I’ve heard some recovering people say they knew they were alcoholics from “the first drink.”
It seems some people who develop addiction problems were behaviorally or genetically set up to be addicted from the start. It’s almost like, for some, alcohol was the magic elixir that soothed and healed the broken spirit (at first) and only later showed the darker side.
“A drink made me feel whole … complete.” For a normal drinker, a statement like this would seem crazy, an idea they would be unable to fathom, but to an alcoholic it makes perfect sense. For them, in the early stages, drinking alcohol scratched some inner itch that the normal drinker doesn’t experience.
“Alcohol gave me a sense of ease with myself, an acceptance of myself I had always admired in others and always sought.” It isn’t at all unusual for people to feel less inhibited when drinking, but for the alcoholic, the unease is the issue. Normal drinkers don’t start with a fundamental sense of unease that needs to be chemically managed. Alcoholics come to depend on alcohol or other addictions for their sense of worth, while normal drinkers start with a sense of worth. For alcoholics, alcohol tells them they’re OK while over time silently stealing their self-esteem, which then becomes the justification for more drinking.
“Alcohol gave me a sense of belonging; of being part of something.” Alcoholics feel isolated even in a crowd. They usually feel different or like an outsider from the start. Alcohol, for them, solves the isolation problem at first.
The ironic thing is while the alcoholic is drinking to be more social, he is further isolating himself and often ends up drinking alone.
Alcoholism is cagey. It appears to solve life’s problems in its introductory stages while later making those very problems worse. It whispers soothingly to you that it’s working tirelessly for you at the same time it’s stealing your life. It hides behind the very things it professes to cure. It’s doing pushups while you’re sleeping.
• Richard Atwater is a licensed clinical professional counselor. He can reached by email by visiting northwestcommunitycounseling.com.