Posts Tagged ‘recovery’

Alcoholics and Excuses, a Familiar Mix

Thursday, May 4th, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

The first 100 days of you know what have been disturbingly familiar to me, but I haven’t been able to put a finger on why until now. For the past decade, I’ve been writing a regular column called Addiction and Recovery. Self-explanatory. As I was writing my recent column, it came to me what that disturbing feeling was all about. I’ve actually written about it before in connection with you know who, but I think information on this subject can’t be repeated too often. So, here’s my latest Addiction and Recovery column. I think you’ll make the connection.

 ***

"I'm a single mom. I work hard. I deserve it."

“I’m a single mom. I work hard. I deserve it.”

Alcoholics are, among other things, creative people, especially when it comes to dreaming up excuses to justify their drinking. Living with an alcoholic can be a whirlwind of confusion, disappointment, and frustration. And that’s the good stuff. It is likely there will also be some combination of pain, anger, resentment, loss, anxiety, or sorrow.

And yet, the alcoholic will insist that his or her drinking is not the cause of any problems. In fact, may well insist that he or she needs to drink because of the problems: “If you had my life (wife, job, luck), you’d drink, too.” Sound familiar?

Alcoholics are also masters of justification when it comes to threatening to take away the one thing that, while it may well be killing them or doing other serious harm, seems to make life worth living. That makes it crucial for those whose lives are directly affected by an alcoholic to know when they’re hearing excuses that belie what they have seen and heard with their own eyes and ears.

Following are some of the common excuses alcoholics use when their drinking is called into question:

  • “My favorite excuse was always that I work very hard and I deserve to play very hard, too.” … So says J.T.E., a middle-aged Orange County, N.Y., man 30 years sober. It’s the  “bring-home-the-bacon” excuse. It ignores the fact that most people are working hard to bring home the bacon, or vegan substitute, but not everyone is drinking to excess (and maybe ignoring family responsibilities) to reward themselves for being such wonderful providers.

        This excuse is not exclusive to males. G.P., who also lives in Orange County, says, “My biggest excuse was simply that I deserved it. I was a single mom who worked very hard to climb the ladder of business success without an education. I also had my cars, home and never had a ‘run in’ with police. That being said, I deserved to binge drink my weekends away. I was a hardworking mom and nobody could tell me different. I’ve been sober since September, 2015.”

  • “It’s my life (my body, my health, my future), I’m not hurting anyone except myself.” … Alcoholics are also self-centered and egotistical. It may be hard for some to admit that their behavior is having serious negative effects on the lives of people closest to them, those who care the most for them. Hard as it is to believe, they may not even notice it. Denial is a powerful foe.
  • “I only drink to relax, to relieve the stress.” This is often an extension of the “bring-home-the-bacon” excuse. Again, the alcoholic likes to think he or she is unique — the only one with a stressful job. Drinking or using drugs to relieve stress because of a pressure-filled job is not uncommon, but is not necessarily the healthiest choice available. For some, it’s the worst choice and can lead to even more stress at work. Exercise and meditation are a couple of more healthful stress-relief alternatives.
  • “Everyone I know drinks. Why pick on me?” … Well, yes and no. It’s unlikely that everyone the alcoholic knows drinks the same way (as often, as much, as routinely) as he or she does. But if they do, then he or she needs to find a new group of friends to hang out with.
  • “I’m not an alcoholic. Now Joe, he’s an alcoholic.” … There are stages of alcoholism and Joe may well be an alcoholic who has used all these excuses to deny his problem and avoid getting help. It’s not necessary to compare and look for a lower bottom. The stereotype of the alcoholic as a wino with a paper bag no longer prevails, but it can still happen if someone is unable to admit the truth.  
  • “It’s expected in our society. I only drink to be sociable.”  … John (not his name), a man in his 70’s from Sullivan County, N.Y., with more than 30 years of sobriety, recalls how surprised he was in early sobriety to notice that not everyone at a wedding, dinner party, or banquet was drinking alcohol. In fact, some people never went near the cash bar. Again, wrapped up in themselves, alcoholics see only what they want to see. Alcohol may be a social lubricant, but for some it can also have the counter-productive effect of driving people away.
  • “I’m not an alcoholic, I can stop any time I want.” … Any time except right now. This is the classic stall. It’s often paired with, “This is not the right time.” Because you couldn’t possibly not drink during the holidays, on vacation, on St. Patrick’s Day, or next Tuesday. It’s never the right time, so why not just go ahead and prove you can do it?
  • “I only drink beer (or wine), not booze.” ,,, This excuse has been watered down in recent years as more people have become aware that, in whatever form, alcohol is alcohol. You drink enough, you get drunk. This is cousin to, “I only drink on weekends.” It’s not what you drink that matters, or even how much or how often; it’s the impact it has on your life. Alcohol and trouble. That’s why people are talking about your drinking.
  • “I drink a lot of wine (craft beer) because I really like the taste.”Please.

***

‘I changed my mind …’

Alcoholics are also good at justifying their drinking to themselves, not just others. M.G., a sober woman who lives in Orange County, says, “Some of my go-to’s were, they’ll never find out, just one, just one more, just for the summer — I have to get the need out of my system.

“One I didn’t realize until years into recovery was when I would set out, having told myself and usually also promised my family that I wouldn’t drink that night, when I’d get in front of alcohol I’d always drink it and say I changed my mind. Fact was, I couldn’t be around it without drinking it. I had no defense against the first drink. I wanted to feel good, to be cool, just one last time.”

rjgaydos@gmail.com

 

Whitney and Josh and Their Disease

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

Josh Hamilton

Whitney Houston

By Bob Gaydos
In a week filled with sometimes lurid, often fawning stories about the death of Whitney Houston, it was once again evident how little most Americans know about addiction or, in fact, how little they seem to care to know.
The pop icon’s longtime battle with drugs was well-known, yet when she died in unusual circumstances, the two most popular theories put forth were that she had suffered from a drug overdose or that her doctors — the new media favorite suspect since the Michael Jackson case — had somehow killed her by messing up prescribed medications.

 

Both are possible, of course. But it is also quite plausible that the years of abusing her body with drugs and alcohol had taken an early toll on her, as they had with an even younger Amy Winehouse. But the only fact of which anyone is certain right now is that no one will know what killed Whitney until an autopsy is completed.

At the same time, there has been a noticeable lack of criticism aimed at Houston for her drug-filled lifestyle while her fans ease their grief by remembering her in better times, on stage, in recordings, in the movies. It’s as if Whitney the superstar, in death, was now finally beyond rebuke and, officially and irrevocably, a victim of addiction.

That’s an awfully steep price to have to pay for society to at last acknowledge your disease. Unfortunately, it’s not at all uncommon. People who struggle with addiction and who relapse — but do not die — are more likely to feel the sting of society’s tongue. Indeed, for those not afflicted with alcoholism or drug addiction, probably the least understood aspect of recovery is the relapse, especially when it follows a significant period of sobriety. The same questions inevitably come up. How could he drink when he knows how much he has to lose? How could she use drugs again knowing it would hurt her family?

The questions themselves define the disease of addiction. Quite simply, relapse, while not a requirement of recovery, is nonetheless a part of it for many people. Houston herself was an example. Addicts do things that defy reason and common sense, often to the harm of themselves and those close to them. That’s why recovery programs stress the need for addicts to develop a new way of thinking, a new way of living, a new image of themselves that does not include using alcohol or drugs.

It is not easy to make this change, but with time, the support of loved ones and constant attention to the new behaviors suggested as a way of living a sober life, it gets easier. It becomes the addict’s new normal way of living, in good times or bad.

Recently, another celebrity — although not in Houston’s orbit — apparently forgot that basic fact of recovery life. Josh Hamilton, the star outfielder for the Texas Rangers and probably the best-known admitted addict in baseball, acknowledged that he had relapsed. He apparently had several drinks in a bar with “friends,” called a teammate who talked with him and dropped him at home, then went out again and had a few more drinks. Hamilton said at a press conference the next day he had had a ”weak moment” and was drinking over “personal reasons.”

Being a high-profile professional athlete, Hamilton’s history with addiction and recovery has been well chronicled. He has been dealing with it for 10 years, even being suspended from baseball for two years for alcohol and drug abuse. But he had been clean and sober for two years before his “slip” and his public honesty about his disease has been praised. At the same time, Hamilton has received a lot of criticism among sports reporters for his slip, mostly of the “how could he do that?” variety.

But the fact of the matter is that celebrities must deal with the same challenges in recovery as the businessman next door, the veteran teacher, or the local plumber while living in a pressure-packed public bubble. There is no anonymity for Whitney Houston or Charlie Sheen … or Josh Hamilton. There is no way for them to try to justify their risky behavior as acceptable just because nobody saw it. This means Hamilton, and other athletes and celebrities who live with addiction, must be even more diligent in following their sober routine — in accepting their disease — if they want to avoid relapse.

One of the striking facts in the stories about Hamilton’s relapse is that he no longer had an “accountability partner” assigned to him by his team. The “partner,” the equivalent of a sponsor in Alcoholics Anonymous, went everywhere with Hamilton when he wasn’t playing ball or at home. But the coach who had the job recently took a job with another team and Hamilton was doing it on his own.

That may be possible for people with several years of clean and sober time, but it is not recommended. Besides, Hamilton’s recovery has been a series of relapses, suggesting he still hasn’t fully surrendered to the concept of addiction. That’s not unusual, but many people who have trouble staying sober and who relapse several times do eventually get sober and lead fulfilling, contented lives. For every Whitney Houston and Amy Winehouse there are dozens of sober celebrities who are leading contented lives, not creating headlines..

That’s why it’s important when an addict relapses to resist the easy temptation to question and criticize him because “he has so much to lose” or “he let down so many people who care about him.” Yes, it is about taking responsibility for one’s actions, but recovery is also often about second or third chances. The Texas Rangers, with a manager who is also a recovering drug addict, appear to understand this. They assigned Hamilton a new accountability partner.

Hamilton also apologized to “fans, kids, people who have addiction who look up to me.” That’s all well and good. But he’s been dealing with addiction long enough to know that other recovering addicts aren’t putting him or any other celebrity addict on a pedestal. There are no all stars in the battle and there is no “I” in recovery. But no addict living with what is often a fatal disease should have to die for the rest of the world to finally get it.

Bob Gaydos also writes a regular column on addiction and recovery. bob@zestoforange.com

Addiction — the Democratic Killer

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

Amy Winehouse

By Bob Gaydos

Last week, fellow Zest columnist Michael Kaufman posed some questions about the death of Amy Winehouse — in sum, why was it “allowed to happen” — and suggested that, since I also write a published column on addiction and recovery, perhaps I might have some thoughts on the subject.

Which, of course, I do. They are not based on any special insight into the psychological makeup of the singer, nor any knowledge of her medical history or even a hint of the kind of environment in which she grew up. To some extent, all of this unique information may matter in trying to determine why Amy Winehouse died so tragically at age 27 (the precise cause has not been announced). On the other hand, hers has all the earmarks of a typical alcohol and drug-related death. Her celebrity made it newsworthy, but don’t for a minute think that the parents of other, less-talented young men and women who succumb to addiction do not understand and share the profound sorrow of Amy’s parents.

Addiction is a remarkably democratic disease, an indiscriminate killer. Could Amy’s death have been avoided? Possibly. There is always the chance with addiction that a person can be “saved” from himself or herself. Most of the time, this hope rests with the family and friends of the addict, the ones who bear the brunt of the pain of the addictive behavior. For her part, Winehouse seems to have bought into the stereotyped alcohol-and-drug-filled life of the tragic, young musician early on. Now she will live forever as the dark flip side of the sex, drugs and rock ’n roll theory of life.

She has company there, of course. In the immediate aftermath of her death, the internet was full of observers welcoming her to the infamous “27 Club.” These are talented, immensely popular young performers who died at age 27, all of whom led self-destructive lives fueled by alcohol and drug abuse. The most prominent other members are Jimi Hendrix, who choked on his vomit after combining sleeping pills with wine, Janis Joplin, who overdosed on heroin while drinking, Jim Morrison, whose cause of death was listed as “heart failure,” and Kurt Cobain, who committed suicide.

Addiction is obviously not fussy about the manner in which it kills. But truth be told, while thousands die each year from some cause related to excessive use of alcohol or drugs, many more simply live out their lives with untreated alcoholism or drug dependency. A lot of it is not pretty. Much of it is avoidable.

Most public discussion of addiction focuses on the behavioral symptoms of the disease. Most people still think of it as a cultural, social or criminal matter, rather than a health issue. Society for the most part treats it that way. We never ask why someone suffering from heart disease or cancer who refuses treatment can’t be “committed” for their own good. It’s their choice. Is a person in the grip of addiction capable of making a rational decision on receiving treatment? Maybe not, seeing as denial is a primary symptom of the disease. But there is no way to legally require an addict to get treatment, even if a crime has been committed. We tried committing alcoholics to mental wards for many years only to learn that it didn’t work.

What does work? Or, more specifically, what might have worked for Amy? Here’s where knowing her medical and family history could help, since science has established a genetic predisposition to addiction as well as identifying the likely center for this activity in the brain. But people without a family history of alcoholism or brains hard-wired to require more pleasure receptors also become addicts.

What science is also telling us now is that it is important to begin when children are young to establish a lifestyle that does not encourage the indiscriminate use of alcohol or drugs to “feel good.” One that does not glamorize or demonize alcohol, but rather offers an honest perspective on it. Kids’ brains are malleable. They mimic their elders and have little concept of their own mortality.

Amy’s parents may well have done this, but the key is to keep doing it even when the child resists. There’s no such thing as caring too much, of giving too much information. But the singer also had the burden of tremendous success, with the pressure to keep performing. The stress on young people in this situation is unimaginable to most of us. If she was inclined to use alcohol and drugs to deal with stress to begin with (and her music suggests as much), the inescapable presence of alcohol and drugs in the pop music industry could have been enough to drown out any voices of reason coming from loved ones. Amy Winehouse, while young, talented and vulnerable, was also a tremendously profitable business. Money talks. Business associates can be persuasive enablers. (Even Charlie Sheen has been offered a new TV sitcom.)

This is my personal opinion. I would say, given her history, Winehouse needed a lot of time away from performing and professional help in detoxing herself from alcohol and drugs — neither of which she got. She may well have rejected both. But if her music family had combined with her biological family and persisted in their efforts, if, say, they made performing impossible for her until she had received professional help in treating her addiction, Amy Winehouse might still be with us. People in recovery tell those who are still struggling not to give up before the miracle happens, because you never know when that miracle — the death of denial –may happen.

And as for her fans, rather than memorializing Amy Winehouse as the latest member of a foolishly glamorized group of talented dead addicts, how refreshing it would be for them to start honoring a different group — all the talented, clean and sober performers living in recovery. Talk about your miracles.

Bob@zestoforange.com