I never liked chips when I was growing up. In fact, my folks didn’t really keep chips in the house. No Pringles, no Lay’s, no crunchy treats lying around. Oh now and then, there would be some, but my folks usually ate them, late at night or with dinner. Sometimes they would ask me to get the chips for them. There were often ruffled chips, sometimes smooth. The salty tang never agreed with me, and gladly gave them the chips, content to eat my chocolate and cookies.
When I was a bit older, my father would let me have a chip. I ate one or two, but still didn’t have a taste for them. I would chug some water as a chaser and disappear into my room, listening to the crunching and chomping coming from downstairs. I played with my Dungeons and Dragons and tried to program my computer, lost in my own thoughts.
When I was 15 years old, my friends and I grabbed some chips and went out to a park. We ate chips, talked about the things that we 15 year old outcasts normally would talk about – girls that we’d never have a chance with, the bullies, our latest comic book creations, the newest death metal bands. I still wasn’t crazy about chips, but the guys liked it, so I did it to be a part of it all.
It was about the time I turned 17 years old that I finally got a taste for chips. The red powdery residue staining my hands didn’t deter me from grabbing pack after pack. I wasn’t picky, so any cheap brand would do. The sodium-packed potato crisps danced on my tongue and I found that I started to enjoy them more and more. We found ourselves less interested in trying to score with women (i.e. having one actually talk to us) and more interested in the newest flavours of chips. They started to make them locally, and I even went through a phase where I was making them in my house. Slicing the best potatoes as thinly as I could, and frying them in clean canola oil, topped with sea salt – you couldn’t find a finer chip.
Eventually, I found myself enjoying chips more than the guys did. I started to keep a few bags of chips at home just in case the guys weren’t interested in hanging out. I started to get the larger bags. After getting married and moving into our own house, I made sure that we were stocked with chips at all times. My wife enjoyed them too at times, but found that she was good after half a bag. I, on the other hand, kept wolfing them down. I noticed people were giving me looks and starting to wonder about this unnatural attention to chips I had. So I started to hide them.
I found myself having a few packages before going for dinner or to a party. I would still get at the pretzels and peanuts, but chips were the real deal. I would eat chips when I got home. I hid packages in the house, and had to work at getting rid of the wrappers without causing suspicion. I even swore off a few times, but found the crisp clacking of a new package too much to resist. I renewed my interest in chips with a zesty vigour. I couldn’t stop eating them. I thought about them all the time, even though I thought it odd at first. But soon enough, I had to have them as often as I could, and when I didn’t get them, I got cranky. I lied, cheated and stole to get my chip fix. The big bags needed to get bigger. I spent more and more on these, and found myself at stores I wouldn’t normally visit to get chips. It was all I could think about, and when I didn’t have chips in me for a day or two, I felt physically ill.
My home life, my work life, my mental landscape and emotional well being were being affected greatly by these greasy dip scoopers. They weren’t just chips – they were life-sustaining bites that were as necessary to me as breathing. I didn’t care if they came from the dollar store or if I found them on the ground. I didn’t care if they were gold plated or if they had been rolled in cigarette ash. I wanted them, any way, any how. I couldn’t imagine not eating chips, but I couldn’t imagine continuing to eat them. I was getting sick, and life looked grim. I couldn’t look myself in the mirror any more and I knew that my life was falling apart. But I just couldn’t see it. I was licked.
If I were to describe this to any bloke or lass on the street, they would think me mad. If I substituted “alcohol” for chips (or gambling, drugs, sex, binging, purging, porn, etc.) they would still think me mad, to some extent. They would understand the words, but not the full blow of the context and intention. They could empathize to an extent, but would stop at the doorway, unable to move into the Realm of the Addicted. They just hadn’t been down that path, so they could only go so far.
And that how it is trying to explain alcoholism to a non-alcoholic. Good intentions and open-mindedness can only bring the non-addicted to the precipice of where we once called home. I understand that they don’t understand – how could they unless they’ve been there? It’s like a woman trying to explain to me what it feels like to be pregnant. I watched my wife go through the whole thing – from the cravings, to the feelings of extreme uncomfortableness, to the sickness, to the floundering emotions, to the shivers and shakes, to pain and bloating. But I can never express what it’s like to be pregnant. Never. And while I did exhibit those same physical symptoms myself (but for entirely different reasons), I cannot impress upon a non-alcoholic what it was like to be me.
Me inside hideous me.
That is why the power of being amongst those who have walked The Dark Path is so intense and majestic. Being able to listen to another alcoholic speak for only a minute and just get what they are saying is magical. And healing. The fertile ground that we mulch with our experience and love and acceptance is the same fertile ground that we grow with others in. We all know that feeling of trying to clutch at sobriety with the desperation of a drowning person, only to find the waves lapping over us and pulling us beneath the undertow, tossing and tumbling until we are lucky enough to come up again, hoping to grasp onto something tangible. And I found that the hand of another alcoholic, one who had recovered, one who had a solution, one who had traversed the gap requiring faith and hope, was the thing I was able to hold tightly onto.
The non-alcoholic will never understand the crippling loneliness, the endless self-loathing, the chronic discontent, the never ending anger, the ceaseless sadness and the churning feeling of hopelessness that comes with alcoholism. That is alcoholism. The non-alcoholic will never understand that drinking isn’t our problem, it’s our solution. If you knew how I felt when I didn’t drink, you’d drink too. That it’s not being drunk that’s the problem, but being sober that is, because when those countless fears, resentments and pain start to bubble and burst forth from within, there is no other way I know how to deal with them other than to self-medicate.
Having a bad day? For non-alcoholics, a bubble bath and perhaps venting to a friend is the balm that soothes. A bad movie and a cry can ease that discomfort. Playing squash and eating a plate of tacos might turn the tide and do wonders for the soul. But for alcoholics, we need the poison – bourbon, vodka, beer, coolers, wine, cocktails…whatever we have, and lots of it. And it will be lots, because we don’t have an ‘off’ switch. We are hard-wired to drink to oblivion – that is the only path, the only direction, the only destination. Complete and utter destruction of self and anything that stands in it’s way. Anything less is a waste of time.
We have been berated, questioned, pleaded with, screamed at, negotiated with and given direct commands to stop. We have been asked “Why can’t you just have one?”. We have been harshly stamped with the label of morally weak, or of lacking in willpower or being behaviourally maligned. We are told that we are selfish, bad, mean, useless, a waste of skin. And that’s usually from ourselves! But sometimes it’s mentioned to us by others in their frustration, anger and desperation to see us change, to stem the bleeding. Our intelligence is questioned, our integrity doubted, our dignity queried, even our own humanity is cross-examined as we drift further down into the sink hole of our alcoholic existence. Oblivion. Me.
Me inside hideous me.
To the non-alcoholic, we are a baffling lot. We do things that clearly harm us and others. We are self-destructive in every manner befitting a mad person. We are bright in almost all aspects of life and can balance much, except when it comes to alcohol. We put alcohol in front of everything else, even when it is apparent that we are losing those very things we claim to love and cherish. Because in the end, the only thing we cherish is what alcohol does for us. Or what we think it does for us. We try to hit that window, that small narrow window, where everything is right.
Where my insides look like your outsides. Where I can come out and play. Where I am fit into the puzzle of life for just a brief, glimmering moment. And there isn’t anyone or anything that can take that moment away from me, a moment that is due to me because everything else in my life feels like my soul is being torn apart like a piece of paper through a shredder. And I live for that moment. And then it dissipates, like a shooting star, and I am left with me again.
Me inside hideous me.
I hate you because really I hate me. I look at the world with a negative slant because I am not on the level with my own spirit. If I felt I had one. I am ruthless with others because I gut myself on a daily basis. I leave myself hanging for the vultures of prey to feast on and feel that I deserve it. I want to be punished, but am too cowardly to do it. So I get you to do it for me. I want you to hold me, love me, tell me that it’s all going to be okay, but I don’t want you anywhere the hell near me. Get AWAY. But hug me.
Me inside hideous me.
This is why I could never have one drink. This is why I could never just walk away from the bar without my belly full of booze. This is why I needed full on white out. Or black out. Or brown out. Any kind of out was preferable to being in pain, in distress, in me…hideous me. This is why I cannot ever have a drink again, because if I ever did, the demons inside would roar again, the physical beast would kick in, the mental obsession would crank up again and I would be off to the races. Again. And I can’t ever predict if I would get back to recovery.
But luckily I am not anywhere near that. I can’t say that every alcoholic is in the same boat. I hear over and over again how some go back out and are never seen again until their bodies are discovered. If they are discovered. Some hang around and go back and forth into sobriety, losing more and more of themselves the more they go out. Some disappear into the tapestry of despair never to emerge. Some fade slowly, and some disappear with the speed and intensity of lightening. Crashing down hard. Dead . Or alive with dead eyes, broken spirit, crushed hearts.
This is why I need to have the fellowship around me, to be a mirror, a sounding board, a landing pad, a gentle stroke, a kick in the seat of the pants, a kind ear, an easy shoulder. I need to be surrounded by men and women who understand everything I just described above without actually describing it. To just say “I’m feeling vulnerable today” and they intuitively knowing where I am coming from, what to say, what not to say. To be amongst my peeps and just know that I belong to something greater than the sum. I feel the Creator within and without. A sapling in that fertile ground, ready to sprout and grow and give shade and support to the new saplings growing around me.
To the non-alcoholic, they need not understand this. They need not understand about chips, alcohol, drugs, or whatever else it is that spoke to our sick souls. What they see is that they have a wife, sister, daughter, mother, aunt, cousin back. What they care about is that their husband, brother, uncle, son, boyfriend is back. Or not even back, but new. Different. Open. Involved. Present. Clean and clear. Happy.
Because in the end, we get a chance to sober up, recover, and learn to live life in a new way. We lose the old us, the angry us, the disappointed us, the shamed us, the guilty us, the hurt us. I am not longer me inside hideous me. I am me inside glorious me. Majestic me. Serene me. Loving me. Accepting me. Wanted me. Giving me. And that’s the glow that others see in us, what we see when we capture a glimpse of ourselves in the mirror as we pass down the hall.
Keep glowing everyone. Keep glowing. Your shine brings me more light and more joy. The joy rubs off on those around us and leaves an indelible mark on them, and rebounds back on us. You are you inside glorious you. Let it out, share it, show it off, give it away, reflect it, praise what gave it to you, let it loose, cherish it. You are me and I am you and we are just perfect in our imperfection.