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The Black Inky Line of Alcoholism and Now the Good Stuff

If overcoming a bad habit means fighting, grappling with a demon, declaring war on weird impulses that are disrupting otherwise good behaviour, then maybe we are looking into the wrong abyss.

Better thinking tells us that to walk away from bad habits is a less complicated way for the mind to successfully acquire beneficial life habits.

It sounds idealistic, but it isn’t. Filling our lives with the simple positive energy that comes from self-respect and self-knowledge, where we have the desire to live a meaningful life and to embrace the good stuff. We should trust that life has its ways of dispensing with destructive habits, without our interference.

The whole point of killing off a destructive type of behaviour is to be free of it, and to fill the void it leaves with something useful — not to fight it, or dwell on it.

I romanticised the whole thing. If Hemingway drank everyday, then it’s okay for me. If you you’re gonna have a party, well, have a party and to hell with tomorrow.

A person who is drunk sees the world differently to others. It’s a dream world where every thought is a fantasy with potential Hollywood status. It can develop into the wildest dreams and heroics.

Drunks are often seen late at night doing ridiculously foolish things on street corners, stealing flowers from gardens, overwhelmed by a desire to be a romantic knight in shining armour. Returning to the bar where they saw that beautiful person who they deemed to be their life-long partner, staggering in, feet sounding like horses hooves to them, sounding like drunk stumbling feet to everybody else.

Flowers presented and wet gooey smiles for everybody becomes an embarrassing memory the next day. Lots of self-examination about why that all happened. And, who was that person anyway?

Bad habits can kill us. A friend of mine was a chronic alcoholic, and I’m the type of person who looks for the good in a person — everybody has good intentions, they’re just not so skilled in how to set them in motion. People deserve a chance.

He drank a pint of rum and cola for his breakfast while I ate a solid meal. My bad habit could wait till after work, his bad habit stopped him from going to work.

Many faces of Alcoholism

Alcoholism is many things, and that makes it seem complicated to cure. Each person drinks for their own reasons, has their special needs, special drink, and secret places — alcoholics love secrets places, hideaways where they feel safe enough to get on with feeding the beast, without criticism from the outside world.

The complicated side of drinking is personal, it’s the hook that keeps us on the line. Like all personal, bad, deep rooted habits, the drink has its reasons that can’t be disputed — all those reasons elicit the sympathies and understanding of good-natured people.

“She turned to drink when her partner died.” , can quiet a room, and shut people up, just so the demon alcohol can get its way.

Make it a personal alcoholism and the world will understand it’s none of their business to intervene.

So long as we allow the fantasies of our bad habits to dominate our thoughts, we will always be a slave to them. It doesn’t matter how deep and meaningful the reasoning behind the habit is, it isn’t acceptable that a person lives to feed that reason.

Ernest Hemingway drank daiquiris and whiskies all his life, his glass of fantasy was well charged, but it also began taking it’s toll by the time he hit his sixties. Bad habits will kill you, one way or another.

Breakfast of Champions — The Fruits and Juices of Life

When my alcoholic friend with the rum & cola breakfasts told me he’d been visiting Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, I just said, “That’s good”, and left it at that, he wasn’t going to quit — chronic alcoholics only quit when their time is up.

But he did quit. He stopped drinking, the proof was in the breakfast which changed to clementines and fruit juices.

I could also hear it in his words, how he spoke with humility and hope. There was no boastfulness, pride, or ‘I’m gonna lick this thing’, talk.

He just took it a day at a time, didn’t think about tomorrow’s problems, and accepted that he only had that much strength left in him, to deal with it today only.

Something was happening to him, he couldn’t explain what it was, but it looked like the good stuff.

After a few weeks he was smiling and looking fit, he had a shine to him that I’d never seen before. I wanted some of that too.

I could see that this change he was experiencing was very personal, none of my business. I didn’t feel I should ask too many questions in case my investigations popped his bubble and ruined it for him.

I never did believe much in over complicated methodologies and mind games that are supposed to cure the sick, but the more I observed my friend, the more curious I became.

I asked to go to the AA with him — just to take a look, you know?

We went together one evening, he didn’t sell it to me, or tell me about what to expect. So I was full of my own pre conceived ideas about putting my hand on a black book and swearing an oath, or worse, being asked to get my wallet out before the cure could begin. None of that happened.

I sat and listened to sad and intriguing stories of life. Many of the people were celebrating each day since not drinking alcohol, and doing their best to put the loss of a life they once had into perspective.

When the meeting finished, I strolled around the room and found a poster hanging in the corner. It showed a straight line that represented a path in life that an alcoholic will follow.

My first thoughts were that once again, some smart ass has decided to create a systemic and academic graph of a complicated life. I took a quick look at it, followed the thin inky line upwards and read the notes about the stages of alcoholism.

Old Will Wilson. , the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, had figured it out long ago, the whole thing is a very human problem. It’s common among all of us to be trapped by this terrible habit of relying on a crutch in life. For me it was alcohol that soothed my pain.

William Wilson recognised that we all suffer, and have a weight to carry in life, he knew it would lead to some of us turning to the wrong kind of support to get through.

I think he was betting on self-understanding as being a good way of getting out of a hellish place.

Looking at the chart on the wall made me very thoughtful. I had never believed that my own problems were that similar to every other person in town.

Alcoholics have secret places, those places are safe to drink in, to go wild and have fantasies about a happy life in some other world. One of those places is in the mind. A place where you can feel fully separated from real life and its woes, and it’s a place where alcohol has got you tightly in its grip, you are all alone in there.

To feel separated causes the best and the worst of a person to thrive freely, feelings of loneliness that confirm that nobody will understand you, make you think that you’re the only one with these unique problems.

Fear is always present. Low energy that comes from extreme hangovers everyday, panicky spinning thoughts that plan drinking sessions, guilt about wasting life and the constant reminder that you don’t have anymore strength to try to quit. You quit trying to quit.

After I left the meeting, I had just nodded at one or two people, but didn’t make much contact. I went out and got drunk as usual.

When I woke the next day, usual hangover, pushing myself to get on with the day’s work, I walked along the road and thought about the meeting. I wasn’t impressed, but that wall chart had dug its ink into me, somehow I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

It was a feeling as if a doorway, slightly ajar, was waiting for somebody like me to walk through. An odd thought.

After work, my thoughts were already battling with where I was going to have a drink, what would I drink, beer or rum, or just take it as it comes?

I decided to pick up five litres of beer and head home. When I approached the corner shop to get beer, I had a thought, what if I went home, ate something and then went back out again to drink? Forget the shop.

I went home empty handed, walking up the flights of stairs thinking about me and my problems, trying to remember if there was still at least half a bottle of wine in the kitchen.

Then the chart with the inky line of life came back to me, it made me feel like all the other people in life. I wasn’t unique, I was exhausted in life and too tired to quit, but the same problems had been solved by many people before me. ‘Maybe I’d wait till later before drinking tonight.’ I don’t know why I thought that.

I walked into my apartment, stopped at the doorway to my bedroom and immediately felt tired, wiped out, and wanting to lie down for a while. I was never like this, I always came home, fired up my computer, grabbed a drink and sat down to write. Tonight, I felt different about the world, and my bed looked like a beautiful secret place where only sleep, and more sleep could be had.

I climbed into bed. As I drifted off I had the image of a very tired man tramping along a black pathway before him. Then I woke up again.

As I walked to work, I smiled a little because I hadn’t had a drink the night before. That was weird, it never worked as simply as that.

Another thought occurred to me, ‘How about I try and make it through the day without a drink?’, I was thinking about the black line and the stages of alcoholism, the end of the line on the chart was a horrifying place to go to. That’s the place were the inky line turns into spilled ink blotches that nobody can clean up.

I told myself that I’ll just go as far as my strength will take me, it’ll be a nice day if I make it through without a drink.

I didn’t really believe much of what I was saying, I just thought they were comforting thoughts for a condemned man, how the hell would I ever get off that inky line.

If I made it till 10 P.M. that evening, that would be a thing to smile about.

I did stop drinking alcohol, and I haven’t drunk any, since that day. Each day has always been a blessing, I’ve never had a feeling that I’m on the run from the demon drink. I feel more like a person who just goes a few a hours without, then a few more hours. Those hours turn into days, and nights, and then years.

The alcoholic me is always there somewhere, lurking in the depths of my mind, waiting for me to come on down and take a look at the fantasy world, the place that’s hidden and full of dreams of impossible worlds. But I don’t feel like I want for that anymore.

To be able to smile about myself, and to know that my self-esteem is balanced by realities that I can face, take on challenges that lead to the good stuff that isn’t defined by a scary looking inky line, that’s a life worth having.

Written by

Berlin Notes — Writing about the Creative Art of Living

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