given my upbringing with these opposing forces, plus what happened later, that I stay near panic makes sense to me. Serendipitously, the billion things I do to help myself with alcoholism also work on terror. Still, the brain on terror reacts sharply, perceives the worst, drives words and actions, and, for me, freezes me into staying home to just stay safe. Under duress, I lash out rarely but withdraw or shut down more often. Kindness calms my terror; criticism ignites it.

I express myself intensely. Sometimes my intensity is due to straight up feeling, intellect, and passion. Sometimes it roars with that unconscious terror thing. I try to modulate so the person can focus on what I'm saying rather than on holding on against the gale force wind. I'm open to negotiation. For example, if that's his preference, I delightedly wait to speak until after my partner has had morning coffee before I share my first insight of the day. Even alone in my quiet office at 4:30 AM, as I am now, writing away, I'm an inner maelstrom. It's mostly just the way I am in the world.

I currently run a quart low on optimism. I have the sense that I've woken up from a 10-year coma, what with five years of active alcoholism and nearly five years trying unsuccessfully to cure it. I think I remember feeling optimistic, even idealistic, 10 years ago, but I'm not sure. I imagine I'm perceived as having a perpetual glass half empty. I might just be experiencing a standard, midlife dip in satisfaction. Whatever it is, I don't value it, but I have an ineffable sadness about how things have gone that I can't shake. However, I see how disappointment and resentment result from belief in a just world where love and hard work are rewarded. They may or may not be. I'm shifting to loving and doing for their own sakes, rather than trying to make things happen as a result. Drips of contentment are beginning to fill my glass a tad.

"You-statements" make me psychotic. Having undertaken herculean tasks to rescue my selfhood from outer horrors I perceived as a Hieronymus Bosch hellscape, and from an inner experience of those horrors expressible only as an Edvard Munch scream, when you say, "You would love this book," I become apoplectic. If you add unsolicited advice and the verbal assault word "should," as in "You should read this book," I draw my sword. My autonomy - my right to choose what is best for me based on my self-knowledge - is sacred to me. I have defended it to the near-death and will do so to the end. I get to say. Period. When I hear "I-statements," I know I'm safe and valued in the company of another autonomy-lover. "I loved this book and I would love to talk about it with someone else. It's about this and this. Might you read it, too?" Ahh…

Iconoclasm is the humor I enjoy. While watching the Disney movie Inside Out, when the orbs symbolizing thoughts and feelings were released, my co-watcher said, "There goes the Wellbutrin." I brayed with laughter, tears streaming from my eyes. When Richard Pryor asks his girlfriend how their love-making was for her, she shrugs. He says, "I got mine! You get yours!" I'm still shocked into laughter decades after first hearing that joke. The cleverest pun bores me. I see the irony in fighting the machine, but I do it anyway. If you do it, too, well, that's pretty funny.

In my mind and heart, there are no molehills, only mountains. To the best of my ability to understand myself at this time, I was born sensitive, made more sensitive by life, can sense nuances acutely, and have had some hard times. As a result, I might try not to anticipate the worst, but it sure seems to have happened in my world. My conclusion from this albeit anecdotal data is that any person can deliver the next blow. I'm on high alert and easily startled. I seem fine because I freeze rather than fight or flee. And, because I'm smart and creative, my mind instantly envisions broken Barbie dolls in a pockmarked earth when you simply pause before speaking.

I love crazily. The essence of me treasures a person, but if that terror thing kicks in, I can swoop too close and too far in an instant. When I'm frightened by what my partner is saying or doing or don't feel close enough, I swoop in and, in conflict with my own love of autonomy and loathing of unsolicited advice, try to optimize and "help" the person be and do what would help me feel safe and close. Even if I can cite research to back my case, I am not the expert on you, your path, or the timing of your travels. You are on yours; I am on mine. The dark side of optimization is it's based, at the simplest level, on judgment that things are bad and could be better. When judgment is applied to people, one is up, the other is down, and judge and judged get split apart. Why listen if already convicted? And when I can't find a way to feel heard by my partner, I swoop away.

I have trouble effectively expressing myself one-on-one, in the moment. I can access and express the complexity of my feelings and thoughts more readily in a group than I can with one other person alone, especially if I don't know the person well, or we have an unequal power relationship. I can get tears in my eyes one-on-one, but I wait until I'm in the car to cry. That's why I've written out my answer to this, "How am I crazy?" question. I would want my potential partner to know these things, but I might not be able to express them over dinner. I guess I could send him the link to this post and sip Perrier while he reads it. Then he could tell me about his crazy. If our crazies don't make us bolt for the door, I would love to try these 36 intense questions! Then we could optimize our relationship contract! Bliss!

What do I do about my crazy? These 3,000+ words are a mere executive summary of the millions of words I have studied on the latest I can discover to effectively, meaningfully take care of myself and what's up with me. I try to make sense of my past. I focus my attention on what's real rather than on what I wish were true or what might come true. I ponder what might make sense for my future and take action today to make it happen for myself. I use my wondrous powers of optimization to figure out what parts of my terror are associated with unmet needs, and I meet them first class. I use "I-statements." And, in one realm, I allow myself full freedom to optimize intensely: I practice self-kindness. Given how scared I can get, like a child or a kitten, of course kindness is what I need most. I almost never settle, throw my hands up, or surrender. Actually, maybe I am crazily optimistic. I have never, not once - even hungover - not gotten out of bed in the morning.

The Last Addictions Memoir below:

Part 1 here  Part 2 here  Part 3 here Part 4 here  Part 5 here Part 6 here Part 7 here Part 8 here 

Part 9 here Part 10 here Part 11 here Part 12 here Part 13 here Part 14 here Part 15 here

Anne Giles, M.A., M.S., is a counselor, writer and business owner. She writes about addictions treatment, recovery and policy at As of this writing, she has been abstinent from alcohol since December 28, 2012, and is in remission from alcohol use disorder.

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Anne Giles, M.A., M.S., is a counselor, writer and business owner. As of this writing, she has been abstinent from alcohol since December 28, 2012, and is in remission from alcohol use disorder. You can find Anne on Linkedin and Twitter.