The day my social drinking changed into problem drinking
Do you remember the moment you became a problem drinker?
Us drinkers spend a crazy amount of time comparing our drinking to that of other people.
Despite the fact it is the most blatant form of confirmation bias you will ever witness. It is entirely pointless. You see, we are not looking for evidence that we need to take action and quit drinking.
Quite the opposite, we are looking for proof that our drinking is not so bad (when you compare it to other people).
AA didn’t work for me
This is one of the many reasons why Alcoholic’s Anonymous didn’t work for me and why I believe it does not work for the vast majority of people who fall into the ‘problem drinking’ category rather than the full-blown alcoholics.
The first time I nervously walked into a church hall where the local AA meeting was about to start, I was a shaking mess.
I couldn’t believe that I was finally ready to admit that I was an alcoholic. But I was an emotional wreck that night for many reasons. Here I was trying to get help but I had lied to my wife about where I was going. Earlier that week I had lied to my doctor (again) about how much I was drinking.
I hated myself at that moment
There was a huge amount of self-loathing going on inside my anxious and worried head as I walked into that room.
It was a bit like the scenes you see in old spaghetti western’s where a stranger walks into a bar, the music stops and all heads turn to inspect the new arrival.
A dozen grey, despondent faces turned to briefly inspect me.
Before the leader of the group pointed to a chair and reassured me, ‘you don’t need to speak, just watch tonight’. That was a relief because at this point if they had asked me to do the ‘hi my name is Craig and I am an alcoholic‘ thing, I would have been forced to lie once again. I knew my drinking was out of control but I didn’t think I was an alcoholic.
Of course, if I had vocalized that opinion I would have been roundly pounced upon for being in denial.
You are not an alcoholic!
However, eight years later I still don’t believe I am an alcoholic and willing to wager that you are not one either. I will explain why later. I will get hideously side-tracked if I go into that right now.
So, I sat there as the meeting got underway. I was expecting someone to take charge and lead things, but instead, we all sat in an uncomfortable silence, staring at the person opposite us for a good few minutes. I felt a mild sensation of panic start to rise.
Was there some protocol that the newbie was supposed to do, were they all waiting for me to do something? Was I supposed to jump up and praise the lord or something? Whatever it was they were expecting of me, I was damn sure I wasn’t doing it.
Such a painful silence
Thankfully my crazy thoughts were silenced by a middleaged man with messy salt and pepper hair coughed, cleared his throat and said ‘Hi, my name is Duncan and I am alcoholic’. The rest of the room (save for me) responded in unison ‘Hi Duncan’.
He then went on to tell us he was 30 days sober and began to recount stories of his drinking behavior. He told us how he used to get up and drive to the liquor store. On the way back he would drink the first quarter bottle of vodka, so he could throw the empty bottle out of the window.
One less to hide around the home I guess.
Then he would spend the rest of the day in a drunken stupor. His wife was set to leave him, again. He couldn’t hold down a job anymore and his doctors had told him if he didn’t stop drinking he would be dead within six months.
I sat there with my jaw wide open. Jeez, this was bad, I felt a huge wave of sympathy for the poor guy.
However, that wasn’t the emotion that occupied the top spot in my awareness. More than that I was suddenly feeling very, very happy.
Because my drinking was nowhere near that. I actually started to think ‘what the hell am I doing here, I need to get out of this depressing room and go have a beer’. I only went to AA a couple of time but it made me drink even more than before so I decided it probably wasn’t such a great idea.
Most people don’t really know when their drinking changed from a social pleasantry into something more insidious.
Have you ever driven home from work and when you arrived at your destination suddenly become aware that you don’t have any memory of the journey?
It’s like your brain went into some weird autopilot mode.
This is a bit like how most people drift into problem drinking. One minute they are at a party having a cheeky glass of wine with friends and the next they are sneaking a swig of vodka with lunch, just to take the edge off.
Strangely I remember the precise moment when I became a problem drinker.
I was in my early twenties and I was working at a radio station in Coventry, England. I had been hired to host the morning show, the biggest and most important program on any commercial radio station. I was hopelessly out of my depth and not anywhere near experienced enough to pull off what was being asked of me.
If you are wondering how I managed to get the job.
Well, I was cheap. Actually, I was around 50% cheaper than any of the other broadcasters who had thrown their hat into the ring for this opportunity.
My boss was a silver-haired charmer called Stuart Linnell and I think he thought they could make a decent saving on the hire and then he could mold me into the sort of broadcaster he really wanted on the air.
He quite quickly discovered that I wasn’t a ball of modeling clay and I couldn’t be reshaped on a daily basis into the mirror image of some other famous radio star.
Alcohol killed the radio star
One day I was told to sound like famous broadcaster A and then the next day I would be told it wasn’t working out and I should try to sound more like famous broadcaster B.
After months of this schizophrenic nightmare, I became plainly obvious to the both of us that his plan to shape me into a 21-year-old legend of the airways just wasn’t working.
Stuart was becoming more and more frustrated and angry with my inability to sound the way he wanted me to.
‘At ten past eight this morning, you said the traffic was getting busy on the roads. What God damn roads, you idiot, give me details so I can plan my journey’, he said with several veins throbbing on his forehead.
On this day, something in my head just flipped.
I left the radio station at 11 am and drove to a liquor store. I bought a bottle of Southern Comfort with the sole mission of getting drunk and sleeping for at least the next 20 hours.
This was the first time I ever used alcohol to change my state rather than just to be social. I didn’t think anything of it at the time but if you look at that situation from above as a third person, it’s got red flags all over the place.
The problem with using alcohol to deal with life’s problems is manyfold. However, perhaps the most important thing us drinkers fail to spot is that it doesn’t actually help in any way, shape or form.
Did spending the next 20 hours in a drunken coma improve my performance the next morning?
What do you think?
Alcohol promises a solution but only ever delivers more problems.
From this point in my life, it became my solution to everything. This is despite the fact that I had zero evidence to justify this routine. Alcohol didn’t help me become the sort of broadcaster my boss wanted, it never helped me when I got into debt and it didn’t fix my broken marriage.
It’s a bit like constantly throwing gasoline on a fire and hoping that eventually, the fire will go out.
Making the madness center stage
I believe the reason my approach to problem drinking has been so powerfully effective, and for so many people. Is because I try to deconstruct some of the madness around the drug before I go anywhere near advising people to quit drinking.
With AA and all other ways of dealing with alcohol addiction, it seems that people are left with all the false beliefs of alcohol and are just told to be a good little boy or girl and stay away from the thing they want the most on planet earth.
In case you are wondering, I lasted another month on the morning show before I was moved to a lower profile program. Oh, and I have never drunk Southern Comfort since. That hangover will stay with me for the rest of my life.