Aiming For Oblivion
Today a woman told me she didn’t think she had a drinking problem because she never drank to feel better, or even to get high, the way others did; she drank so she didn’t have to feel anything. She found her emotions intolerable, and she drank aiming for oblivion. She wasn’t an alcoholic, she said, she was just self-medicating.
Okay. Yup. Sure.
I spent a decade or so “self-medicating” by drinking. I hated what I was feeling, and so I drank to drown that feeling, whatever it was. In spite of the consequences, I drank. This set up a horrible cycle: my life is crap, so I drink to stop the guilt/shame/self-pity/fear/rage/remorse/embarrassment/loneliness; but when I’m drinking, I do things that cause me to feel guilt/shame/self-pity/fear/rage/remorse/embarrassment/loneliness; and I can’t tolerate those feelings, so I drink. . . and so on.
For many people reading this, what I’m saying is hardly revelatory. It will sound like old news. But for some — perhaps for you, this might be new information.
Emotions — unmanageable, terrifying, overwhelming, panic- and psychosis-inducing — are the alcoholic’s home turf.
But here’s the good news: if you are drinking to anesthetize yourself, and if it isn’t working, or if the consequences are causing you pain, there is a solution. You can get help and you can get sober. It’s not even that hard. You just have to begin. You have to wave the white flag and admit that alcohol has won the war. You’re done. No more fighting.
There are many places you can go for help. Try one. And if that doesn’t work, try another. You might even try some 12-step meetings, which cost nothing and have the best success rate. Go to an AA meeting. If you don’t like that meeting, go to another — I’ll bet there are tons of them around if you just look for them.
And hey, maybe you’ll even meet some people there who can help you deal with those outlaw emotions, and with your desire for oblivion.
For what it’s worth, I’ve been clean and sober for over seventeen years. I can’t imagine craving oblivion. Are my emotions always comfortable? Of course not — hey, life’s like that. But at no time are they unmanageable. And above all, I know I’m not alone. Neither are you.
Good article. I am always hearing people say, “I don’t know if I’m an alcoholic.” If you are wondering, you probably are. In any case, get help. I attend Alcoholics Anonymous, have a sponsor, and I also attend individual counseling. There are many recovery groups you can look into. Just google it 🙂
Thanks for your comment, Paula, and congratulations on your sobriety. Having a sponsor and working the steps is critical to my own recovery. When people ask me if I think they’re alcoholic I ask them, “Do you drink in spite of the consequences?” Similarly, if you drink too much, drink less. If you can’t drink less, don’t drink. If you can’t stop drinking, get help. It’s very simple, but it does take that first admission. All the best . . .
Seventeen years … I bow to you, Lauren. I’m sure that part of your relinquishment of that desire for oblivion has come through your written work. Pen and paper … so simple … LIfesavers.
Here’s a brilliant blog by Marc Lewis, who wrote *Memoirs of an Addicted Brain* — he’s written this book from his perspectives both as a neuroscientist and as a person who’s been addicted. Best book I’ve ever read about addiction. http://www.memoirsofanaddictedbrain.com/blog/
Thanks, Lexie. But I don’t deserve any bows. Just came to the end of the war. As for staying sober, writing helps, that’s for sure. But honestly, in my case it was the spiritual experiences and change of outlook I had as a result of doing the 12-steps of AA that made all the difference. I’d always written — when drunk, badly — but I never wrote anything worth publishing until I got sober.
And thanks for the reminder about Lewis’s book. I found its examination of the science around drug addiction quite fascinating. Lewis, though, was primarily a drug addict (who certainly didn’t turn down a drink when offered) and the neuroscience for alcohol and alcoholics is different than for opiates, stimulates, hallucinogens, etc. Then, too, although I’m intrigued by my brain’s workings, I am not convinced it is all I am. I was left uncomfortable by Lewis’s offering only a neurological explanation of why, for example, he gave his wife a black eye. I’m unconvinced morality is inextricably attached to neurology. An individual is not just the product of her own mind, but also of the way she (or that mind) moves through the world and interacts with other people. My experience has been that there is a mysterious something more. That’s the spiritual part, which, for me is crucial. On the other hand, if Lewis’s book helps even one person face their addiction issues — then Bravo!
I appreciate the clear way you approach whichever subject you address through your blog essays. Once again, you’ve shared your life experience in an accessible way — I loved the lines you wrote:
“You have to wave the white flag and admit that alcohol has won the war. You’re done. No more fighting.”
While I know this applies to alcohol addiction, it also applies to many other aspects of our day-to-day lives. We need to know when it’s time to give up and face the music, though it’s not easy to do.
You’re right about this applying to many other aspects of our lives as well. I suggest that it’s not actually that hard to do, though, when not to do so results in emotional/physical/spiritual agony and/or death. Gets pretty easy then. Snort.