I often hear people talk about “battling” alcoholism. We “fight” for our lives, that we “take on” this addiction and often we “overcome” it. I understand what they are talking about. We as a society love a good ol’ dust-up or even a donnybrook. We like to see the David’s topple the Goliath’s. We like seeing Rudy get onto the football team. We are taught that anything of any worth is worth fighting over. We combat illness, we joust with sickness, we cross swords with the Big Bad Things that want to make us their prison byatch. We are a society that loves an underdog victor standing alone once the dust has settled and the blood congealed. A gladiator nudging the corpse to see if it moves on final time.
I don’t have that experience when it comes to my own alcohol problem.
But let me back up a sec.
When I was drinking, I was a battler extraordinaire. I was a Milquetoast Mothra with a hate-on for myself and everyone and everything else. Alcohol, at the time, was both the fuel and the antidote for that anger. Roll one of those Dungeons & Dragons dodecahedron dice and that’s about as unpredictable as I got. My underlying emotion in any reaction or thought was rage. Rage was a nice plush carpet that I dug my toes in and felt safe on. I rolled around in it, revelled in it, made rug angels in it. Some carpet burns for sure, but it was my anger.
And so I fought. Not in the fist-to-flesh sense…although I was known to actually do that to myself (self-abuse manifested in a sick way of treating myself). I fought myself and others through mental and verbal abuse (hi sarcasm, how are you?), passive aggressive behaviour, inappropriate punishment, over the top reactions and raging manipulation. If you had nothing for me, I immediately disliked you. I tried to railroad you. I blocked you from kind things. I played victim and blamed you. I put you down behind your back and dabbled in the black arts of gossip and rumour mongering. I cut you down at the knees…just after I did the same to myself. Put you level with me, because if I am going down, I need a dance partner.
When I got down to it, my battles with others was really a way of finding a target other than myself. The cross hairs were always dead on me, but I needed target practice to hone my killer bayoneting abilities. And I had mad skilz to pay da bills, if truth be known. So while I played it cool on the surface, I had my war paint on my little inside Johnny Tomahawk. I was ready at all times to take on who and what I needed to just feel a little bit alive. I was a walking George A. Romero extra, but used barbs as brains to keep me going. Just for a little while, at least.
So where did this all lead? Fatigue. Emotional and mental draining. A sense of me versus the world. A losing proposition and stance at best. The greatest casualty was the true me that was meant to be, not the one I manufactured. My sense of self, my sense of worth, my sense of value plummeted. Tearing down others was an act of self-sabotage, in the end. Containing all the fury and fight ate away at my spirit and soul. It eroded my faith and my love in the Creator and others. It compounded the loathing I already came of of the box with (Barbie sold separately, batteries not included)
And what of alcoholism? Oh dear.
I fought my alcoholism like Tom fought Jerry. But nowhere near as reconcilable. I thought I had it under control. I thought that I was just on a run of bad luck. I refused to let something like that – a clear liquid – beat me down into submission. There was a greater chance of Tony the Tiger eating rice cakes with seaweed spread for breakfast than me not having and not lording dominion over booze. My ego wouldn’t have any of it. For simply to admit defeat would mean that my whole little conception of me and the world was wrong. And I didn’t do wrong. Even when I erred, it was something else – the sun was in my eye, or someone was out to get me – that was the real culprit.
It wasn’t until I had gone round after round after round in the ring with the bottle that I realized that I truly was done for. I got tired of the stinging sweat and puffy skin around my head and my bloodshot eyes. I was worn down by the duplicitous and arrogant nature of my own nature, going against nature, if you will. No matter how many rounds I went, I came out worse than I did the time before. No matter how much I came up with new ways of beating it, alcoholism had tried-and-true ways to circumnavigate my cunning. No matter how much might and deftness I put into my attempt to manhandle the alcohol, it came out of the corner with a ferociousness unmatched in previous bouts. No matter how much I tried to out think it, it outwitted me like Kasparov on Red Bull. More like Raging Bull.
So in the end, bloodied and torn and having nothing left in me, jobless, arrested, hospitalized, separated, detached, ignored, beat down, fatigued beyond reproach…I did the one thing left in me. I did the one thing I promised I would never ever do. I did the one single thing that I felt would never occur – I surrendered. I surrendered to my alcoholism. I waved the white flag, put my head down, and cried like I never cried before. My soul cried out for something that it never had before, something that it craved and yet never found. It cried out for peace. Serenity. Love. Compassion. A life away from the imprisonment of my own mind and the bottle.
It was then and only then was I able to start the healing process. Then and only then could I start to see the wreckage I left behind from the scorched earth crusade I had been on. It was then that I could see that I didn’t need to fight any longer. I never did. I was always in reach of getting to the rest stop. I just needed to make that decision. Or in my case, the decision was almost made for me. I just needed to give up what little was left. My ego had to succumb to the one thing it feared above all else – looking bad, not winning, admitting it didn’t have all the answers. And in doing so I was given a gift. The gift of freedom. Of relief. Of being able to stand outside of my own shadow and shackles and feel sunlight on my bruised and battered frame. I could start to see a glimmer of hope. I could almost feel what it would be like to not have to drink again. Frightening, but freeing.
It didn’t mean that things were going to be perfect. Or that I was absolved of everything. There was a lot of work to be done still (and is ongoing today and evermore), but I had that first baby step in hand – that I could not drink like a normal person, and more emphatically, that I could not drink again period. My fighting days were done. Gloves hung up and on ebay. My battle axe and shield were laid down at my feet, hands free to hold on to others for support and to support others. I was on a different path.
What this meant for me is that I no longer have to carry the burden of armor or Jedi mind tricks to just enter the day. I wake up with the freedom in knowing that I have a path that brings me to a place of peace and serenity. I have to do some heavy lifting at times, but that is often to unload what no longer serves me. Alcoholism and what it represents – oppression, anger, fear – no longer defines me and puts me in danger. I am not tethered to the feeling of uselessness and abandonment. In surrendering, I gain victory. In laying down of arms, I gain strength. In backing down, I gain clarity and respect for myself.
It’s now about ego stripping, not ego tripping.
And in that, I learned to accept that I cannot drink. That I am nothing special. That I am just a person who realized that he was licked, and did what was needed.
I fall to my knees and thank the Creator for this gift…of surrender and hope.
I fight no more.