How To Spot An Alcoholic

Of course, we all know the easy way to spot an alcoholic: red face, preoccupation with alcohol, unable to stop drinking once started etc etc. But today I am going to share with you some insight on characteristics of an alcoholic you may not know. Keep in mind, that what applies to spotting an alcoholic also applies to spotting a relapse because drinking alcohol is only a symptom of a greater problem inside the heads and hearts of people inflicted with the disease.

  1. Anger and resentment- This is nothing new to someone who is in AA. The whole book is written around this subject. Alcoholics have a pattern of being angry and resentful. Often, if I am on social media and I see someone with hostile posts I instantly become suspicious. Alcoholics are triggered by what they deem to be unfair acts against them especially when it comes to close relationships. The disease makes it very difficult for the alcoholic to not take someone’s actions personal. However, in recovery we learn that even the most atrocious acts of unkindness are not personal and we are taught to believe what other people say about us is none of our business.
  2. Comorbidity- Almost all alcoholics have secondary afflictions of the spirit, mind and body that manifest prior to the age we begin drinking. I suffer from anxiety and depression. Always have. In recovery, we are bonded by identifying in each other the same twisted personality traits. It seems like everything we feel is to the extreme. Alcoholics are extremely sensitive. In alcohol we look for relief in caring so much about anything and everything.
  3. Big Plans but No Follow Thru- The brain of an alcoholic is very different than a person who is not inflicted. The pleasure centers of our brain are not naturally full and it takes action every day to get into a pleasurable space. Alcohol replaces action in a way that we think of a big ideas, sometimes brilliant ideas, that are never completed due the fact that the intake of alcohol gives us the same reward response as if we had actually followed through on goal or a task. For example, when I want to write a book, if I drink I most likely will never write the book because alcohol makes me feel as if I had already done the work. This is why in recovery action is far more important than thought. Someone in relapse will begin slowly not to accomplish anything that is important for daily functioning and in the grander scheme of life.
  4. A Track Record- This is very hard for alcoholics to see. We feel things are happening to us. That we are just unlucky. It is very difficult for an alcoholic to link their drinking as a consequence of what they choose. An alcoholic does not have to be drunk to make bad decisions. Once again, drinking is only a symptom that masks what drives a person to be reckless, irresponsible and sometimes very foolish. And the next thing we know we have multiple situations transpiring at once but cannot figure out why. For instance, we get in fights with significant others, our bills are not paid or we lack money, our health deteriorates and we stop doing things that we usually love all at the same time.  When someone is in their disease it is almost impossible for them to be accountable because their disease wants more alcohol. I know that is hard for a normal person to understand but it true.
  5. Unhealthy Boundaries- I am not sure if our inability to have healthy boundaries starts in the family of origin who is likely full of other alcoholics or if it is just the nature of the disease. But alcoholics do not have healthy boundaries. They are often promiscuous, codependent and often expect others to do for them what they should be doing for themselves. They are abusive and they let themselves be abused. They do not know where they begin as a person and others start. This is very hard to master even in sobriety because our extreme feelings and thinking tend to create scenarios both in our heads and in our lives that cross lines of respectability and human decency.
  6. Great Senses of Humor- Recovering alcoholics know how to laugh at themselves. They are usually very funny with off color remarks and ideas. The way we view the world is quite different than a normal person and we are not afraid to embrace that side of themselves because they are usually rewarded by other people for it.
  7. Moderation in Moderation- Alcoholics are all or nothing thinkers. Balance is just not in our vocabulary. If we eat, we eat a lot, if we exercise,we exercise a lot, if we love we love far too much and we don’t see much reason to change.  We have a history of doing everything in our life to excess. Once again, we have a blind spot. We are unable to match our thinking with our behavior. We do not see the link unless we are practicing being mindful. I do not think being moderate ever becomes easy for someone even they have years of sobriety. That is why it is helpful to go to meetings, have a sponsor and be able to tell on ourselves. Otherwise, we slowly or quickly unravel into some sort of extreme.
  8. A Need to be Special- Alcoholics almost always feel that they do not fit in. Because of this, they have a desire to be more “special” than their peers. They truly believe they are superior because of it. But at the same time, being special creates distance which in turn breeds loneliness. One of the greatest things I learned was to find the similarities I have with my fellows if I want to feel fulfilled in my relationships.

This list is not extensive. But it can tip a person off to know if someone has a problem with an alcohol problem. I usually can spot someone right a way. However, it is seldom useful to tell a person that they are alcoholic. An alcoholic usually can figure this out on some level and either desperately tries to hide it or is willing to seek help.

The Truth and Nothing But The Truth

In the mornings, looking over the Ventura sunrise, I began to show up at the grocery store to buy liters of gross white wine.I was thirty years old, I had very little money at that point  but I tru…

Source: The Truth and Nothing But The Truth

Bye Bye Daddy

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You must understand that taking care of my father who had seven brain tumors, kidney and lung cancer was too much for me to bear.  But I had a grandiose sense that I could handle anything at that time in my life. Therefore when my father asked to move from his hospice in Moorpark, CA to my home in Portland, OR . I said “yes” immediately.

It didn’t matter that I had already experienced him having seizures on the street, or being angry that he was told to wear adult diapers. I had taken him to four hospitals in California in only six weeks, one in which he almost blew up the place because he tried to smoke with the oxygen on. It is clear I had no clue what I was trying to tackle.

So I said “yes” and my father and I boarded a plane via wheelchair and flew back to Portland.

Let this be said: even though, my father was neglectful…I know he did his very best to take care of us. He would always make sure we had breakfast and he would often cook dinner if he was home. He spoke to me as if I was an adult and we shared many conversations about life, consciousness, the ego and many other metaphysical ideas.

I quite enjoyed these conversations. But the fact of the matter was I overly adored my father. I was so impressed by his presence that I overlooked the little things like coming home to slamming cupboards and sitting silently for weeks in his chair. Plus he always denied that he smoked but I knew he did and we kept that charade going until his diagnosis.

I spent a lot of time wondering what his mood was going to be. I never knew when he was coming home or leaving and to this day I do not know where he went when he left the front door. I do know he was hilarious, smart and unconventional. He dazzled many who knew him. But I also knew he was very depressed and that he had an angry streak behind closed doors. It was interesting to watch the duality of his personality. And I always prayed he would be happy all the time.

When he came to my home my first husband and I set him up in the spare bedroom. There he remained fully drugged until his life ended.

The problem was I was his nurse. I saw him naked, I wiped his butt, I made sure he did not fall and I listened to him talk to me as if I was a stranger. He would look down my shirt and then realize he forgot I was his daughter. This became the norm in the house and I dealt with it the only way I knew how: drinking Zima and stealing his medicine.

But listen carefully. There is an unspoken secret that caregivers and family have with a terminally ill loved one. The secret is that we all begin to wonder when will it end. When will my loved one die already? This secret induces extremes amount of guilt that becomes suppressed and eventually manifests somewhere else in our lives.

Therefore when he was taking his last breaths and I was giving him permission to go, I was feeling relief. I did not know how much I would miss him everyday and how I would still cry often after a decade. I could not see passed the moment. And when our six-player CD shuffled onto “My Way,” by  good old blue eyes himself  he died.

I kept his body in his room so family members had time to say goodbye before he was burned to dust. A candle was lit beside him in some holy manner but it began to melt his skin.

And I was in shock. Complete and utter shock.

My dad always promised to make after death communications with me. I truly trusted in that. And the day that he died I walked downstairs to take a bong-hit and the music box he had given me years before played by itself from across the room for over a minute. “It had to be you, it had to be you, I wandered around and suddenly found some one so true….” And I smiled and said hello.

However, that day I broke into 1000 pieces. I would never be the same. Before me laid the work to put myself back together. And when I did something wonderful happened: I found humility. And in humility I found myself.

 

The Days of No Return

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After my father died, I went a little crazy. Actually, a lot crazy. If anyone has lost a parent especially the parent that raised you, then you will know the great pain and strange grief that unfolds after the parent’s death.

First of all, I was starting to get suicide ideation back. I could not stop picturing myself with a gun in my mouth blowing off my head. That started 4 months after he died. I finally went to an urgent care where I was introduced to antidepressants via sample packs. I did not understand at the time I needed to take the same amount every day so I would take 10mg one day, 100 mg the next and then maybe 25mg the following days. Nothing in my life was in order.

My first husband and I bought a house with some of my inheritance money. It was a small house that was perfect for he and I and our six cats. It was our little home and he worked hard to make it nice.

My first husband was not aware that I had started drinking up 15 drinks a day. I had been since I took care of my dad in hospice at my home. My ability to care about anything was completely lost. Therefore, when I was mixing my Zoloft with 15 drinks of alcohol a day and smoking pot, my decision-making was based on anything that would keep me numb.

The summer of 2000, my ex husband and I had gone to Italy for a wedding. When I returned from Italy…it was on!  Dinner parties at my house  became common. Drinks and laughter and mania continued and I really thought I was happy.

But this is when my hands began to shake. I had gone to enough AA meetings with my father to know that this was not good. But I could not stop. Alcohol was taking over my life. Eventually, after taking mushrooms and talking to some close friends, I came home and asked for a divorce. He was stunned. I was cookoo.

Immediately, after he left I called the guy I had been in love with over the course of my entire time spent with my ex husband. The guy had a girlfriend but for some reason I decided that he was my property and I had dibs. Not two days after we went out did he declare that he loved me. I wasn’t ready for a new relationship but who cares, right?

This guy could always read right through me and I had never had anyone so smitten over me at the time. Although, it is important to mention that this guy was an excessive alcoholic who could be compared to Nicolas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas. But I had crossed a line that many other alcoholic people cross. The point of no return.

We stayed together for one year and half and he was extremely abusive. But I was not innocent either. Plus, he continued to see his ex girlfriend behind my back. And I unbelievably thought I was being wronged by her when I was the one who stole her boyfriend in the first place!

There were times the police came because we fought so loud. And TV’s were thrown out onto the lawn. My little house became a breeding ground of wild abandon with pot smoking, drinking, cigarettes and total delirium.

I was about to leave him when he came home one night to say he had cancer. I was far too loyal to leave anybody in that position so I waited.

Things got worse. I crashed my car, I maxed out all my credit cards and decided I did not need to pay my taxes. The promises of payments to some creditors for my ex husband and I became greater debts unbeknownst to him. And I lived in awful fear of doom and gloom where the mailbox was not my friend and I could no longer answer my phone. They turned off cable, the trash stopped and I could no longer make long distance calls. I could not see how far of a hole I was digging but the bottom was still far away.

In the end, I made a decision to move back to California where there was no greeting party waiting for me. I had lost my friends and I was not prepared for the trouble that awaited me.

Still…it went on until one day.

 

 

 

Success

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The morning of my meeting with the administration staff and my father, I was extremely nervous: crawling out of my skin nervous. I was in big trouble and it had been chasing me for three years at that point.

Sometimes I wonder how I thought I could ever get away with all the self sabotaging I was doing to myself with drinking,doing drugs, smoking pot, smoking cigarettes, ditching school and failing almost every class.

At the time “the future” and “consequences” simply were non existent to me. And oddly enough, not many people knew how much trouble I had really created for myself. I was told I seemed happy and always positive. I didn’t mean to hide my shame. I just cared more about what people thought about me than I cared about myself. And this was a problem I carried into adulthood. But I digress.

So…we are in Mrs. Merriman’s office: all of us. I felt three very concerned, incredulous pairs of eyes staring at me. The room was small and the walls were caving in. But some how I mustered the strength to argue my case against getting kicked out of school against all odds.

My GPA was non existent: maybe a low low F, nothing better than that. I had 89 credits to make up to graduate: whereas most seniors had less than 45 credits to pass. This was going to be a tough sale. And so it goes…

I presented my poster board (these were pre-PowerPoint days) and I started by explaining in meticulous detail of how I would make up the classes and raise my GPA in order to graduate.

First I would take ROP which stands for Regional Occupational Program. I could earn 15 credits after school by being in this class. Much to my surprise this class was very helpful to my life because it gave me an upper-hand on how to present myself at job interviews, what to wear, how to fill out the application and shake someone’s hand: all strategies I still use to this day.

In addition, I agreed to take a class  at 530am once a week and agreed to work 30 hours a week for 15 credits. I struggled with this class because I was reckless and I kept quitting jobs. Throughout the year I worked 13 different jobs to earn those credits.

As for ditching school, Mrs. Merriman suggested that I spend 2nd period with her helping out at the office. I truly enjoyed this idea and finally became well known to the most of the staff in a positive way.

Next I would go to adult school and make up several classes. This was actually incredibly easy because it was independent learning and did not require a lot of my time.

Lastly, I would take the 45 credits like the rest of seniors were required to do. And in four years I attended TOHS I finally got to know my peers. In the prior years I hung out with people much older than me and I deceived myself that I could care less about people my own age. Actually, the truth was people my own age made me extremely nervous. I felt inferior and I did not know how to have real social relationships so I always tended to be hang-out with people that were older because that sense of competition was not present.

 

At the end of year, I was sitting in Mr. Coffman’s class surrounded by all the football guys goofing off when we were all handed a performance report. I opened my eyes and I tried not to cry. I was graduating but I ranked 520 out of 540 in my class. That mean 20 other students did worse than me. Furthermore my GPA was an .006 (if that existed!) And in all my glory of successfully fulfilling my goals I still felt like a bottom feeder. In fact, I never told anyone until years later.

Regardless, I was given my cap and gown. I walked across the podium hearing my name being announced and threw my cap in the air with all my peers of the class of 1990! From that point further, I knew if I took action I could probably overcome any issue that came way. And for me that was the safety I needed to go out and live on my own in the great big world.

Big Trouble

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One frightful day, I returned from ditching two classes, totally high.  I was called into the vice-principal’s office. Mr. Eckland and I had met on many occasions but this time was different.

“Where were you for second and third period?” He asked staring straight into my eyes. “I was cleaning my kitchen.” I said and that was absolutely true.

My dad was suffering from some sort of clinical depression and our house was covered with stains, dry hot dog on the counter, vegetables dying in the fridge, and other expired food strewn all around the kitchen. The floor was filthy and even after two hours I still had not  cleaned it enough.

Well, this didn’t go over well and I am pretty sure they administration became concerned about my home life. My dad was called in and Mrs. Merriman,the attendance officer,  along with Mr.Eckland began to take a hard look at my academic profile.

A meeting was set with my father and me to meet with the two of them. Mrs. Merriman reviewed the facts with my dad that I was not going to graduate next year do to all the D’s and F’s I had in my classes since freshman year.I am sure my father was alarmed because a friend of mine was making fake report cards for me stating that I was receiving all A’s and that my attendance was excellent.

But the jig was up. Mrs. Merriman said I needed to leave Thousand Oaks High School and begin attending Conejo Valley Continuation High School. Now don’t get me wrong. I had plenty of friends at that school but I was honestly scared to attend. I imagined people forcing me to take PCP and classrooms out of control. The school had a reputation for troublemakers and I definitely had earned my spot there, however, I truly thought I was better than that school. It was unimaginable to me to that I would be kicked out of school at all!!!

First, I started brainstorming. I would take the GED. School would no longer be in the way of my social life if I chose that route. But several friends talked me out of taking the test and I was in utter panic.

Mrs. Merriman had put me on a probationary period and I still ditched class so she set up another meeting  where I knew it was over.

The class I had ditched in the first place to clean my kitchen was a child learning class taught by Mrs. Williams. I did not like the teacher and she had no reason to like me. But Mrs. Williams noticed the day before the big meeting that I looked exceptionally distraught and she approached me.

I began to cry and told her the dreaded news. She listened and she said nothing judgmental. I thought this was a waste of my time until she said, “I have a plan.”

And her plan was the hardest undertaking of my life thus far.I was two grades behind in credits and I had only attended school 25 percent of the time.  But she had far more experience than me and  she began to teach me how to negotiate and persuade with concrete ideas and not tears.

I began to be hopeful. The plan was developed around a presentation on poster board showing what classes I would attend, before school and after school to make up the credits.Yet I wondered how I could ever actually accomplish this painstaking plan she and I set forward in order to graduate on time.  I would see the next day if the plan would work or not. My presence at Thousand Oaks High School was wearing thin. Could I convince the administrators and my dad that I found a way to graduate?

We will see…