Alcoholism: do we make it bigger than it is?

The other reason I’ve been quiet these last couple of weeks is that I’ve been sick.  It was one of those illnesses that likes to duck and weave; it started as a sore throat, turned into something flu-like and then refused to go down for the count and turned itself into bronchiolitis.

Well into the second week, and exhausted from waking myself up coughing ten times a night, I decided to throw some medication at the problem.  I’ve never been much for taking medicine; I tell LH that this is because I like to ‘listen to my body when it tells me I need rest, not ‘soldier on” but maybe it’s just that most medications say don’t mix with alcohol, who knows.

Anyway, this time around I went and bought a bottle of cough syrup and some other preparations.  I took the first dose just after lunch; an hour later, driving home to pick up my children from school, I realised that I felt really quite tired.  More tired than the multiple-cough-related-wake ups would suggest.  More than that; I felt … pleasant.  Pleasantly drowsy.  Don’t worry – I got the kids safely enough, but once I got them home I put on the television for them and lay down for an hour.

That night, I had another dose.  After a day of struggling to breathe and feeling really quite sorry for myself, that pleasant wooziness was like a warm, soft bed.  Combined with my actual warm, soft bed, it was like…well, I guess it was like two warm soft beds, although that doesn’t quite convey the depth of comfort here.

bed

Came yesterday, and I’m feeling much better.  The cough remains, but it’s reeling against the ropes, and I have my energy back.  When I headed to bed, though, my eyes fell on the cough syrup bottle.  I’ll just have a dose to get rid of the last of the cough, I thought, then I know I’ll sleep better.  And I did, and in fact I did wake myself up coughing at least once in the wee hours once the dose wore off, which would imply that the cough syrup was a sensible precaution, and today I feel almost fine, thank you for asking.

This is a very uninteresting story, except for one thing.  When I looked at the bottle of cough syrup yesterday, part of my thought process was not ‘…so that I stop coughing’ but ‘…because that pleasant drowsiness was really, really nice’.

Cough syrup contains dextromethorphan, which is also used recreationally and can cause a disassociative hallucinogenic state.  It also contains brompheniramine, an antihistamine which causes drowsiness.  My floating away sensation was a normal side effect, but people do get addicted to cough syrup.

And as soon as I caught myself thinking that, I remembered the article I’ve just linked, and I started wondering about cross addiction, and I started thinking of the cough syrup as a drug rather than a medication which, frankly, I sorely needed.  And then the crazy addiction talk started up; well, even if I am taking it for the wrong reasons, that’s okay as long as I stick to that one little bottle.  I have what, one or two more doses of it, so that’s one a night just to float me into sleep.  Although it’d be sort of nice to have some in the morning, then I could feel a bit floaty…no.  No!  Stop it, that’s ridiculous.

Here’s the thing: I genuinely believe that if I hadn’t been hyper aware of cross addictions and the possibility that cough syrup is something that one can be addicted to, I’d have just taken the dose, slept, and thought no more of it.  Maybe tomorrow, I’ll go to bed and the bottle will catch my eye again and – as I’m still coughing – I’ll have one more dose.  Maybe not.

I have, in the past, wondered about whether my hyper-awareness about my drinking caused part of the problem.  That sounds like classic addict double-think, and it probably is, but certainly there was a long period there where I’d fill out those ‘are you an alcoholic’ tests, and the only thing that tipped me over into the ‘yes’ category was the question ‘have you worried about your drinking and then not cut down’.  I used to think, indignantly: well, so if I had less insight I wouldn’t be an alcoholic, but because I’m worried about it, I am?

Of course, the reason that answering ‘yes’ to that question made me an alcoholic was not the first half but the second; not the worrying, but the inability to take action on that worry.  If you think you drink too much, and you can’t cut down, you have a dependency issue.  Even if you function fine in every other way.

So, that’s true.  But at the same time, I do wonder about the part that labelling has to play here.  I have read many, many stories of relapse over the years, and they usually talk about the fact that once they picked up a drink, they drank themselves into oblivious.  There’s a commonly understood piece of recovery wisdom that your disease gets stronger in remission; ten years without a drink don’t mean that you’ll have overcome it, it means that your alcoholism has progressed ten years   But is that true?  Or is it that, once you relapse, you’ve already admitted that you’re an alcoholic and the subsequent drinking has a flavour of ‘last hurrah’ with just a soupçon of desperation about it?  If I know that I have an addiction, then any time I give it to it is going to feel illicit.

Have any of you ever dieted?  It’s very common, when you’re dieting, to ‘break your diet’ for a night.  And when you do, it is even more common to then Eat All The Things, because tomorrow you are going to go back to celery sticks and sadness.

It sounds like I’m arguing for moderation, and I don’t think I really am.  I know that it wouldn’t work for me. Perhaps I wouldn’t drink three bottles of wine in one sitting, perhaps I would just have a glass or tow.  But then, given that I could drink responsibly, I’d have a glass or two on the next night as well.   And maybe a little bit more on the weekend.  Perhaps it would take as long as a month, but at the end of it I’d be back where I started, and where I started was miserable.  So, no.

But I do reject this image of addiction as the hulking monster, doing press ups to get stronger, stalking our every move, as well.  I think that gives it too much power.  Alcoholism, the Great And Terrible.

oz1And if there’s one thing that I want to tell people who are still wondering if they can give up, wondering about all the things they might lose along the way, it’s this: alcoholism isn’t a big, huge, terrifying enemy.  It’s a little man behind a curtain, making himself look terrifying.

You can do this.

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10 thoughts on “Alcoholism: do we make it bigger than it is?

  1. Hey – I must say I lurvee your Blog but I disagree it is a monster – I moderated for years – watched my alcoholic husband trying to moderate – its worse I think because you know you can quit – so one drink which then becomes two drinks – which becomes a bottle or lots of tinnies.

    The thing that really stops you in your tracks I think is when it really makes you ill – really ill – cirrhosis ill with all its little friends – portal hypertension – a few varices. There are no warnings – no feeling ill – well not really ill – gall stone pain and quite a lot of madness – I could go on. So whilst I think sober blogs are fantastic at the end of the day alcohol is a killer and not to be messed with. If you are lucky enough to manage a period of sobriety hang on to it for dear life because thats what it is – Life.

    Anyone who manages to kick this killer habit is doing an absolutely splendid job – I am over a year sober and that evil little Prosecco demon still manages to catch me unaware on occasion but it can do one – because if I drink …………………………………………………….

  2. I find that this is a perception thing. When caught in the grips of the grape, active in my alcoholism, it *was* a hulking beast. I was powerless (and still am) over alcohol and it reigned in my life. It seemed an insurmountable task to overcome it. I didn’t have any tools or perspective on what this was. I thought I understood it, but really had no clue. This thing kills (as I wrote in my last blog post) and I certainly know those who had some mid-to-long time sobriety who thought that they “had it” figured out and went back out to find that gorilla waiting for them.

    In recovery, my alcoholism doesn’t present itself in alcohol, but certainly I am not dancing with booze, so in some ways, it’s not a looming issue. But I have to be vigilant. It just takes one drink to wake the Beast. I may not give it power, but I am still powerless over it, if that makes sense. A pitbull in a cage is still a pitbull. My safety and life depends on whether I open that door or not 🙂

  3. Hell yes!!!
    I love that analogy. It is fear that keeps us drinking. And that fear really is smoke and mirrors.

    In rehab my hubby’s therapist told him she hoped if nothing else that she had ruined drinking for him. I think there is a lot to this.
    For me, I can’t see any reasons to have a little booze. What benefit would it have? Why would I want/need a glass of wine? I can only see the potential downside and it is so down that I am just not willing to go there.
    Thanks for the post! I hope the cough is gone!

  4. I really liked your discussion of moderation and why it is not for you. Like you, I think once I proved to myself I can have a glass of wine and stop, “I’d have a glass or two on the next night as well. And maybe a little bit more on the weekend. Perhaps it would take as long as a month, but at the end of it I’d be back where I started, and where I started was miserable. So, no.” Your whole post was really thought-provoking. Thanks.

  5. lol @ “Because tomorrow you are going to go back to celery sticks and sadness.”

    I agree with your thoughts on “Alcoholism: do we make it bigger than it is?” Years ago, I use to think that alcoholism was just horseplay for people to get out of certain situations and to gain people forgiveness. How could any sane being not say NO to drinking or any drug, when it could possibly end life. As humans, we naturally become dependent on even the simplest things. How could any sane being insist on using their mobile electronic device when driving? It’s the elements those dependecies bring: Peace, Freedom, Love and Happiness. Even if their momentarily, we desire these elements naturally. You are absolutely right, we should gain control and not give these dependencies power over our lives. Raising self awareness is one the keys to stripping away the power from these dependencies. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  6. Reblogged this on FREØ and commented:
    lol @ “Because tomorrow you are going to go back to celery sticks and sadness.”

    I agree with your thoughts on “Alcoholism: do we make it bigger than it is?” Years ago I use to think that alcoholism was just horseplay for people to get out of certain situations and to gain people forgiveness. How could any sane being not say NO to drinking or any drug, when it could possibly end life. As humans, we naturally become dependent on even the simplest things. How could any sane being insist on using their mobile electronic device when driving? It’s the elements those dependecies bring: Peace, Freedom, Love and Happiness. Even if their momentarily, we desire these elements naturally. You are absolutely right, we should gain control and not give these dependencies power over our lives. Raising self awareness is one the keys to stripping away the power from these dependencies. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  7. Really great post. And I totally laughed at your pictures embedded. I needed to see this today as I start over today – Day 1. My “moderation” snowballed into me drinking just like I was before. Just one is just not an option.

  8. I think we choose a view that is helpful to us. It works for some people to believe they have no control. If I thought I had no power over alcohol, or that I was one drink away from disaster, I would give up and drink myself to death. I believe we have always had the power, but chose to give it away. I have the power to choose not to drink, because it no longer serves me. That is power over alcohol. I have tried moderation and found it takes energy away. It doesn’t give me the same feeling of power as abstinence. However, if I have a drink tomorrow, I don’t believe the monster will have me. I could let it become that, by giving up control, or I could simply stop again. I know I can stop and be happy, and every day sober is like doing press-ups to become stronger than the addiction. I like the image of the little man behind the curtain trying to look scary, or the idea of mirrors that transform something average sized into something scary. If you look it in the face you gain perspective back.

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