A reader posted an interesting question on About UnPickled that I wanted to address here so that more of you might add your feedback. Here is the original comment from sunandsand52:
I wonder if you have ever addressed those feelings that overwhelm so many when they desire to stop drinking. ..the feelings of, “Well, I may quit but I have been in this abuse pattern for so long that I most certainly have caused irreparable damage, so what’s the point?”
How did you handle these thoughts? How did you overcome this and other excuses to continue to drink?
The question contains a kind of blind spot we develop in active addiction, which is selective awareness: acknowledging that damage may exist but using it to justify continuation of the behaviour. This thinking also requires the denial that addiction tends to get increasingly worse; there is nothing static about it. So as the addictive mind is telling itself, “I’ve already done the damage so I might as well just keep hanging out at this level,” the reality is in fact that the damage will increase, the behaviour will progress, and problems will mount.
Problematic drinking does not often self-resolve or even remain at the same level for long. Tolerance increases until the body stops metabolizing alcohol, and then the proverbial shit hits the fan for most people. People at this advanced stage of addiction find that their response to alcohol is completely unpredictable – one drink could cause a black out. Additionally, heavy drinking impairs the digestion system so the effects of malnutrition appear as mental confusion, emotional instability, loss of appetite and sleep disturbances. Withdrawal symptoms present themselves if there is a break in alcohol intake. At this stage, a person feels terrible and ironically believes the only relief comes from the originating problem itself: alcohol.
Essentially, it is wishful thinking that the drinking habits (and the associated damage) can just continue at the same level unchecked. SOMETHING will tip the scales – it might be an emotional or physical crisis requiring hospitalization, social repercussions such as family or work-related consequences, or even criminal charges like a DUI or public drunkenness that force the necessary changes. In truly tragic circumstances, alcohol will cause injury or death – either to the drinker or to others in their wake.
So what’s the harm in continuing to drink if some harm has already been done? Plenty.
A better question might be, what’s the harm in living without alcohol? What is there to regret? Who could be hurt? Much of the physical damage can be repaired with abstinence and certainly the social/emotional damage can be much better healed in the absence of alcohol.
My hope for everyone who is drinking problematically is that they might find the willingness to quit before some dire consequence makes the choice for them. My wish is that the hurt, pain and damage that alcohol causes to families affected by addiction could be cut to the quick, and that no one would ever get behind the wheel of a car, tractor, semi truck or bulldozer while drinking. My dream is that we could be as aware of the health hazards of drinking as we are of second-hand smoke, UV rays, asbestos, and old sushi.
It is so confusing to onlookers why the drinker keeps drinking. They cannot possibly understand how addiction scrambles the messages from the body and brain so that alcohol looks like the solution rather than the problem; how a mom who is about to drive her kids to school would drink vodka to stop shaking, actually believing it will make her a safer driver. You can’t even call that a rationalization – it is pure delusion and that’s how addiction keeps itself alive.
I am thankful every single day that I got off the merry-go-round before I got to this point, but it could have happened if I had continued – it was only a matter of time and continued drinking. For me, that knowledge alone was enough – I didn’t want to get to the terrible places that alcohol was leading towards. I had a flashing moment of clarity in which the truth of my trajectory hit me, and it shook me to the core. That was what I needed, and I am grateful.
I could be flippant and say, “If awareness is not enough for you, keep drinking and let the problems build until you get uncomfortable enough to quit.” I hate to say that, though, because of all the innocent people whom that strategy endangers.
All I can do is tell you the truth and hope it is enough: my life is better without alcohol. It is easier, safer, happier and healthier. I do not regret a single day of not drinking; I’ve never gone to bed and wished I drank that day. I feel better about myself. I am more honest and authentic and just a better Jean all around.
I wish the same for everyone, whatever the burden: Lay it down, free yourself. Spare yourself and others the potential pain ahead by believing there is a better way. Know you are worth the effort. Know there is help, and you are not alone.
Know it is possible; know that we do recover.