I’m hung over again today. Quite hung over. And like usual I’m remorseful and full of resolve and determination to. not. drink. today. But I know that by 4 pm I’ll be ready and raring to go again. Why? I used to wonder why, why I could feel such strong resolve and determination about quitting in the morning and then by 4 in the afternoon seem to have completely forgotten about my mornings determination. I think I have figured out why! I think it’s quite simple. I’ll tell two stories to illustrate.
Story One: Let’s say Sally accidentally slips on the stairs and lands with a thump on her rump. The next morning she wakes up with a very sore back. Ouch, she complains, that really hurts. She tells herself that she is going to be way more careful when going down the stairs today and in the future. Naturally she craves to be free of that pain, so she pops a pain-killer and goes about her day as the pain gradually subsides. By the end of the day she’s feeling great again, free of the pain. Taking a little extra care she navigates those stairs just fine.
Story Two: Let’s say Bob drinks too much and wakes up the next morning with a really bad hangover. Oh man does he feel sick! He knows darn well it’s because he drank too much last night, so with fierce resolve he determines to not drink again tonight, or at least to not drink that much. So he takes some pain killers if he has a headache and by the end of the day his hangover is gone and he’s feeling great again. So great, that he has a drink…thinking that maybe tonight he can limit himself to “just a few”. Sometimes, he knows, he’s able to do that. And sometimes he does. And sometimes he can have no drinks at all, but most of the time, well, you know Bob!
What’s the difference between these two stories (other than women being smarter than men)? Let’s first look at what is similar about Bob and Sally. In both stories they wake up not feeling well; in pain or hung over. Naturally, they don’t like the way they feel, so they both do whatever they can to relieve their pain or discomfort. As the day goes on, their pain or discomfort subsides and they feel great. That’s where the similarity between the stories ends.
What happens next? In the first story, after waking up with her sore back, does Sally walk down the stairs later that day and purposefully make herself slip on her rump again? Of course not, that would be ludicrous. But in the second story, Bob feels great by later in the day and then gets a craving to have a drink, or two, or three, or four and before you know it…we know how that ends. He’s hungover again the next morning, so he beats himself up wondering why, why, why did he do it to himself again?! And the cycle continues, day in and day out. Bob gets pretty discouraged with himself.
Here’s the point. The discomfort we feel in the morning may have nothing to do with the failure of our resolve or the lack of our determination. Nothing. Bob was hung over because he drank too much the night before—and then he did it again. He did it again—that’s the point. And that’s what all drunks do. Why? I think that we love the effect that the alcohol has on us SO much, that we crave it (or in serious cases are completely addicted to it) so we don’t even think about the consequences. We don’t even care about the consequences, because we have an unnatural reaction to alcohol that other people don’t—we love the effect it has on us SO much that we want to feel that effect over and over again. That’s one of the reasons why they call alcoholism a disease (the other being, it kills us eventually, if let run rampant).
Understanding this today has relieved me from a lot of guilt. For years I have beat myself up in the morning and wondered why, why, why do I keep doing this to myself? I now know that it’s not because of my lack of resolve or determination. It’s because I have a dis-ease in my body, an unnatural love for alcohol and I’ll do almost anything to repeat and enjoy that love for it regardless of the consequences. In fact, because we alcoholics love alcohol so much, I think that down deep most of us don’t really want to be free of it. We just want to be free of the negative consequences of using it! Right!? Well, we all know that there is a big problem here. The solution to it eludes both us and the professionals who try to help us. How to be free of that unnatural love of alcohol, this dis-ease? I aim to find out, before it kills me.