“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – you are the easiest person to fool” (RICHARD FEYNMAN)
You’d think the fact that I had a shelf full of well-thumbed sobriety books should have screamed to me that I have a drink problem.
You’d think the fact that I know what acronyms like AA, SMART and ODAAT mean, should have screamed to me that I have a drink problem.
You’d think the fact that I’ve attended AA meetings in the past should have screamed to me that I have a drink problem. Unless you’re a vicar who has taken a wrong turn in the church hall, that doesn’t happen by accident.
You’d think the fact that all I think about is my relationship with booze should have screamed to me that I have drink problem.
But nothing screamed loud enough.
If anything, especially the AA visits, they screamed that I must devote myself to proving that absolute opposite, that “I’m not one of these guys”. My number one rule was that I’m not an “alcoholic”. My number two rule was that we don’t even use the “A word”. From what I could work out, these ‘A-people’ lived in a state of constant negotiation with the drink-devil and had swapped actually drinking every night to just talking about actually drinking every night. I thought no thanks, instead, I’ll prove to myself and everyone around me that I’m not one of them (which, incidentally, I actually did every night).
Lunatic thinking number one: if your life’s work is proving to yourself and everyone around you that you’re not a problem drinker then chances are, you probably are. But, I kept trying to prove it anyway. Each time I have had a drink over the last 8 months has been an exercise for me in proving the validity of my relationship with the stuff. Every time, I failed. Correction: not every time, there were probably two occasions when I did drink “normally” and the whole thing didn’t descend into the usual chaos, but, if anything, these two occasions were more dangerous than all the others put together. Why? Because in my skewed mind, they were proof that I could be OK. Their memories screamed louder than all the other occasions put together – the occasions that actually represented the reality of my drinking.
I like proof, I like evidence, it’s the historian in me. Why am I talking about being an historian? Because, when I eventually got my degree, in History, it was my third attempt. I had dropped out of two universities and finally achieved it through The Open University at home. I got a first. I never attended a single online lecture or ever spoke in person with a tutor. This was evidence (to me) that I’m smart*, I’m an auto-didact, I teach myself and do things my way. I applied all these same tactics to my drinking education. I didn’t want to follow the traditional path, I wanted to teach myself. I’ve done things ‘my way’ before, the ‘evidence’ is there.
*Please do not see this statement as evidence of arrogance. I may be smart but I’m also a bloody idiot.
I’ve also lost a lot of weight before. By a lot of weight, I mean a lot. 30lbs. Did I attend a slimming group? Of course not, I’m a maverick, I do things my way. I taught myself what to eat and I taught myself to cook healthy meals. Incidentally, I lost all that weight when I stopped drinking for 8 months last year, did I correlate the two? Of course not. It was all because I’d done it my way! Didn’t I tell you, I’m a maverick?
So when it came to drinking, I wanted to do things my way. I didn’t believe that a program for life or to do things the traditional way was for me (despite the evidence that my own program for life wasn’t going that well). The truth is I thought I was bit too smart for a program. I realise now that I’m anything but. With all the predictability that proceeds a statement like “I’m a smart-arsed maverick, I do things my way,” I failed. Yet…I’ve never given up. That’s the important part. I’m here, again, putting it all out there for all to see. It’s much like getting my degree or losing weight, just because you don’t follow the traditional methods or achieve your aim first time around doesn’t mean it won’t happen. You keep trying.
Because I have educated myself in the narrative of sobriety and because I know what ODAAT and SMART stands for, I am also aware that I’m literally drowning in confirmation bias. I cherry pick occasions that are evidential to me that I can do things my own way and that I’m not like everyone else. Last year I gave up drinking for eight months. Of course I didn’t follow a program or do anything else my fellow soberists engaged in. They all told me I was doomed to fail long term, I didn’t believe them. Out of sheer bloody mindedness I lasted the eight months but they were right, I was doomed to fail as despite all the sobriety speak, I fundamentally believed that I was different, that my circumstances were different and that I could prove them all wrong by demonstrating how different I was by becoming master of the beast. I would become the elusive normal drinker.
Again, with all the predictability of a self proclaimed ‘individual-nobody-is quite-like-me-maverick’, I failed! I can laugh about it now, the audacity and arrogance of what I set out to prove. People in recovery talk a lot about ego, I trashed this talk as part of what I interpreted as the ‘namby pamby’ element of sobering up. The meetings, the strangers trying to hug you, it all made me feel a bit queasy. What I wanted was a hard, fast solution. I wanted a magic bullet. What I really wanted was to drink as much as I like whenever I like, the magic bullet having eradicated the want. What my smart, egotistical brain drastically failed to register was that there is no bullet, you have to do the work, the graft, and part of that is understanding and engaging in the namby pamby.
Maverick, egotistical idiot, arrogant cow, serial relapser, problem drinker, alcoholic – who cares how we term it? I prefer bloody lunatic. But then that’s me, talking about me, I get all uppity about terminology yet have no problem referring to myself in anything but a derogative term. I’d never talk to anyone else that way, but we’re allowed to do it to ourselves. That’s the rule. But, one thing I am not is a quitter. I will never give up trying and I will get there in the end.
I’m a fan of Stoicism (bet you never saw that coming); Ryan Holiday, in his book of the same name, talks of The Obstacle Is The Way: embrace your obstacle and make it your life work. The penny has finally dropped for me, I have a problem and I’ve reached exhaustion point in trying to prove otherwise. So I embrace it. I’m going to make The Obstacle my life work and I’m going to document it. When you read as many sobriety memoirs as I have, you kind of get to know what the ending is before you even begin: girl starts drinking, likes it too much, sees the light, has never looked back. The reason I’m going to document my sobriety here is that who knows the end? This is a real time record and its for me and for all of us serial relapsing maverick lunatics who will never give up on giving up.
This is the first chapter in my new Saga of a Lunatic. The work starts now. I’ll keep you posted.