Speaking at a 12-step meeting a few weeks ago I mentioned that old AA standby—that addiction is the only disease that assures you that you’re doing fine. Have one more drink and you’ll feel even better.
When it ended, a woman took me aside.
“Elaine” had never been arrested for drunk driving, lost a job or passed out due to booze. She’d come to the meeting—her first—to please her husband but the drunk rambles she’d just heard made her think maybe she was in the wrong place—AA was not for her.
“Eddie claims we fight because I’m an alcoholic. He says a lot of hidden anger comes out after I have a drink or two. My own feeling is that he doesn’t think it proper for ‘a lady’ to drink at all; he is very old-fashioned. I tell him the main thing wrong with our marriage is his nagging. But sometimes when I am alone with my feelings [I think] wouldn’t a little vodka right now turn the world right side up? I think maybe he’s right. Bill, how can I know if I’m just an occasional heavy drinker, or a real alcoholic?”
“Elaine, let’s do a little self-diagnosis,” I said to her. “Imagine you’re having a medical consultation with a doc who knows you very well. He looks up from your chart and says, ‘Mrs. Jones, you’ve had your last drink.’ How does that make you feel?
“For most people, the reaction would be, ‘Not even a glass of wine at a festive dinner? Oh, well, if it’s a matter of life and death, that’s not too high a price. Sure, Doc—I quit as of now.’”
When a rehab counselor said that to me, a chill went down my spine. Oh, no, I said.Never to drink again? That was death.
What made it difficult for me to see that I was an alcoholic was this: I had become unpredictable to myself. I could stop at a bar after a day at the office, have a drink and go home to dinner with my (then) wife. I was just like anyone else. See?
This ignored the fact that I could stop in the same bar at the same time the next day, order the same drink, and wake up three days later in Bermuda…so high only dogs could hear me.