A different Perspective on "DUI" this Thanksgiving
Editor's Note: This was submitted in response to a call for advice for those considering waiting until "after the holidays" to come in to detox. Waiting is always a bad idea, when considering getting treatment for substance abuse and addiction. The window of time when help is wanted and accepted is small, and can close very quickly on those hesitating to come in.
Letting Someone Else Drive My Life, on Thanksgiving
Next week is Thanksgiving. A co-worker of mine just commented about avoiding drinking and driving on the holidays.
I didn't listen. I don't drink any more. But even when I did, I would not have listened. I would not have considered him credible. He wasn't a drunk.
He had no idea how well I drove while drinking, and he was in fact a terrible driver himself, even while sober. I would bet (even today, when I am 4 years sober) that I was a better driver back then (after 5 drinks) than he is when sober.
"He was clueless. I would bet (even today, when I am 4 years sober) that I was a better driver back then (after 5 drinks) than he is when sober."
That's the core problem, I used to tell myself. Clueless, sub-par people guessing how things should be, and trying to tell everyone else how to behave.
Four years ago I was a car wreck about to happen, but it wasn't because I was driving drunk (I was). It was because I was driving my life while drunk.
And that all changed on the day before Thanksgiving.
Four Years Ago, I entered Detox for the Last Time
I entered rehab on the day before Thanksgiving, 2012, 4 years ago next Thursday. Always fiercely independent and strong-willed, I had spent the prior 15 years committing myself to a relationship with a nasty mistress known as drinking. She controlled me like I was a pit bull on a long leash. I had enough freedom to express my individual viciousness, which I did quite frequently, but she always pulled back on the leash after a fight, bringing me home to the safety of my owner's lap.
"I had a long term relationship with a nasty mistress known as drinking. She controlled me like I was a pit bull on a long leash."
I would fight, often at her command, and she would calm me down and heal my wounds. I would protect her, and she would reward me with a safe home away from the outside. We knew we were better, together, and that we could not survive without each other.
I was a Drunk, not a Bum
On that day-before-Thanksgiving, I was not a bum. I was successful; a grown up with a credit card; an accomplished drinker. I handled myself well enough, and enjoyed some respect in my community.
And I hated the family holidays. Individually, I didn't dislike every member of my extended family, but I loathed the gatherings. I saw dozens of reasons why they were miserable, and why they made me miserable. I didn't know the true reasons for my despair, but it was real. This time, I didn't want to fight. I wanted to escape it by entering treatment.
I wasn't being forced into detox after a 3rd or 4th DUI. I wasn't afraid of dying of liver disease. I wasn't facing jail time. On that unusual day I was, in fact, just escaping from my "mistress" the way married men escape from their wives once in a while. It would just be for a day or two, I thought. Avoid the holiday altogether.
"I avoided the holiday altogether by checking into a detox center. You won't believe what happened next..."
This was the start of my breakup with drinking. In my mind, I was taking a vacation from my endless servitude to my increasingly disrespectful and demanding mistress, and the fights she had planned. Instead of once again showing up at the extended family turkey dinner, I would go into a detox center, and let them manage my life for a few days.
I learned a lot that week.
I broke up with my "mistress" - my drinking.
I had known for years I couldn't get away from my mistress without medical help. I knew deep inside that even if I wanted to, she'd tear me apart if I tried anything so stupid. She'd destroy whatever life I had left, out of spite. I was a drunk, and she was in charge.
And when I wasn't creatively personifying my drinking problem, I knew I was physically addicted to the alcohol beyond where anyone could help me. I knew that I needed it to simply stay alive.
I discovered I was "The Fool in the Room"
It has often been said, if you are part of a business deal and you can't identify the fool in the room, you are probably the fool everyone else is waiting to profit from.
When I finally let go of my grip on my drinking lifestyle, I waited for my entire life to crash. But I instead discovered what a fool I had been. My world had crashed a long time ago. I was just about the only one who hadn't noticed. And while I did suffer sickness from withdrawal, modern medicine took care if that inside the detox center.
Everyone has their own moments of clarity in life, leading to changes. Everyone runs from a different set of demons. Everyone suffers their own sets of insurmountable insecurities. And everyone deserves a chance to step back and get some help with all of that, as I did. But many of us won't ask for help.
On that Thanksgiving spent in the detox center, I didn't argue about politics, which is how I would have spent half the time with my family. I didn't insult anyone, as I always did at the family gatherings (my family is the type that draws insults from people like me...whether on purpose or not I don't know).
On that Thanksgiving, nothing escalated into broken glass or furniture. Nobody left early because of me, and no one threatened to throw me out. I did watch some TV, but mostly I slept and followed the advice of my minders, who helped me get through my first week in a long time without alcohol.
"Everyone runs from a different set of demons. Everyone suffers their own sets of insurmountable insecurities. And everyone deserves a chance to step back and get some help"
I recognized that while managing a severe alcohol addiction, each day I was living a life of extreme case management. I had become an expert at managing complexity. In my paranoid world, I was compelled to make everyone happy, every single day.
I was an Expert at Managing Complexity
I had to keep my job, despite my severe impairments, so I not only had money to pay bills, but near crippling bar and liquor store bills. At work I had to keep the corporate climbers at bay, to protect my own position, and I had to outperform just to overcome the visible negatives and high risk I represented to my boss and my colleagues.
And of course I had to appease my mistress, even as she became less satisfied with me, less enamored of my charms, and increasingly belligerent about the lack of "fun" in our lives.
For the Drunk, Drinking is not an Option
Let's face it... a true alcoholic appreciates a stiff drink not because it relaxes and represents a reward for a solid day's work. A true alcoholic appreciates each drink like you appreciate water - it staves off thirst, helps maintain biological functions needed for continuing the day, and prevents a painful death.
Despite my AA friends assertions that I was suffering a disease, I know I was a drunk. Perhaps I have a predisposed sensitivity to alcohol, and perhaps my disease prevents me from exercising proper judgment under the influence. But I know that I chose to operate under the drink, and I had convinced myself that was the best path for me. And as a drunk working hard to make it, I had to achieve the impossible, every single day, with everything on the line, every single day.
"As a drunk working hard to make it, I had to achieve the impossible, every single day, with everything on the line, every single day...it was exhausting."
The stress of Surviving as an Alcoholic was enough to Drive a Man to Drink
One of the big revelations for me was how far my standards had fallen in the years I spent fighting to maintain my life while drinking heavily all day and every day. My blindness of that left me speechless when I witnessed how the professionals inside the detox center treated me with compassion, demonstrated care for my comfort and well being, and freely shared their own stories of recovery with me as if there were nothing to hide. It was as if they were more proud of having recovered, than ashamed of having fallen in the first place.
I never knew.
The detox center people served an impressive meal on Thanksgiving, which I didn't eat, but did appreciate. As a bystander, I could feel that they cared about me. When I did speak up, they listened.
I lost track of time that holiday, and it didn't matter. For that holiday, I was never cold, never late, and never too fat or too old or anything else that reflected people's disappointment in me. I never had to make excuses for who I was. There was no prior history waiting to pick a fight with me, or test me.
"I let the detox people drive that Thanksgiving day, and they did a great job. By the end of the week I had a therapist, a new doctor, a new understanding of my health status, and a plan"
I let the detox people drive that Thanksgiving day, and they did a great job. By the end of the week I had a therapist, a new doctor, a new understanding of my health status, and a plan to continue getting help while managing without my former mistress.
Looking Back at my Breakup with Drinking
Over the years I have described my breakup with my drink mistress many different ways. "She was hit by a bus, and I had to go through the stages of grief", I said.
"She broke up with me, to be with a much bigger dirtbag, who suited her better", I said.
"I leashed her to the radiator, and walked out, and never looked back", I once said.
But at this time, when they asked me to write about my experience, I realize she is still nearby, but she is cowardly and powerless over me.
My nasty, controlling mistress was crafted from my own insecurities. I had given her power over my leash by drinking alcohol. She was only doing what I expected, and only when I let her.
And if I let her again, she will resume her role over my life, which makes her real enough that it doesn't matter what stories I tell about how we broke up. She's not dead; she's locked in the attic.
"My nasty, controlling mistress was crafted from my own insecurities. I had given her power over my leash by drinking alcohol. She was only doing what I expected, and only when I let her."
Many of my own insecurities are still hanging around, but I am aware of many of them. And I have learned new method for dealing with the unknown ones who decide to show up unannounced, egging me on to "come on, have a drink". I ask for help.
Asking for Help is Easier than I ever Knew
One of the best things I learned in rehab was that asking for help is not only easy, but also safe and rewarding.
I don't have to say "I need help". I can ask for help by simply asking the right person "what do you think about....". The right person, will answer that question in a way that helps me. And I believe I now know how to recognize who is or is not the "right person" because of my experiences in rehab, and counseling.
If you need help, call us any time 24x7 even on holidays 888-443-3869
I never learned that growing up, nor did I get that training on the job. Even as the Master Manager of my Life while Drinking, I hadn't learned that valuable lesson.
The New Me, Same as the Old Me?
I've grown up quite a bit over the last 4 years since making the change. I'm still quite cynical, and still very much a grump to "regular people" like my coworkers. But I keep my mouth shut most of the time around people like him. I have different friends, and a much better life than I did before. Opinions of my work colleagues are not so important anymore. There's much more to life than worrying about that.
I am probably considered an underachiever in my job right now, because I could be doing so much more if I was willing to "push the envelope", as they say. But I know that I have enough on my hands when you consider my personal life in addition to that work life. I'd rather be safe and improving, than considered a success at work while suffering at home.
Everyone Drinks from His Own Glass
At the bar, we used to have a saying: "Everybody drinks from his own glass". When I was with my former associates, we didn't judge each other for our drinking, even as we severely judged ourselves and each other for every other aspect of our personalities, behaviors, and characteristics.
We were all on the run from demons, sharing a break at the watering hole before being forced to return to the chase.
While I was fine, each of the others was alone, defenseless, and hopelessly in harms way, and thus deserving of at least one more for the road (as long as they could pay for it).
"We were all on the run from demons, sharing a break at the watering hole before being forced to return to the chase."
What about You? Who's Driving this Year?
No matter what your status in life, or your relationship with drinking, I recommend that this Thanksgiving, you let someone else drive your life, even if just for the day. That might have nothing to do with alcohol. It might mean holding back your opinions, allowing others to be themselves without your opposing views coloring the conversation. It might mean watching and listening, instead of speaking.
"Ride along as a passenger in your own life for just one day, instead of driving."
It's up to you if you want a designated driver or you let someone else drive, whether or not you decide to drink. Or, if you need help making a necessary change, you can check into a detox center and see what happens. Like I did.
From the editor: A new perspective of "driving under the influence", when you consider driving as navigating through your life. We want everyone to know that the holidays are a great time to spend inside detox, getting started with recovery, and we think this essay can be helpful for those who need it.