I’ve heard it said, you don’t ask the question unless you are. I’ve asked the question many times in my life. It seemed the prudent thing to do. The answer was always no. But simply asking the question often led to stopping, cutting back, or drinking very mindfully for a time.
Like many of you, I read a lot of blogs. Lately I’ve been reading blogs written by recovering alcoholics. They give me hope that my brother can remain sober and create a happy life for himself.
Some of the blogs have me wondering about me. They quit because they used alcohol as a coping mechanism. Because they drank too much one night and had a terrible hangover. They found themselves having a couple of glasses of wine every night. They looked forward to drinking on the weekend after a week of abstinence. They use it to numb anger or pain. So they declare themselves alcoholics and start going to meetings.
And then there are the women who get together and “binge” drink. This apparently is an overlooked and alarming issue.
There are (were) three alcoholics in my immediate family. My father and my two brothers. My father was a binge drinker. He traveled a lot and was rarely home, so I imagine he drank a lot more than I knew. He always came home with pocketfuls of the little airline bottles. My brothers progressed to drinking all day every day. Clearly, all three of them qualified as alcoholic. My sister appeared to be in a gray area. She hid it better. She made herself appear to be a social drinker. But when she couldn’t go out on the boat to scatter my father’s ashes without grabbing a beer to go, I wondered.
Sometimes I think about quitting. Sometimes I think about going to AA and saying, “I’m Ella, and I’m an alcoholic.”
But am I? When is there a reason to abstain permanently?
Sometimes I use alcohol to cope. At the end of my relationship with Mack, I drank with him constantly. I didn’t know what else to do when I was around him. It was his favorite thing to do (neck in neck with sex), and there wasn’t much else going on. I suppose it was boredom drinking. On two occasions, however, I had a shot of vodka right before he came over because I didn’t like being around him any more. I think it was a way to numb the disgust. With him, and with myself for not ending it.
Sometimes, I wanted to be stone-cold sober to be present. The nights I spent with my father in Hospice. I knew the rest of my family went home and drank. Or in my mother’s case, ate sugar. But I didn’t want to dull the pain. Or the love.
After my brother’s intervention, I couldn’t wait to get home to have a glass (or two) of wine. Yes, I understood the irony. But at that moment, that’s the coping skill that came to mind. A walk or a cup of hot tea would have been a better idea.
As I read these blogs, I consider stopping. Why not stop? Why should I stop? I don’t want to stop. I like social drinking and now and again wind-down drinking. I don’t drink every day. I can have a glass or two and stop. I can pour the remainder of a glass out when I feel I’ve had enough. I can go on a detox diet and stop altogether for several weeks.
I can also drink way too much. And too often. Does this mean I can go to an AA meeting and honestly say, “I’m Ella, and I’m an alcoholic”?
I know I can say, “I’m Ella, and sometimes I drink too much.”
I do want to refrain from over drinking and hangovers. I do want to stop using it as a go-to coping mechanism. I want to replace it with healthier coping mechanisms. But I also want to have part of a nice bottle of wine with dinner once or twice a week. I like cooking with wine. It makes a great low-fat sauce when used to deglaze the pan. I like to get together with the girls now and then and have a few. If I don’t want to stop, does that mean I have a problem?
- How much is too much?
- Why stop if you don’t truly qualify as an alcoholic?
- When is drinking a problem such that you should stop?
- What are the advantages to stopping completely if you aren’t an alcoholic?
- Is it always a bad idea to drink alcohol, like it’s always a bad idea to smoke?
- What might I learn about myself if I stop completely?
You are asking very good questions and only you can find those answers. I’ve been there and questioned myself over and over again. I’ve been there, done that, I’ve had an alcoholic husband, suffered, drank myself, had the counselors tell me I have a drinking problem, went to AA and Alonon, (spelling?) stopped decades ago, don’t like being around drunks, period. I’ve been fortunate in later years with having solid friends, but, I also have had episodes with my drinking where I went over the line and was told, don’t do that again…and I haven’t (10 years ago). I like my wine, I dilute it for the calorie intake. I wonder if I should not drink…sometimes I don’t have a glass until 8 pm so after all day and yoga! I like my steak too, should I not have a piece of beef! It’s all about moderation and knowing your personality, behavior and stressors. These are questions that only you can ask and answer.
I don’t like being around drunks, either. And I don’t like myself when I cross the line. Which happens very rarely these days. But what if my line is too liberal? I see people professing to be alcoholics who seem to drink like I do. It’s all very confusing. Maybe the difference is, I like it, but I don’t need it. That switch in my brain doesn’t flip after two or three drinks, driving me to a binge. It doesn’t interfere with my life. With my days. Oh hell, I don’t know, but I will continue to monitor my drinking. But I think since I’m only months away from 50 and haven’t “progressed” in my drinking (and actually have regressed), I’m okay.
I would counter that in most cases you don’t ask the question IF you are an alcoholic. Most of the people I’ve known who are/were alcoholics didn’t really care enough to ask the question. They just fed their addiction without pause unless someone else pointed out a problem.
I don’t think there is anything intrinsically wrong with drinking… in moderation. Granted, an individual’s body chemistry has some say in the matter. Some people are more sensitive to alcohol, and therefore more prone to liver damage. But there is nothing wrong with having a glass of wine now and then, or even tying on the occasional buzz. As long as you recognize that you can stop at any time, that it’s not a dependency problem, and you keep asking “am I okay with this?”… I personally don’t think you’d be defined as an alcoholic.
As I’ve aged, I’ve tended to drink more frequently. However, I’m conscious of the amount I drink and if I think I’ve been having a bit much lately, I’ll back off. Right now I’ve been minimizing my drinking because I have a weight loss goal and don’t need the empty calories that alcohol is laden with. I drink, sometimes frequently, but I wouldn’t consider myself to be an alcoholic.
Like Gert said, only you can answer how alcohol interacts with your own personality, behavior, and body chemistry.
I am finding the reasons driving people to AA very interesting. Many of them seem to drink like me. Others drink/drank like my brothers or father. I understand why the latter would decide to stop. But the former baffle me somewhat. I know in AA they say alcoholics help themselves stay in denial by pointing to those who have progressed farther into the abyss of the disease than they have. “He’s got a problem. I don’t drink like that.” I just want to be sure I’m not doing that. I’ve always been very aware of my drinking, and sometimes alarmed by it. More often when I was younger. Truth be told, I am missing cooking a lot more than wine during this detox period. Two more weeks.
That is an interesting question. I quit because I realized that I couldn’t handle a few. A few drinks always ended in a way that made me uncomfortable. The last time I drank “a few” I ended up in a car accident. Only then did I realize that drinking really isn’t for me. Do you like who you are when you drink? Only you can be the judge.
I don’t like drinking too much. I don’t like being a girl with a hangover and losing a day. I don’t turn into someone I don’t like when I’ve been drinking in the sense that I’m mean or obnoxious or sloppy. I think the question I have to answer: Do these rare occurrences bother me enough to quit completely? I’m going to pay very close attention. It’s interesting the thoughts that are coming up now that a very bright light has been shined upon it.
I was going to write a post in the exact same vein as this. Am I or aren’t I an alcoholic? I decided against writing the post on my blog because it distracts from my acceptance that I use alcohol in a way that isn’t good for my emotional health.
I like to drink for peace of mind. I can say for sure I’m not physically addicted because I dry out every Sunday thru Thursday. But I am emotionally addicted and that’s not good. Maybe that’s where you are, too.
I hate to take on the stigma attached to alcoholism so I just assume not call myself that. In my last therapy session my therapist told me she does not think I am an alcoholic and it is not on my diagnosis. She still thinks I could use A.A. to stop abusing alcohol. Her thinking is if you can stop at just one you are not an alcoholic. I don’t know if that is the ultimate signpost or not.
But, really, it doesn’t matter. Listen to your inner voice. If alcohol is controlling you and not the opposite than you’ve got a problem. To me, it sounds like you have a balance right not but you are smart to be watching for signs since the disease runs in your family.
I have so many ways I can deny that I am an alcoholic but instead I am taking the high road and accepting that alcohol is not doing my life any good.
I have come to feel connected to you. I’m sure it is not easy and at times very confusing for you. I can imagine the fear you have after the experiences in your family but you are not them. Don’t mix all of you together; keep those healthy boundaries and take care of yourself. –Fern
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Fern, your recent experiences got me thinking. You were the inspiration for this post. During this period of abstention, I’m trying to honestly assess how I feel without it. I do know I use it to relieve stress. When I get exercise after work, I don’t feel the desire to pour a glass of wine. I’m only a week into, so I’ve got some time to ponder. You’re right, every now and then I get anxious about my family history and need to assess where things stand. I think since I’m about to turn 50 (how did that happen) and I’m doing okay, I might have escaped. But I’m still vigilant.
Boundaries are not my strong suit. But I’m getting lots of practice. 🙂
keep in mind also that aa is not the only program/way to conceptualize drinking. i personally do not like the “alcoholic as weak, broken, must surrender, make amends, rehash the gory details, and preach the word” conceptualization of aa. when i decided that alcohol didn’t belong in my life, i used a program called Women For Sobriety, which was much more affirming and empowering. i used it for my first year, gained confidence and don’t think a lot about not drinking anymore, i think about what i want to do with my life.
that said, i agree that only you can answer the questions. it’s my belief that an alcoholic that’s going to do anything about it must be self-diagnosed. if you feel like you don’t have a problem, enjoy yourself. lord knows i wish i could trust myself to try it out again.
if this helps you at all… for me, what made me decide i had a problem was when i realized that i was always eventually ending up in the same place: face down on my couch, something broken, lies told, called into work/school/some kind of responsibility, loathing myself. which may sound pretty extreme and obvious to you, but it took me several breaks and attempts to see it myself.
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I think I might shrug that off if it happened once in a blue moon. But it would concern me nonetheless. More to think about. I’m determined to make an honest assessment. Either way, I’m going to google Women for Sobriety. Thanks, BSL!
Alcoholism is self-diagnosed. Can you take it or leave it? Most alcoholics cannot. Quit for 30 days and then assess that time period.
There are many indicators for alcoholism. These are merely a couple of broad suggestions.
That sounds like a good experiment. I’ve got one week under my belt. Thank you, Iceman.
I think iceman is right. quit for 30 days, see where that leaves you. if you’re an alcoholic, you won’t be able to do it. Or you’ll hang on for 30 days, just so you can say you did it, then on day 31, you’ll buy a few bottles of wine to “celebrate”. Once you start to use alcohol to cope with feelings, emotions, etc, its a slippery slope. Your brain starts to expect it, and despite your best efforts otherwise, you end up with a beer in your hand. Binge drinking or casual drinking – i think the point is more about the mentality behind it. You can go to AA meetings, but if you’re not buying what their selling, it’ll make little difference to you. All recovery of that nature comes from within, AA would be there for support along your journey.
I used to drink when I was married to my ex. Made the forced sex tolerable… and then just his general presence tolerable. He’s gone. I don’t drink anymore. I learned it was time to find another way to cope with life.
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That is my goal, LookingForward. To use healthier ways of coping. I don’t want to use alcohol to cope, even if it isn’t causing any observable issues. I don’t want a crutch. I don’t want to numb it with booze. I want to face it head on. And then maybe go for a run (ie, slow jog) to zap it.
I was diagnosed with an incurable illness in 2006. It can be permanently controlled but I had to give up alcohol as a trade off. I’ve not drunk since. If you are given that sort of choice quitting is easier. If you want to quit you can. And I feel so much better for it. Lost 3 stone in weight too. I’m not trying to sound holier than thou just trying to show if the will is there it can be done.
Kudos to you giving it up, and losing three stone in the process! Unfortunately, for the alcoholic, even health issues are not enough to get through sometimes. My brother knew if he started drinking again, his liver couldn’t take it.
Have you tried an Open AA meeting? Give it a try. Go in with an open mind and open heart. Listen. Maybe its for you; maybe it isn’t. For me, I didn’t have a problem stopping. I could stop for a day, a week, a month. No problem, right? My problem: I couldn’t stay stopped.
The only requirement for membership in AA is a desire to stop drinking. Or, as a wise person told me in my first few meetings: you don’t have to say you are an alcoholic–just don’t say that you aren’t.
It took me three months of reading recovering-alcoholic blogs, taking those pesky “are you an alcoholic” tests, writing, and working with my therapist before I “hit bottom” and realized I didn’t know how to live life without alcohol. My therapist (an addiction counselor) gave me this guidance: divide your life into 3 or 4 time periods (ex. childhood/high school, college, career…). In each period, list 10 incidents when alcohol and/or drugs were a problem: what you drank/used, how much, who were you with, what were the consequences (hangovers are consequences). I didn’t think I had increasing consequences until I saw my drinking history in black and white. That was the moment when I knew I needed help.
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That’s some great advice, Dorothy. The open meeting and the historical record with details. Both will be enlightening, or at the very least, interesting. Thanks!