i have a rough time with and around addictive behavior. it's not because i don't have my share of compulsions, (or maybe it is), or sympathies, but i think it's mostly because i have that last ultimate deficit of full empathy that would otherwise come from sharing and intimately knowing the full affliction, that i grow to a loss as to what best to do. oh, there's advice aplenty on how to be supportive yet non-enabling which i've read and tried to follow, but i find that in practice all these helpful suggestions fail to address the biggest roadblock of all, which is the addict's addiction. and there i'm stumped.
my focus for myself when it doesn't involve that which is of absolutely no interest to me, (like caffeine, nicotine, etc.), is always on "high-functioning". i recall, decades ago in college, reviewing an alcoholism-related questionnaire on which 6 out of 1o yes answers would suggest a "problem with alcohol". taking the quiz for myself with my friends was highly entertaining: question 1--have you ever become sick from drinking? had us all in stitches. oh, geez, if these are going to go like this, tell bill w he may have more friends on the way... yes... (i was a late 70's, early 80's college student, and if i'm given to understand how things were before me, and how much things haven't changed since me, such was not a rare answer to be given). one in the possible problem column and on to question 2--has a friend or family member ever suggested you might have a problem with alcohol. phew. no. (shhhh!) question 3 was something about passing out from drinking, and that one, like the first one, was a quite common yes. 2 to the bad. the fourth question may have had something about waking up with the DT's, so that one was more reassuring again... no... and so it went
by the end of question 9, i was five to the bad, (throwing up, passing out, having more than six drinks at one time, etc.) and four to the not so bad. (no DT's, no attempted interventions, etc.) my potential alcoholism, apparently, hinged on the outcome of question number 10, and i'll never forget it:
"have you ever missed a day of school or work due to drinking".
i had 8am classes and all manner of scholarly inconveniences to my college carrying on, but i was always up and there with my book open and my groggy eyes, too. as god is my witness.
so, fast forward a half dozen years to my first successful software job, at a company where friday afternoons at 3pm were punctuated by the weekly beer run, and there was no shortage of young people being young. my group director was an intense sort of ex-marine who worked hard, played harder, and drank hardest most of all. his interview of me for my position was centered on my softball playing ability, owing to the annual summer company softball league and his insistence on his team always winning. (i was pretty good, so getting his stamp of approval on my hiring was easy enough). and, after every wednesday evening softball game, it was on to the chateau dudley
for pitchers of beer and recapping our victorious exploits. (we rarely lost--the group was hand-picked to win, and win we did).
this particular evening, my commandant (whose biceps measured further around than my neck, and that's no word of a lie) buttonholed me at a table after going well into his cups, and started in on us "college boys" compared to real marines. (all in good fun, of course--he liked me fine for having run down one potentially troublesome fly ball that i had turned from a possible home run into an inning-ending out). in the back of my mind, (we engineer types are always figuring), i realized that, pencil neck as i was and am, and though i would never on a level playing field and on my best day have ever been able to outdrink this mountain of a man, i had one possible ace in the hole that might just allow me to survive the crucible. as a college boy, i had joined a fraternity, and been indoctrinated through quarters, beer pong, (the REAL sort, not the silly game its morphed into today), cardinal puff, 99, canoe races and every other manner of drinking game, to be able to down a glass of beer just about as fast as anyone. (it's a technique i once had down pat, what can i say). though he was going to try to turn our little tete a tete into a marathon, i got it into my mind that maybe, just maybe, turning it into a series of sprints might get him past his limit fast enough to spare me mine.
"is it true that navy guys always sip their beer instead of drinking it?" (my dad being a navy guy, and not ever imagining how the information might ever be used in the future, had clued me in early to the sensitivity of marines to be subsumed under their parent service). jackpot. between the perceived slight to his uniform and the impugning of his alcohol-related manhood, i had turned "let's sit here for the next couple hours and drink these two, three, four pitchers of beer, you and i" into something far more immediate and to my one solitary strength where all this idiocy was concerned. sure enough, he didn't take me seriously enough on the first glass to keep up, and mine was bottom up, empty and dry, on the table in a flash.
you know the next part. he poured two more glasses, and said "AGAIN!". this time i knew i had to put a little speed into it, so i gave it a little more effort, and still came in well ahead of his second, more energetic, but still lackadaisical try. "AGAIN!" the third one i knew was going to be for real, so i gave it the full open-gullet pour and the instant-empty just to be sure. his eyes grew wide and he patted me on the shoulder and congratulated me on having some skills, and then he said "one more". the last one i'm not sure i remember so clearly, but it clearly put him over the edge because it was the last one in the little series and he tottered off in search of the mens room or whatever, i was left woozing and reeling in my inebriation to thank my stars i was still conscious. i believe he ended up falling into the bushes outside the doorway and needing to be carried to someone's car to be driven home. oh, the things we do to get ahead in business...
anyway, fast forward to 730 am, and the alarm blaring in my ear, and my head pounding and eyes searing and stomach churning... oh, i oh so desperately wanted to cash in what i never had cashed in, which would be a call-in sick, but, then, i could hear the words in my head as clearly as i could see them on the page, and they asked:
have you ever missed a day of school or work due to alcohol?
no, not today. not me. not ever.
so my 5-and-5 record remained intact, and i got through my four hours on the phone with customers figuring out technical problems and striving to find politeness when all i wanted to do was tell them to read the f'ing manual and leave me alone. i recall the last hour or more having my forehead down on the desk with the receiver in my ear just to force my way through it...
so at 12:30, when my shift was done, one of the few supervisors who never went on the softball expeditions called me into her office to ruin the one last empirical measurement of my non-alcoholism, (finally, someone had suggested i might have a problem with alcohol), and had a heart-to-heart talk with me about my compromised condition. it was all i could do not to laugh in her face. her boss called in sick. every other supervisor who had been out with us the evening before called in sick. most of the other group members who were supposed to take the afternoon shifts on the phone had called in sick. and i was the one who was there, as required, to do my job, and i knew she was going to ask me to pitch in to help out through the afternoon. me have the problem with alcohol??? are you serious?????
so it is that my focus on function (i believe) saved me from spiraling further where so many others have gone the other way, and i was spared the worst of demon rum's not so practical jokes. i can count other incidents in my life where i was shall we say lucky, but, since then, i've been able to maintain my job and my family obligations and my friendships without the booze getting in the way (though i was drunk on my birthday, yes i admit it) and i have to conclude it's because whatever disease i have, it's not that particular disease, or i'd be dying from it. who knows if someone who knows me well will tell you otherwise, but i can only conclude by the fruits of my labor, and comparison to those truly in trouble, that i'm not of the ilk who can empathize and help out alcoholics with their alcoholism, other than sincerely hoping i can do whatever i can, and trusting that they can figure out the rest.
so it is that i'm stuck here with a knot in my stomach that someone i know (and that many of the people i know know) is lost well on the far side of that arbitrary 6-out-of-10 line, and in danger of never coming back. i can't list the symptoms for discretion's sake, but i can say that there is barely functioning, let alone high, to much of this person's life over the past decades--lost jobs. overwhelming debts, broken relationships--and if not for my intercession in several of these areas, there could have very well been a cardboard apartment at a bus depot rather than the very nice and comfortable home now enjoyed.
it's so hard, because in moments of sobriety, it can be made to all seem so very reasonable.
but i know, in my high-functioning and not quite alcoholic's alcohol-experienced mind, it's not. not really.
i tried to cajole an extended period of sobriety to try to restart the system, (silly me, i thought, like me it might be possible to go without for awhile as i once did in my 20's to get my feet back under myself), but lies and clandestine drinking sunk that before it could ever have a hope of getting started. then i tried "only two and no more", but not only were there lies and clandestine drinking when i wasn't around, there was even lies and comically transparent attempts at clandestine drinking right in front of me at the bar like i was too stupid to see completely through the machinations of a drunk having their third and fourth glass of booze in an hour. then i tried "just not when you're with me", because i had sincerely reached the end of my ability to be able to stand being around it, but the third strike on that particular experiment just went across the plate yesterday (if only tim wakefield had the secret for such an easy strikeout) and now i'm here today left only with the "tough love" option and the difficult realization that "zero tolerance" quite probably means having to give up on a drunk before you get to help them.
if anyone has any suggestions, i'm all ears.