Sometimes a friend who can “take it or leave it” asks me, “What’s it LIKE?”
Of course they wonder what it’s like to be an alcoholic. This question “what’s it LIKE?” means many things. It asks other questions, too, like “how does it feel to try to have one?” or “what would happen if you had one now?” It also asks me, “can you help me understand something that is impossible to understand?”
How could I explain COLOR to a person who has always been blind?
When I was a kid, I was extremely judgmental of alcoholics. I mean: why didn’t they just drink MILK or TEA or SODA?
To describe the compulsion, I steal from an old man I knew in AA who has since passed. He described an alcoholic resisting a second drink as “somebody taking a bottle full of laxatives and trying not to shit.”
An analogy I’ve thought of, but have been reluctant to use, is foreplay. Say a couple is kissing and things are escalating. At some point he or she or he or he or she or she might stop and say, “Honey? I’m sorry. I am not feeling well and I have to be up early ….” and it’s OKAY. But if you take that scenario a little further, the person on the receiving end of this sentence – of this apology, of this bow-out of intercourse/sexual gratification – it’s not so OKAY. It’s frustrating. Take it even further …. there’s kind of a point of no return. When I pick up a drink, I have fast-forwarded to that point of no return. But I’m reluctant to use this analogy because …. maybe it implies I have a sex addiction, too.
Truth be told, I have an exercise addiction (did you know you can O.D. on that? I was shivering in a blanket on a hot and humid August day following a “workout.”) Truth be told, I have a drug addiction. Truth be told, my thinking has shifted and that switch went up during horse race gambling and I’ve never gone back – this happened following a fateful Trifecta bet where two of my longshot horses came in but the third didn’t …. this very nearly resulted in winnings of $20,000 and this was in the ’90’s. My eyes got big and my hand went into my pocket. Thoughtlessly I meandered toward the betting booth …. my then-boyfriend followed me and put his arm tightly around me, “We’re leaving now,” he whispered….
I don’t have a sex addiction. But sometimes I’m sensitive to the prospect of having another addiction. Crap. I probably BREATHE addictively. I’m probably very well addicted to oxygen. I bet I’d die without it.
So how does one explain the compulsion to someone who has never felt it? I’m sure there is some sterling specimen out there who has never eaten more than they should have, never gotten bombed, never tried drugs, never felt compelled to have more, more, MORE of anything. How would a person describe the compulsion?
It’s an urgency. Nothing is more important than feeding the craving. Nothing. Not family, not love, not consequences, not money, not your soul …. not getting into heaven, nothing!