I was in England recently, where there is an ongoing debate about how much folks are drinking. If you Google “binge drinking” and “UK” a depressingly long list of sites pop up. The Brits are trying a number of things to curb the epidemic — physicians now ask their patients directly about their drinking habits, cheap booze prices are under threat, bars and pubs that stay open after 11pm will have to pay a “law and order” fee due to concerns over the levels of drink-fueled disorder, and a shocking (and rather good, I think) PSA campaign is underway.
Will all this work? Probably not, I’m sad to say.
And here’s a good example of why — while I was sitting in the Cotwolds, sipping an excellent cup of tea, I saw a show on the telly, as they say. In it, a British actress/personality was on a panel with three other women, chat-show style. I wish I could remember her name, but I can’t…Jennie, or Janey or something like that. I recognized her face, but that’s all I’m afraid. (If anyone recognized her or the clip from reading this I’d be grateful if you’d let me know.) She talked about how she had gone through a hideous divorce some years before and found herself drinking out of all control. She was, she said, in complete denial about it and would never have told her doctor how much she was really drinking, not even if he asked her directly. She was so much in denial she drank in secret, until she passed out, hiding bottles everywhere, even in boxes of clothes detergent powder.
“Right,” said her panel-mate, “That’s precisely the problem. Alcoholics won’t admit they’re alcoholics. That’s part of the pathology of the disease.”
“Hold up, now!” said, Jennie/Janey. “I wasn’t an alcoholic.”
Blank looks all round, including, no doubt, on my face.
“No, not an alcoholic” she said. “You have to understand that. It wasn’t as though I drank because I liked it. I never liked the taste of alcohol. Good heavens. I want to make that clear. I was NOT an alcoholic. I never drank because I liked it.”
More blank looks, until someone finally said, “Well, but if you were hiding bottles and drinking to oblivion…”
“It was a bad time. I don’t drink that way anymore. Honestly I don’t. And I never liked alcohol. I was drinking because I wanted to stop the pain. I just couldn’t stand how much it hurt. But I was never an alcoholic.”
Oh dear, I thought, is alcoholism still so little understood? Look, maybe Joanie/Janey isn’t/wasn’t an alcoholic. Not for me to say. But I will say this: Alcoholics don’t drink because we love alcohol, although some of us might. We drink for the effect of alcohol, not the slight hint of blueberry under-note in that impudent little Cabernet. Back in the day, I would have drunk pond scum if it got the job done.
Alcoholics drink because we want to be prettier, smarter, funnier, more confident, and alcohol makes us feel that way. Deludes us, in other words. We drink because we want to stop the pain, enhance those hilarious high-jinks (you know, like projectile vomiting and pissing ourselves, and tossing furniture about the room). I drank because once I took the first drink I couldn’t stop — or at least not for long. I drank in part because I hated my life, and hated myself, and wanted to stop the crushing anxiety and panic and depression… all of which I had because I was drinking alcoholically. But of course you couldn’t tell me that. I had a list of justifications and excuses long enough to circle the graveyard. Long enough to hang myself with, which is exactly what both my brothers did. I don’t think they drank because they liked the taste either.
Alcoholics drink in spite of the consequences. Simple as that. And alas, for many of us, we won’t stop at all…drinking will kill us. For others, we won’t stop until something unspeakable, something horrendous, happens … like the young woman I met who killed someone while driving drunk … or the man I know who beat his son to a bloody pulp while under the influence… or the woman who fell asleep drunk with a cigarette in her hand and burned down her house, with her three children inside. (She escaped, but wishes she hadn’t.) Or the countless others who ruined their marriages, the careers, their health, their reputations.
People with drinking problems don’t think straight. We get into cars drunk, we hit our kids, we pick fights, we may even write obscene words on our fingernails when going to court for probation violations.
The bottom line is — if you’re drinking in spite of the consequences, you’ve got a problem. Get help. You’re not alone. Here’s the good news — You don’t have to feel this bad again. I promise.