The following is one alcoholic's account of his struggle. A member of Alcoholics Anonymous, he agreed to write his story on the condition that he remain anonymous.
I was born in a heavily industrialized, relatively small midwestern town. My father was an active alcoholic at the time of my birth, and a frequent wife-beater. In later years, as my own alcoholism developed and my knowledge of my mother grew, I began to understand his life and acts. Whether I could accept them was another matter.
I had one sister, who was killed in an auto accident at the age of 32, and as far as I knew she showed no signs of alcoholism. We had been raised as Methodists, and it never took, as far as I could determine, on either one of us. The Sunday school I attended had a one-year pin awarded for perfect attendance, and as a 13-year-old I attended 51 straight Sundays and then, for no apparent reason but laziness or, more likely, obstinacy, I slept in on the 52nd Sunday, feigning illness. The Sunday School gave me the pin anyway, because I had tried, and that was the end of my relationship with organized religion, because that incident proved all religious people were liars and hypocrites.
There was no liquor in this home, of course, although my mother's sister and her husband, Harry, came over on Sundays to play pinochle, and Harry always had a beer or two and then went back to the corner tavern for several more while the women talked and I moped.
I moped a lot, and was a brooding, introspective (cranky?) little boy, living sometimes in fantasy and seldom in reality. I felt lost all the time, 15 minutes late and about a dollar short. We were a "clean poor" family, with my mother and father, by the mid-'30s, divorced but both working during the Depression.
I was an adequate student in elementary school, not so good in junior high, and finished last in my class of about 100 in high school. I was a dirty teen-ager, and should be forever grateful for the lack of acne despite horrible personal hygiene. Maybe my pimples slid off. I did poorly with girls, was slightly overweight, and was almost pathologically self-absorbed. I was, in a word, a jerk.
All this changed, except for the self-centeredness, not exactly overnight, when I discovered that Four Roses made a Fred Astaire of me, that a six-pack of Falstaff made me the Joey Chitwood of the back roads, and that sloe gin was guaranteed to dissolve blouse buttons.
My first purchased drinks were several bottles of beer I bought with my allowance at a roadhouse I reached in the first car I was allowed to drive the first time I was allowed to drive it. So my first official drink, at the age of 16, coincided with the first time I drove drunk, which I was to do many times over the next 31 years. I was only arrested once for drunk driving, and that was just before my 47th birthday and a month before I was to find myself with my own pistol in my mouth, hoping in that way to end the fears that over a 30-year career of drinking had descended upon my psyche like a black bird shrieking charges of guilt and anxiety and terror.
In between that first drink and the last I was to serve my country in the Army, graduate college with honors and attend graduate school, marry and sire three children, work 20 years in the same profession, mostly with two Fortune 500 companies, author a book and several magazine articles and in general make life choices in the same manner as ordinary social drinkers and nondrinkers.
The difference was that my social drinking lasted about 45 minutes of the 30 years of drinking. After that it was an increasing tolerance for alcohol, the ability to drink most people under the table, a growing fear of an unknown but certainly impending doom, the inability to stop drinking after one drink and the certainty that I was going to continue to drink until I was drunk.
When I passed out on a bed I called it taking a nap, or retiring for the night. In front of the test pattern of a crackling TV set it was called resting my eyes. The kids called the half-gallon jug that stood on my desk "Daddy's nerve medicine." They were right.
Well, I didn't kill myself, except insofar as I've since been able to lay to rest a good deal of my ego, the part of me that considered myself to be a very special worm. Somebody once called an alcoholic an egomaniac with an inferiority complex.
What happened is that I began daily drinking early on, and morning drinking 22 years before I was to quit. I drank a half-gallon of whiskey a day, not counting the three Manhattans I had at a bar on my way to work, for the last 10 years of my drinking, and at the end I apologized to a woman who worked next to me for my behavior of the previous day, and she said that was okay because she hadn't even been there.
In the end I weighed about 140 pounds, having come from a normal 175 but a high of 205 during my prime drinking days, and I like to say that I was 100 pounds of liver and 40 pounds of eyelids.
I was in serious physical, financial, emotional and legal trouble, and that was coming to a screeching halt because my boss told me my work was shoddy and that if I didn't do something about my drinking he would fire me.
Nobody had ever before raised a hand against my drinking, never. I had often felt like the Black Dahlia killer, wanting to scrawl on a mirror with lipstick, "Stop me before I kill again." Of course, I had been killing myself.
So many alcoholics defer treatment until the boss gets to them. The job, it turns out, is what keeps the whiskey flowing, the great enabler. The alcoholic will let the house go, the car, the wife and kids, the dog (well, not always the dog), the girlfriend, the clothes and the prestige, and never make the first move to get cleaned up until the wherewithal is threatened.
In my case, I had already investigated a treatment center. (I didn't go because they expected me to make my own bed there. Me!) And I had been to a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, to see what those holy rollers were up to. I had all sorts of visions of their speaking in tongues and shouting hallelujah as they broke bottles of whiskey over barkeeps' skulls, but it wasn't that way at all. It's not what I expected, not that way at all.
What I found was a group of men and women who gathered together to share their strengths, hopes and experiences with a common goal of getting and staying sober and helping others to achieve sobriety.
They did it by following the 12 suggested steps of the AA program, one of which is admitting powerlessness over alcohol. That's the big one, and that's the one that puts a cranky little boy-turned raging alcoholic in his place, and shows him that while he may be a very special worm, he's not unique, nor are his problems. And as he or she works the steps of that program, and attends meetings with the very special (but not unique) people who have made the conscious choice of life over death, he finds that if he stops drinking he can find a new way of living that makes allowance for the needs and wants of others, and lets him come to a new awareness of the principles of tolerance, acceptance, patience, understanding, kindness, love and humility.
I sought these principles, and am finding some of them a day at a time, still a member of no religion but believing that it was an act of providence that allowed me to stop the insanity of ingesting a toxic substance, ethel alcohol, five years ago this month.
AA offered me a way out, and I found that the way out is through, not around or under or over, and the way through is into. So I greet each new day with gratitude and ask only for guidance in putting one foot in front of the other today, for, yesterday being only a memory and tomorrow only a vision, today is the only day I have.