For me, alcoholism was the hardest thing in the world to identify with or to even relate to when I was in my early recovery the first time around. Sure, I could identify myself as a drug addict because after all “I loved getting high” and well… it just sounded cooler than being an “alcoholic”. I was 19 years old and the last thing I wanted was to be one of them!
I listened patiently as the staff at the hospital’s treatment wing explained to me that “Alcohol was a drug and that if I drank it would take me back out.” I quietly listened as the NA folks came in and pointed out that “Alcohol was a drug and if I drank it would take me back where I came from.” “Blah…blah…blah…” So ultimately I began viewing myself as “An addict who chose not to drink” and this actually worked for me quite a while. In fact it worked for over a year. Of course…it most likely helped that I was totally separated from any exposure to alcohol for over a year in another facility! When I got out of that program I then attended 12-step meetings briefly before leaving to go to Bible College. I went to my parent’s church one Sunday, (Episcopal), and received communion. Not that I thought I had a problem with alcohol or anything… but I decided to dip my communion bread in the wine rather than sip it from the chalice. From the moment the bread went into my mouth, I shoved it into my cheek rather than swallowing it. I resumed my seat on the pew and for the next half hour, that bread stayed pressed into my cheek. I can still remember sucking on it and actually “feeling” the drops of wine as they went down my throat and the warmth in my chest. (No alcoholic behavior there, right?) You know, looking back on that moment in time, it causes me to have to say, “When you go to take Holy Communion and you suck the wine out of the Communion bread…you just might be an alcoholic!”
So I then headed off to Bible College in Dallas, TX where I figured I could be a “better person” and promptly ended up getting myself expelled from there by the end of the very first semester, in part due to the place I was hanging out….can you guess what establishment that might have been? You got it…the local bar! Of course I could rationalize it by saying, (and I said it), that, “I just felt like I related more to the people in there”. All the regulars in the bar knew where I went to school and referred to me as their local evangelist – although there really wasn’t much evangelizing going on one way or another! I was quite proud of myself because I indeed had not drunk any alcohol, although in all honesty I would have given my right arm to do it and get away with it. I was much like the boy referred to in the
Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous who was described as, “whistling in the dark to keep up his spirits”. You know…when you relate more to the regulars in the bar, (the really drunk ones), than the folks in the outside world…you just might be an alcoholic!”
After my expulsion I returned home to Birmingham and moved in with my old best friend and within weeks following my 2 yr. sobriety date…I drank. Now leading up to this moment three basic emotions had begun to consume my life. Can you guess? Yup…restlessness, irritability and discontentment! I went to a place where I used to love to go think, and so now went to ponder the feelings I was having. It was atop a large rock that had about a 35ft. drop and was accessible to climb down the side of to the underbelly, (coincidentally, the under belly is where I used to get high.) So, as I pondered my feelings I decided to scale down to the underbelly because I figured I could “think better” there. Upon my decent I lost my footing and slid belly down across the rough terrain to the bottom. I was SO ANGRY upon ending my decent that a memory came flooding back into my head…. “The last time I was here I was getting high and I did this same thing! It doesn’t matter what I do, (clean or high), I always fall down this thing!!!” Yep…there you have it…my reason for going to get my first drink. I knew I couldn’t get “drugs” and I couldn’t get “vodka” because that would mean I had a problem. So…I got wine coolers. Indeed, within a few days I had an ENTIRE refrigerator shelf FULL of wine coolers…no food mind you…just wine coolers. “You know…when you get rid of your food and the only liquid you consume is wine coolers and you view THIS as “controlled drinking”…you just might be an alcoholic!”
Of course everything they told me at the hospital and everything those 12-step folks had told me turned out to be absolutely true. It didn’t take to long for me to become bored and irritated with the minimal effect I was getting from the wine coolers or the LARGE amount I was having to consume to get drunk. Ultimately it led me back to where I came from and the bottom came much faster…only two months. Slowly the door of possibility began to creep open in my mind and I came to believe that…. “I” just might be an alcoholic! OH how I wanted it to not be true. I went back into treatment and expressed my confusion as to “How this could have happened to me.” I learned that I had a disease which did not differentiate between the chemicals I put in my body…liquid or otherwise and that if I wanted to have a life…a real life…I was going to have to acknowledge one very important thing to myself… “Rebecca, you are an alcoholic!” It’s been 25 years since that admission and I’m happy to say I’ve not had one moment of regret!
©2010-2014 Rebecca Balko