Dying was particularly difficult for my dad. He’d lived a wonderful outward life — excelling in his career, mentoring others, and serving his family — yet he was tortured by one huge regret: He’d never been deep-down honest with himself. For over 50 years, he’d believed his own lies around how much he drank — although, strictly speaking, they weren’t his lies. They were the lies alcoholism tells every alcoholic.
I’m an Near Death Experiencer, and as an aftereffect, I occasionally read minds without trying. For two days and one night while my father lay dying, I “heard” his thoughts and dreamed his struggles. He couldn’t speak, but, sensing he was on his deathbed, he saw the truth: “Deep down I knew! Every day I thought, tomorrow I’ll drink less, but every tomorrow I drank away again. Life was so vivid and precious, but I muffled mine under a shroud of alcohol. And now it’s over!”
Before we list alcoholism’s lies, let’s consider a definition of the disease itself* according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine and Journal of American Medicine:
Alcoholism is a primary, chronic disease [that]… is often progressive and fatal. It is characterized by continuous or periodic impaired control over drinking, preoccupation with the drug alcohol, use of alcohol despite adverse consequences, and distortions in thinking, most notably denial.
Note that this definition says nothing about joblessness or homelessness, the form of alcohol used (Cabernet, Colt 45, everclear), or being a white male. Alcoholics are everywhere. Note also that the definition calls out the most important of many distortions in thinking: denial.
Why? Because denial is the superpower that lets alcoholism kick our asses! If it lacked this power, no one would need a spiritual solution to overcome it. We’d just say, “Shit! I’ve got alcoholism!” and go seek treatment as for any other illness. But addiction in many ways resembles a parasite concealing itself from the host; it makes us say: “I’m not an alcoholic; I just [fill in the blank].”
I said it. You’ve said it. We all say it.
Below are some of alcoholism’s favorite variations on “not an alcoholic!” BTW, I thought about making nice in my responses, but I’m writing this to save some lives, not to make friends.
1. I drink a lot because I’m daring
Bullshit. We drink because we’re scared. Life in its full intensity overwhelms the shit out of us, so we impair our brains to dilute it. That’s daring? Swallowing is bold? The truth is that deep down we have no clue how to live or what the hell we’re doing, but we pretend to have it all down until we just can’t stand the façade any more. Getting fucked up is way less scary than looking inward.
2. Drinking helps me live life to the fullest
Totally! No way do we do the same 3 predictable things every frickin’ time we’re bombed: Talk sloppier, emote with a toddler’s self-insight, and decide stupid shit is a great idea. This is crap any dipshit can do. Living life to the fullest takes love — enough love to dedicate ourselves to something bigger than self.
3. I’m more fun when I drink
Those with good humor and a zest for life are fun clear-headed. Those who lack both imagine they’re fun drunk. Fun for others? Ask ’em. The sad thing is, if we’ve got to grease our brains with dopamine to lower our inhibitions, chances are we’re battling an inner voice that constantly announces we suck. Until we find the courage to get vulnerable, to risk exposing our fears and weaknesses to trusted others, we’ll never know what it’s like to feel loved for our true nature.
4. I choose to drink — it’s not a compulsion
Of course we do! Just, uh… kind of always and, um… soon after deciding NOT to. But, shit, we just changed our minds — right? Wank on, my friend. As Gabor Maté has explained, addiction bypasses the decision-making part of the brain (frontal lobe) by exploiting the “pre-approved idea” feature that governs reflexes. As sure as we’ll put up our hands to deflect a ball, we’ll “decide” a drink is — hey, y’know what? — a great idea! The brain is alcoholism’s bitch!
5. Drinking doesn’t fuck up my brain/body
Bad news! Alcohol is a neurotoxin, poison to every system in the body, and causes cancer of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver, colon, and pooper. Anything it touches, baby, directly or through our blood! Please see How Alcoholism Fucks Up Your Brain and How Alcohol Fucks Up Your Body for specifics.
6. Most people drink a few times a week
Sorry, Boo. Turns out 30% of Americans have zero drinks ever. The next 30% have fewer than one per week. The next 30% cap off “healthy drinking” at 1-15 per week. We drunks relate more to that 10% of Americans who guzzle 73.85 drinks per week — in other words, to the 1 in 10 of us addicted to alcohol who will likely die sooner because of it.
7. My drinking harms no one
If we’re connected to anyone in any way, our drinking hurts them. Driving, we risk others’ lives and the happiness of all their loved ones; hungover at work, we’re less effective and/or risk our coworkers’ safety; to anyone who loves us, we’re emotionally dulled; and to our maker, we say, “This amazing brain and body that let me be conscious in the physical world –? I’m gonna shit all over ’em — again! ”
8. I’m not an alcoholic because I haven’t lost ____
Just keep drinking and watch. And meanwhile, does it not matter that you’re losing your self respect, the respect of others, and the chance to be fully awake in your own life? (Parallels “I’m not as bad as [name].”)
9. People who don’t drink are uptight
I don’t know about lifelong teetotalers, but I do know recovering alcoholic/addicts who really work their program are the most genuine, honest, funny, beautiful human beings I’ve ever had the privilege to call my posse. We’ve all been to hell and back. We came to AA because we realized we wanted to love life, not trash it; the 12 steps — a design for living — taught us how.
10. Anyway, in my deepest heart of hearts, I carry no lurking suspicion that I am totally full of shit
Great! I’m sure nobody else does, either! I mean, nobody has noticed the pattern of you poisoning yourself regularly, whether sullenly in front of the TV or “partying” as if you were 17. And if they have, fuck them, right? It’s your life to waste wasted.
Addiction kills us by getting us to live from our ego rather than our spirit, or higher self. Ego is about getting what we think we want as soon as possible, even if it means violating every life lesson that pain has ever tried to teach us and trampling dogshit on the hearts of our loved ones.
For years I believed I’d rather die than go to AA. Turns out I was already dying. Working the 12 steps from Alcoholics Anonymous with an inspiring sponsor taught me how to live — authentically and with a joy that endures. Today, I know my dad’s spirit is proud of me. His love helped me go where he couldn’t.
And if I could do it, you can, too.