It takes a lot to look at whether alcohol is a problem. We all want to enjoy life and many people enjoy a drink socially and in moderation. When does it become a problem? Well, there are many ways to assess for an alcohol problem. Here are some questions to consider.
1. Do you drink more than other people?
2. Do you have trouble stopping when there is a prescribed limit?
3. Do you have trouble with family or friends are concerned about your drinking?
4. Is drinking interfering with you life in any way?
Thinking about these questions, one might say “no” to them all. We might be in denial or it really isn’t a problem. Only the person who honestly looks at this can come to the conclusion whether they have a problem or not. While it might help family and friends to determine whether one has a drinking problem or not, what good is there to label another person? How does one know whether they drink more than another person? Well, here is what the books tell us: (to be added soon) Do you gulp drinks, drink for the effects or have surreptitious drinking? Do we kid ourselves like the person who says, “I can quit at anytime. I just don’t want to quite now.” This is a defense mechanism where we feel in control, when in reality it is an illusion. Take away the narcotics from the drug addiction and you will find a very angry, irritable, and physically sick individual. If anyone is concerned about your level of drinking, most likely it is a problem of some sort. People usually have better things to do than to make up problems that don’t really exist and to insinuate that it is affected them when it really isn’t. The alcoholic is usually last to know how much they are really drinking. If it was videotaped for ‘quality assurance,’ you might be surprised. I knew a recovering alcoholics who was amazed at the wedding how slow everyone drank and how they left alcohol in glasses everywhere. When have stopped drinking, that is being sober, we find that we are more likely to see and hear things as they really are. One might say that alcohol isn’t affecting their life. This can be because we see things through the lens of how it is not a problem. What would it be like to see it as thought it were. I am confident that one can not create a problem by looking at it this way. It is either a problem or not. The alcoholic has an “accounting system” which they set up to ‘prove’ to themselves and everyone else that it is not a problem. This can be things like, “I always get to work on time. . ,” “I have never had a DUI,” “I have never drank in the morning,” or “I have never drank more than __.” (fill in the amount) When the drinking problem progresses over the line, we then change the criteria. Alcohol numbs us. It makes us feel good, like we don’t have a care in the world. Thanks to GABA (gamma amino butyric acid) that is elevated when we consume alcohol, we get this nice warm feeling or buzz. It also affects serotonin and dopamine. Alcohol also inhibits glutaate receptor, which descrease the excitatory actions of glutamate. What does this mean? It makes you less irritable, self conscious, in essence, it relaxes you. But there is one problem. Well, actually many, but one problem is that in your bodies need to find balance or homeostasis. You will feel irritable, restless and discontent without it. You may not run to another drink just yet, or start drinking in the morning, but you will start to have trouble with grumpiness. You will look for what is wrong with the world and the people around you.
The Problems of Alcoholism
There a center in our brain called the “Cingulate Gyrus.”This area has to do with attention. It is the “channel changer” in our brain. When this works well, we are able to see options, have cognitive flexibility and be able to shift our attention from one idea to the next. When it doesn’t work well, we get STUCK, not being able to get a thought, worry or resentment out of our minds. People who struggle with “Cingulate Gyrus” problems tend to hold on to resentments from the past, worry a lot, and their brains gets into a lock-in mode. These people often come from alcoholic homes. Addiction is appealing to them. It momentarily takes away the obsession and resentment and numbs it with pleasant feelings. But the obsession become switched to the obsession to use or compulsion to act out. We know that sexual addiction and compulsive gambling affect the same center of the brain, “Cingulate Gyrus,” as in cocaine addiction. Dr. Daniel Amen, a psychiatrist whose clinics have looked at more that 20,000 SPECT brain scans of individuals, has provided us with a lot of useful information regarding addiction. His website, brainplace.com is very helpful.
No one wants to think about brain damage from alcohol and drug use. It is a great way to bring the part down. But it is the truth. Drug users and alcoholics who have used think that once they stop using their brains get reset back to their original state. This is not the case. To be fair, there is evidence to say that antidepressants and other psychotropic medication alters physical structures of the brain. People take fish oil, Omega 3 which contain the fatty acids Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) which are the building blocks of the brain. So, what we put into our bodies has an effect not only on our body but our brains.
Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12 step programs have helped countless individuals who have struggled with addiction. The steps are simple spiritual processes that when utilized help people overcome what they could not do on their own. These principles, even though they appear simplistic, are pretty profound and life changing once they are explored, understood and practiced. The recovering addict claims “spiritual progress, rather than perfection.” (taken from the book Alcoholics Anonymous) Perfection was part of the disease. Addicts could not admit many mistakes, imperfection or any problems prior to recovery. Why? Shame is a big part of it. We tend to use the word shame to describe what in fact is really, “toxic shame.” Healthy shame reminds us that “we are not God.” Most of the shame addicts experience is this “toxic shame,” that is not being human. To compensate for the sense of shame, they are perfectionists. It is difficult for them to be honest with themselves about their faults, their shortcomings and the life in general. Without honesty, there is little growth. So unrecovered addicts tend to repeat the same mistakes without ever learning. Shame makes them arrogant, prideful and “better than life.” They are in a “better than/less than” dance. You are either better than them or less than them. Health is recognizing that each person was created by God and that we have all been affected by the fall. This disease has affect us all. Since we have the serum, the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, why then do we pretend to not have the disease. Shame? If we can only see ourselves as we really how, think how much more we could repent and make progress. In a shame-free environment, there is acceptance. Acceptance of another human weaknesses and strengths. By accepting we don’t meaning condoning sinful behavior, but acknowledging and dealing with it. Because of shame we don’t even want to deal with it. We bury it. We repress it. We actually don’t think it is there. That is why so many alcoholics don’t really think that there is a problem. Shame is the experience of being a “defective human being.” Recovery helps us see that we are a “human being with defects.” This shift in our approach to ourselves, helps us see ourselves as we really are and then repent and recover.
The Illusion of Control
Another element that addicts experience is that they feel so out of control, that they overcompensate by trying to control the externals–people, place, situation. Letting go is foreign to the life of an addict. In essence, they are “control freaks.” We tend to think of negative situations involving control. But control can be trying to make everyone happy. Not ever really telling people that we are upset, because we don’t want to upset the proverbial apple cart which would ultimately make us feel out of control. We don’t want to be rejected, so we lie. Lying could be seen as form of control. We would any of us lie, except to alter peoples perceptions of ourselves. God knows that truth. We try to control our feelings. The more we seem to control, the more out of control we feel. We use our drug of choice, to give us a false sense of control.
An Addiction: Friend or Foe?
I have heard it said that an addiction is like a friend. It is always there to comfort, to be there at all hours of the day and to help you solve your problems. I think a better way to think about it is like it is like a companion. It seduces us into thinking it is a friend to us, but really it just wants to be near us. The addiction says:
“I promise to comfort you when you feel like no one else will.”
“I will take you away from your problems.”
“I will reduce the stress in your life by making life easier.”
“I will make you feel special, attractive and loved.”
“I will never leave you.”
Guess what? Our addiction is no friend. There is not one of these promises that are true except one–“I will never leave you.” In fact, it will try to destroy you even though you don’t think it will. It will bring more distress and discomfort than it will relieve. It will make you feel worthless, ashamed and special in the wrong kind of way. It will make life harder, not easier. Whatever it numbs will get that much stronger and more difficult to deal with, once you wake up from its trance.
The beginning stages of recovery are difficult. You say goodbye to this companion. You leave it and divorce it from your life. You do not negotiate with it or decide who gets what. In this case, a quick goodbye is better than a long one. But. . as difficult as the beginning way, the journey gets better and easier in some ways. It is not that life is not constantly throwing curve balls at us. It does, but I guess we get stronger as we continue to admit our weaknesses. We get stronger and we depend upon God. We get more comfortable with letting go of blame, shame and taking responsibility. In the long run life gets easier when you have developed the skills and the 12 steps have become a part of your life.
The Four Paradoxes in Recovery
In recovery, paradoxes become evident.
- We surrender to win.
- We give away to keep.
- We suffer to get well.
- We die in order to live.
We SURRENDER TO WIN. We need to totally surrender unconditionally. We acknowledge that we cannot win the battle against addiction and have totally made a mess of our our life. We are better off if we stop running our life and let God run it for us. We pray in Step 11, “asking only for God’s will and the power to carry it out.” We are like a prisoner of war who who surrenders with our hands up and we do whatever our higher power tells us to do.
We GIVE AWAY TO KEEP. This strange expression identifies our selfishness and understanding that we can only be healed as “we give away what God has given us.” “Freely you have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:8) When we are hoarding, greedy and stingy we are likely to use our addiction again as we have left a state of Grace.
We SUFFER TO GET WELL. There is no way to escape pain or suffering in this life. It is a truth that most alcoholics as well as most people try to ignore. The alcoholic, drug addict and sex addict use their substance to avoid suffering. This is why they use. Many people reserve the term alcoholic for those that really suffer–shaking, needing another drink, getting sick from drinking. But perhaps they are numbing themselves in minor ways and are too out of touch with themselves to identify that they are drinking as a form of self medication. To recover, we must go through the pain. We must learn to be mature and to face reality. Thankfully, the 12 steps help us face reality with the Grace of God.
We DIE TO LIVE. This beautiful paradox comes right out of the biblical idea of “losing our life” (Matt. 10:39) and denying one’s self and carrying one’s cross. (Matt. 16:24) The harder we hold on to our life, the more it slips through our fingers without us realizing it. (We call this white knuckling it) But when we empty ourselves of our ego, and die to our dreams, our will and our ways, God will give us life. We must die daily. While we may decide to surrender at a certain point of time, we must surrender every moment, so as to acquire God’s grace to keep us sober. This only comes through death, his and ours.
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