Are You an Alcoholic?

There is a quick test in the Big Book to find out if you are an alcoholic. When this is brought up most people will point to pages 31 and 32 where it says: “We do not like to pronounce any individual as an alcoholic, but you can quickly diagnose yourself. Step over to the nearest barroom and try some controlled drinking. Try to drink and stop abruptly. Try it more than once. It will not take long for you to decide, if you are honest with yourself about it. It may be worth a bad case of the jitters if you get a full knowledge of your condition.”

That’s stupid advice. They may die. They may kill your sister or mother driving home from the “nearest barroom.” How will you feel then, you stupid prick? People die from this disease. People make huge mistakes when under the influence of alcohol that cost us all dearly. Why would you even suggest such a thing?

That’s like telling someone: “If you want to find out if the gun is loaded, place the barrel to your head — or point it at a loved one — and pull the trigger.” If it’s too stupid for Smith and Wesson’s manual, it’s too stupid for Smith and Wilson’s. Stop saying it. Especially when there’s a perfectly good — and perfectly safe — test earlier in the book. In “The Doctor’s Opinion” Dr. Silkworth explains that when a heavy drinker stops drinking, he reacts much like ordinary men. But not so with the alcoholic, it says: “These allergic types can never safely use alcohol in any form at all; and once having formed the habit and found they cannot break it, once having lost their self-confidence, their reliance upon things human, their problems pile up on them and become astonishingly difficult to solve.

Note to Editor: You told me to footnote these quotes, but there’s no page number. Just a bunch of letters. X’s and V’s and stuff. You gave me a fucked up book.

Ed: Those are roman numerals, you moron. Stop writing me notes in the text.

Note to Editor: Oh, OK.

And it makes perfect sense. If you’re a “problem drinker”, quit drinking, and you’ll quit having problems; it’s axiomatic. All you have to do is never pick up another drink.

But if you’re an “alcoholic”, when you quit drinking you end up with more problems — or less ability to handle the ones you have — than when you were drinking. So if you’re an alcoholic, all you have to do is never pick up another drink again and go to meetings to learn how to work the steps.

This concept came to my attention when I was reading the book A New Pair of Glasses by Chuck Chamberlain. It’s not even in the book itself, it’s in the introduction, written by Clancy I. I loaned my copy to Kenny, who gave it to Real Ron (who died), and hell-if-I-know where it is now, so I had to borrow the book from Jackie just now. But it was one of those times when I was settled down to read for a couple of hours, I read about a page and a half, hit a concept that turned my world upside down, and I stopped reading. I’m sure I finished the book, but nothing in it hit me with the power of this one statement.

It said: “Scientists who study alcoholics have stated that the patient may get to a point in sobriety where he must drink to preserve his sanity.” That’s it! That’s exactly why I drank! Nothing made sense to me when I was sober. It seemed like the entire world was butt-fucking crazy. When I had a few drinks in me, it made sense.

“My boss is always on my case. I don’t get it. It seems like I can’t do anything right. I’m starting to doubt my own value and abilities.”

Four shots of tequila later…

“I get it! My boss is a jackass! I’m the best damn thing that’s ever happened to that organization! I’m under-appreciated. I do so much there, they won’t last six months without me. Whole damn place’ll fold! Lemme call him up and tell him what a jerk he is…” (Twenty years later, I’ll be damned if the U.S. Army isn’t getting by just fine without my contribution. It didn’t fold after all. Who knew?)

So – to repeat – the test is: If you have a mere drinking problem, stop drinking, you will stop having problems. But if you stop drinking and your problems get worse, you’re an alcoholic. Don’t drink anymore and work the steps!

You see, working the steps doesn’t keep us from drinking; it keeps us from going crazy while we’re not drinking. That’s what the “psychic change” is all about. The book goes on to say: “On the other hand — and strange as this may seem to those who do not understand — once a psychic change has occurred, the very same person who seemed doomed, who had so many problems he despaired of ever solving them, suddenly finds himself easily able to control his desire for alcohol, the only effort necessary being that required to follow a few simple rules“.

I don’t like the term “spiritual awakening.” I don’t know what that is. I thought I had a spiritual experience when I was about six weeks sober. I was telling everyone about how good it felt, how it made me feel life was worth living… It turned out to be a solid bowel movement. It felt pretty great to me, though. “You people have these every day?!? Wow! This not drinking thing is pretty cool!”

I prefer the term “psychic change” because the steps bring something into my thought process that wasn’t there before. It could be very simple things like:

What part did I play in the problem?
How will this decision affect others?
What “Fear” is guiding this thought?
What can I bring to the situation, rather than take from it?
Where is God in this?

These are not thoughts I used to have on a regular basis. And I’ll tell you, I really don’t like thinking in this new way. Pre-AA if I gained 5% by any decision then it was a damn good decision no matter how it affected you. Case closed. Now, if my quality of life increased by 5% but yours went down by 10% — or even 2% — I have to question if that’s what I should do. Frankly, I’d rather leave you out of the equation and just think of myself. It’s easier on my ego if I just believe I am right and pay no attention to you.

Unfortunately, that’s not where true happiness comes from. When I think of what *I* can get, I feel great right now, and have a small pebble added to the weight I will carry forever. In time, these pebbles weigh me down. When I think of others a pebble is removed. That’s all. It’s not even enough to make me feel good, much less great. But in time I notice that I’m floating through life, with fewer cares.

This is what I always wanted. This is why I drank and used drugs and fought and had sex with women I didn’t know; to get that feeling of ease and comfort. For non-alcoholics, they might get this feeling when they stop fucking up their lives by drinking, and go back to the way of life that comes naturally for them. For me it comes from working the steps.

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One Response to Are You an Alcoholic?

  1. My thoughts are with you. I wish you all the strength and happiness in the world. You are a strong person. One day at the time : )

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