Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Chasing the Moon

Would you rather be right, or would you rather be kind?   I was asked this recently, by a close trusted friend.

Most of us would choose kind, I think.   Or we would say we'd choose kind, because it seems the more noble choice.   But in the world of recovery, kindness only gets you so far.   Kindness, in fact, can be deadly.

I struggle with the hard truths.   I prefer a softer, gentler approach; I want to be someone's soft landing.   It's ironic in many respects, because what got me sober wasn't a kinder, gentler touch.    It was being told the cold, hard truth, over and over.   And it wasn't until I had no other way to go that I finally agreed to give sober a try.

Ideally, kind and right aren't mutually exclusive.    This trusted friend of mine has a way of delivering hard truths in a non-threatening but decidedly firm manner.    The thing is, though, that I'm open to hearing those truths, so the message doesn't need to be delivered with a sledgehammer.

When someone is fighting for their life, kindness can get in the way.   Addiction is a life and death struggle.   Maybe not today, or tomorrow, but eventually.    Because here is a cold, hard truth:   if you are an active alcoholic the elevator only goes one way.   Down.   

At some point all the hand-holding, "yay team!" words of encouragement, heartfelt hugs and long conversations don't work.    At some point I have to stop and say,   "Look.   You're in a fight for your life here.  If you don't stop, you are going to die." 

But if someone doesn't believe it, or doesn't care, words don't matter.   Ask anyone who has ever begged an alcoholic to stop drinking.   

The most common barrier is getting someone to admit they are an alcoholic.   The A word.   I tried everything I could think of to avoid that diagnosis, because alcoholics can't drink.    To someone who doesn't want to stop drinking, who believes with all their heart they can control it, the A word is terrifying.   

I learned in recovery that I'm not supposed to call another person an alcoholic, because it's an inside job;  only that person can know if they are an alcoholic or not.   And that's true, to a large degree.   I have spoken with people near death who don't believe they are alcoholics, and it isn't up to me to tell them they are.   Because it won't matter at all until they believe it themselves.

But that doesn't mean I have to cover up the truth.  Forget semantics, forget the A word.  

Here is another truth:  if alcohol is slowly taking over your life, one day you will get sober or it will destroy you.    

If you find yourself opening your mouth to protest - offer reasons why you aren't that bad, how you can control it, give examples of ways you're functioning normally - pay attention.   Social drinkers don't need to put all those rules around their drinking.

All the flowery speech and hand-holding isn't going to save you.   You're going to have to figure out if you want to save yourself, first.

Some days it feels very hopeless.   Watching someone fight hard to hang onto their sickness, thinking it is the only thing holding them together, is very painful.    Some days it feels like I'm just chasing the moon.   It's easy to be hopeful - maybe it's a little closer now?   But, of course, nobody catches the moon.   Nobody has that kind of power, no matter how much they wish they did.   

Sometimes being there to grab an out-stretched hand or offer words of encouragement is the exact wrong thing to do.    Sometimes the outstretched hand has to reach out and discover nobody is there. 

I'd like to believe I can catch the moon.   I'd like to believe the power of love is enough to get someone sober.  

It isn't.   What gets people sober is the power of the truth.


  1. Indeed, the A word is terrifying. Because, you know,when you STOP drinking, you DO NOT DRINK ANYMORE. And this simple idea is really terrifying. What about Christmas, birthdays, special family gatherings (and non special family gatherings, and stressful days, and ordinary days, and so on...)

    I am an active alcoolic who as, to date, succesfully hidden her alcoolism (my success lies in three words: Denial, denial and denial). But now, I am done and, I think, I'm ready to surrender. I did not loose my job, or my family, or money, or my house... But why wait? because that is what is going to happen.

    My drinking is kinda out of control. Not the physical act of swallowing alcool: for that, I still have some breaks (but for how long???) It is the IDEA of drinkink which is really haunting: I am obsessed and it occupies my time and spirit more and more...

    Thanks for the great post. I think that it is the one I was waiting for to make my coming out.
    The most important thing to me is being honest with myself and yes, I am powerless over alcool. It controls me, my life, and my soul. I am going to stop it by asking help before alcool stops me by killing me. Because that is what is going to happen.

    My name is Catherine and I am an alcoolic.

  2. Catherine, thank you for this beautiful, honest comment. Admitting that simple truth is terrifying, but also freeing. Living with the obsession about alcohol, whether drinking or not, is hell, in my opinion. I could manage to go days without drinking, but the thought was always spinning in my head, waiting for my resolve to weaken.

    Admitting I was powerless over alcohol, as painful and terrifying as it was, was also a relief. Once I owned this fact, I could be ready to move on to the next chapter of my life. I was so tired of being stuck.

    Welcome to the next chapter, Catherine. Keep on talking, being honest with yourself, and possiblities beyond your wildest imagination will open up for you.


  3. Thank you Ellie. Do you have any idea how powerful your words are? Your words render me speechless because the truth hurts...but it's still the truth.

  4. Thanks Ellie. I have been honest about so much so far, and it still hasn't been enough because I had to make that last leap. I think tonight may have been that leap. Or at least a hop. All I know is writing about it tonight, talking about it tonight with the people I did, it felt very different. Not comfortable, but good different nonetheless. And I know that it is going to take nothing short of complete and total honesty from this day forward for recovery to work for me.

    Again, thank you.

  5. This is so timely, because this morning I decided to stop moderating and just quit. I haven't copped to the "A" word yet, but I'm willing to say I think I *might* be an alcoholic. For now, I'm just tired and just want to get off the merry-go-round. So I did a blog post about it, I'm not buying more wine today, and though I'm nursing a hangover, I'm not going to treat it with a drink tonight. I'm nervous, but hopeful.