Lessons in recovery

When I quit drinking I moved the wine and beer glasses to the garage and got rid of all the bottles except for one. I thought I should save the glassware because the kids might want it some day, but it didn’t dawn on me I’d be handing down a legacy that had nearly ruined me. The wine glasses were the traditional German kind with decorative etching on the sides and I knew I’d regret parting with them. Part of me thought quitting would only be temporary — another part couldn’t let go of these precious things. Or understand what they signified.

And that is how the thought process works. You get encased in a labyrinthine logic of your own doing. In fact, you build the maze at the direction of the substance that’s occupied your mind. That’s why trying to quit can be so bedeviling: because you don’t know where you entered the labyrinth, you don’t know the way out. You’re not even convinced you need to leave. Perversely, we defend the same logic that’s deluded us as we insist there’s no problem, there’s nothing to see here, and we protect/hide the thing that’s killing us. One day this logic takes over.

I got rid of all the bottles except for one, the dry cooking sherry, because: a.) I might need it for a recipe, b.) it wasn’t the kind of thing I’d be compelled to drink, and c.) pouring it down the drain seemed wasteful. While the bottle was mostly hidden from view I could still see enough of it to stir something in me each time I opened the door. It still held a charge. Like the glasses, the object signified something more than itself. It radiated with an energy that sparked the neural pathways in my brain. In a sense, it controlled me.

I knew all this was bullshit and I should just get rid of it, and that’s what I’d do. Because now that I’d quit, the alcohol didn’t hold any power over me. But I didn’t need to be reminded of my dependency on it either.

And with that I had to pause: was it a “dependency” or an addiction? Because the words mattered, they pointed to an inner truth. Dependency felt different than addiction because addiction brought in another dimension, shame. Addiction conjured images of people slumped in corners; dependency had more of a clinical ring. It was like being infatuated with someone versus being obsessed. One was gentle in tone, the other menacing. Someone with a dependency could kick the habit with help, but for addicts the outlook seemed more dire. These words, like the wine glasses or bottle of sherry, also held a charge. We depend on people or things to function a certain way and that’s a positive thing. To be dependable holds positive charge. Addiction, on the other hand, comes from the Latin word, “to be enslaved by.” Or addicere, “to assign.” Addicts are assigned. There is nothing positive there.

I quit cold turkey two years ago this week. I did not go through any recovery programs, I was mostly disgusted with my drinking and just wanted to move on. But I used THC pills habitually to mimic the high I got from alcohol. After time I realized what I was doing was numbing out, a phrase I learned from our daughter Lily as she underwent a therapeutic, wilderness intervention herself. Lily suggested I might be a “dry drunk,” a term I’d never heard before but didn’t like. The idea is, you may have quit drinking but you haven’t addressed the factors that led you to drink in the first place.

And so I had to look back inside the labyrinth. I read the AA book but struggled to get through it. One of my key takeaways is that drinkers are looking to place themselves on the spectrum of use versus abuse, to gauge if they have a problem. If you choose to identify as an alcoholic you start by admitting to the fact that you don’t have any power over it and your life has become unmanageable. Part of that was true for me and part of it wasn’t, but I figured I’d still be better off without.

I haven’t relapsed since I quit, but there was a time the first year I thought about starting up again. It was on a drive back from West Seattle after I’d walked through a park and decided to climb the Austrian Alps again in August. I simply couldn’t imagine being in the Austrian Alps and not drinking a beer. And if that was true, if I’d allow myself to drink in August, why not start now? Because once I started in August I knew I’d continue. This is how the bargaining works, you get drawn back into the maze. And it is a kind of madness to feel like you don’t have control over your own mind. If the labyrinth metaphor works for you, consider how the walls are formed and why. For some it can be a form of numbing to hide what’s going on inside. The problem is, you come to depend on those walls for comfort and coping. And then you lose track of yourself in the process.

When we name things we drag them out into the light. To assign a name is like using a net to catch a butterfly, to classify it, to pin it down. Any time someone speaks at an AA meeting they first say their name and then “I’m an alcoholic.” Hi, I’m Bill and I’m an alcoholic. Perhaps doing that gives the alcoholic a chance to reclaim their voice, to regain some power. Maybe their identity too.

In saying I’m an alcoholic, it has the combined effect of both releasing our individual selves and resigning ourselves to a larger group. To contribute a part of ourselves that may feel flawed in service to those who may need the same help. Paradoxically, we want to believe our circumstances are unique — but then we find comfort in the recognition they are not.

Last week I went to a concert with a friend and we sat talking in a dark Irish bar. He was hungover from the night before but still drank four cans of beer and four more at the show. Walking between the Irish bar and the show we talked about alcoholism and he said he knows he needs to deal with his drinking but at least now he’s aware of it. We agreed the worst part of hangovers wasn’t the physical feeling, but the shame. And when we left the show I offered to give him a ride but he wanted to stop at another bar and wait for a cab instead. I saw how his mind activated on the thought of a final drink and recognized myself in him at that moment. There was the same light in his eyes that was not his own. I insisted on giving him a ride, and when I dropped him off we agreed to keep in touch.

Perhaps it is the sound of someone else’s voice that helps us find the way out. First we have to see it’s time to leave.

Categories: identity, Memoir, writing

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45 replies

  1. Your writing is not only beautiful but compelling. Your words hold much truth and power. Thanks for putting into words what so many people struggle with, my family included.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Unsurprisingly, this post really resonates with me. Some of the terms that popped up: Enslaved, Obsessed probably best represent my relationship with alcohol. Also the concept of a dry drunk is spot on for me. I don’t drink any more, I just hide in my house and read and write and offer nothing to society. I’m happy to have quit alcohol, but one of these days I need to get beyond it.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hi Jeff, thanks…yeah totally relate to the “hide in my house” syndrome, especially since Covid. Not healthy. Comfortable…but not healthy for me anyways! Thanks for reading and glad it resonated with you. You’ve been a very positive role model for my recovery too, so wanted to acknowledge that. Cheers man! Dry toast ha ha ha

      Liked by 2 people

  3. It’s been 11 years and most of the time I couldn’t care less about alcohol, except when I see it being abused by others, and then I get impatient and irritated, even angry. I need to get away from that as quickly as possible. Running from my old self, a psycho-analyst might say, but I think I’m just easily annoyed by loud drunks. Labour Day weekend, though, I nearly fell back. “What’s the harm?” the voice said, the little devil… Got through that night and I was fine again. So it never fully goes away. Happy soberversary to you.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Oh no! The little devil popped up in you?! Like acne I guess, never goes away. Or venereal disease. Well happy 11 years to you mister. Thanks for reading and sharing and for being there, most of all. Bill

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I’ve been playing with sobriety for a couple of years here myself. I came to the realization, like you describe here, that the substances were just used to mask the underlying issues, which for me came from a dysfunctional family situation/upbringing. The more I have addressed those issues, the easier it was to let go of the substances as well.

    I think sobriety can become its own trip. Like seeing this wild world with full sober eyes is the craziest thing you can do, thrilling really. There’s a great dude on YouTube Hamish Patterson, he usually does videos on Wednesday, Sober Wednesdays, he’s a big advocate for the AA program. I learn a lot from him, but I also see a bit of the trap of AA. And this isn’t to discourage anyone in their sobriety, but I think sometimes it can become just another dance of the ego, like the substances themselves. This idea that you’re always guilty, always and forever an alcoholic, I think becomes disempowering in its own way, a new excuse for bad behavior/attitudes. It’s like being a vegan or something, a false sense of superiority and then this constant temptation will you, or won’t you. For me, I am a little tired of being in the psycho-analytical state, think its sort of what lead to the abuse of substances in the first place, nah mean? Want to run free like the beast man….

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s a good plateful there Austin, thank you. Cool to hear you’ve had a similar experience, I didn’t know that. Good on you. Don’t knock the vegans bra! I’ve been toying with that myself, though more of as an experiment to just see how I feel and less about the superiority thing. Though I feel you and understand what you’re saying there. I had a real resistance to AA for reasons like you describe, but I’m going to give the 12 steps a go because I have a fabulous friend and sponsor who offered to take me through it. So I’m curious to see what will turn up. He told me from the get-go it’s a bit flawed and that’s because it relies on people and people are of course flawed, so there you go. I’m glad to see you writing and living again here in the blog ness and appreciate your company! You’re a good ‘un.

      Liked by 2 people

      • For me, the first drawback to AA is the whole “surrender yourself to a higher power” thing. If you’re talking about god/creator, sorry, that’s just an alien with an idea for a science experiment. 2nd, I don’t like people.

        Liked by 2 people

      • So I was surprised and somewhat uneasy when I learned that spiritual experience premise that’s part of what you describe there came to one of the founders in the 1930s from an LSD trip. I am still not sure how I feel about using drugs to help me get off other drugs. I guess I have to reconcile that. I brought up the god issue with my sponsor the first time we talked about it and he assured me to not let that be a barrier so I’m giving it a go. It kind of bummed me out to learn about the LSD thing though. I’ve had “spiritual experiences” on that myself but I guess I was expecting something seemingly more organic than that. I don’t know. I think that’s the thing I’m most certain about.

        Liked by 2 people

      • I didn’t know about the LSD connect. I would not use LSD again at this point in my life. I am somewhat curious about the research being done on psilocybin and depression and the potential for THC to reduce my tourette symptoms. I think there may be some natural substances in my future. Although I’m pretty firm in my beliefs about “god”.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes that research is compelling. I hope there’s equal parts education if and when it becomes mainstream.

        Liked by 1 person

      • From my reading, the way to do it is under the care of a psychiatrist (rather than hanging around a college campus until you can score some shrooms).

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, would recommend the film Fantastic Fungi if you haven’t already seen it. Paul Stamets is an incredible dude. We need like 5K Paul Stametses right now.


  5. Oh if I knock the vegans, its only because I am the vegan lol! I woke up like a month ago and was suddenly unable to buy beef anymore. If didn’t have these lil heathen children to fill up with grub everyday, I would probably be pretty dang close to a vegan/vegetarian (can’t give up the cheese or eggs). Best efforts on the AA journey too. I like the characters there most of all!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, good policy to avoid eating things with faces unless you’d be willing to put them down yourself or something. I say that and don’t even have the stomach myself to gut a fish. Thanks for the well wishes Hoss.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Beautiful prose, Bill.

    A meditation, a private journey that you have chosen to share. Thank you.

    Then, something important follows. A conversation. Somehow the yin and yang of human experience. Meditation and Conversation. Self-reflection and relationship.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. A rumble from inside the maze (or a senryū acknowledging the preoccupation that’s been building my walls)
    your words the mallet
    my body a large taiko (drum)
    resounding truth

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Off to work; hurried typo for no.
    Sorry for getting carried away.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Throughout my childhood, my father had two drinks when he got home from work. Two beers or two martinis. Like clockwork every single day. At a tender age, I was making his martinis for him and running out to the garage fridge to get his beers for him. Which I would open and take a gulp of before I handed it to him. During the once a month pinochle game with friends, he would have a few more beers.

    I acquired that habit from him. Not the martinis, but two beers when I got home from work, and a little more on weekends, particularly when I cooked. It stayed that way for a long time, but maybe around 8-10 years ago, the two beers a night became three and eventually four. And it has been a huge challenge to put that to an end.

    I call myself a beeroholic. I don’t drink any other booze and haven’t for years. I just love beer and then there is the numbing factor, and just the need for the thing. And the need grew greater in recent years. I’ve tried various approaches.

    Only drink when I go out, which works for awhile. Until I find reasons to go out so I can have a beer.

    Quitting cold turkey. Which has lasted, at most for a couple of months.

    I went to an AA meeting once. People who go to them say that the key is finding the right meeting with the right group of people. Well … that one meeting convinced me that the whole thing wasn’t for me. Every person who got up to talk spoke religiously about how AA was THE ONLY way to stop. I also tried reading the AA book, but had the same issue with the book. As much as they pay lip service to it not being a religion, etc., that’s what it really is. Alcoholics replace their addiction to booze with the addiction of AA. Which I’m not being critical of. If it works for them, absolutely go for it. It’s just not for me.

    What always happens at some point is … “well, I’ll just get a six-pack, enjoy it and stop there.” Of course, that leads to more six-packs and months later, I’m thinking that I need to give it a try again.

    Interesting timing on your post though. I’m trying again. No beer at home this month. We’ll see what I think about going out. But after a weekend with friends on the coast, I decided that it was time to put a stop to it. We’ll see what happens.

    Thank you for sharing your experience in just a well-written, heartfelt way.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Mark! Thanks for sharing that story, that’s something else. I wish you luck with the October no-beer thing! I’m sure you’ve tried NA beers before, not sure if that’s taken with you but I’ve tracked the “craft NA beer” industry over the past couple years and it’s showing promise. But taken a long time and can be disappointing. I still associate the taste and refreshment of beer with relaxing, and it’s kind of automatic for me when I cook. But I’ve gotten to where I’m starting to taper off that finally too, after (all caps) two years of drinking NA beer every day, it’s true. I had some of the same hand-me-down habits too, was cool to hear about yours. And sorry to hear the AA didn’t work for you. I had joined up with a group of sober hikers who met on a local mountain Sunday mornings and that was cool. But I lost interest in that and now I’m just planning to do the 12 steps with a guy who’s a dear friend. And maybe I’ll learn enough and get good at it to where I can help someone else out some day, and that feels right.

      You be well! Really appreciate your kind note and sharing here.


      Liked by 1 person

      • The last time I was able to stop for a few months, I tried NA beers. To be honest, most of the craft NA beers were horrible. What I found I enjoyed were the European NA pilsners a few European breweries have available here.

        The older I get, the more I realize that I’m generally not a joiner. It’s likely why a a group approach to this will never work for me. I need to figure it out on my own — which the AAers would say will never work. We’ll see.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I read a book by Alan Carr about how to quit drinking without will power. Kind of hypnosis type technique. But it helped solidify things for me, combined with a good therapist. I found I had to reverse the logic I had depended on for a very long time (like rewire myself) but I was able to do it w/o a support group. Good luck and reach out whenever for whatever!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you, good sir. It’s a thing I need to do to be as healthy as I can be in the years ahead.

        Liked by 1 person

      • True that!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh and if you need a good laugh, right not I’m drinking a can of Sierra Nevada hop water. Good god…

        Liked by 1 person

      • I think I tried one of those at some point when I was in that few months of no booze the last time and … well … blech!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Sometimes I feels like my mouth is just another drain. Ha ha..:

        Liked by 1 person

  10. I like the way you put it all out there, man. Congrats on two years. I didn’t realize it had been that long.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Homer! You’ve always been a positive force for me in more ways than one, so appreciate you celebrating with me here. Wink wink, be well mister.


  11. I have no experience that correlates, but nonetheless appreciate your excellent writing here and giving civilians like me some bit of comprehension.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. One of your best, Bill. I just wish there was a way to get this piece in front of the eyes of millions of people.

    A frank testimonial like this is real medicine.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I just want to say thenk you.

    Liked by 1 person


  1. Lessons in recovery – وهـــم العنزي

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