“George” was a guy who thought he had the answers.
He drank heavily, and later alcoholically, for more than 20 years, and when he finally crashed, to the great relief of many around him, he wanted a quick fix. He thought that detox was enough for him, and three days into his first official hospital stay for detoxification from alcohol, he was, “Feelin’ good and rarin’ to go.”
Despite the recommendations to stay and start the rehabilitation program, George felt like he had it handled, so despite all advice to the contrary, George left the hospital. He got drunk two days later.
Nine months and a nasty bout with pancreatitis later, George decided to try Alcoholics Anonymous. He secretly thought that he could listen carefully and learn to control his drinking. Predictably, after a few weeks of dry time and a couple of A.A. meetings, George once again was hitting the bottle.
This time he developed a nasty case of cynical blame. So now, the reason he was drinking was because both the hospital and A.A. let him down. He swore to all who would listen that he’d never go back to either.
Two years later, with shaky hands and looking 10 years older than he was, George showed up at the emergency room with “stomach pains.” This time it was his liver. George had developed a pattern of drinking where he would drink heavily for several days and then not drink at all for a week or sometime more to recover. He then repeated the process. But the drinking days slowly and ominously began to outnumber the recovery days, no matter how hard George tried.
When questioned about his drinking, George steadfastly held to the thought that at least he didn’t drink every day. He did, however agree that if he didn’t do something soon, he was going to be pushing up daisies, so he agreed to go back to A.A.
With hat in hand, George went back to A.A. with somewhat more respect for the power of his disease, but still with the notion that he knew the answers. He wanted to be in and out of A.A. in a few months, which he thought was plenty of time to do the steps.
“I know I’m an alcoholic,” he thought, “and I’ll clean up my act, put down the drink, make a few apologies, and then I’ll be able to help other alcoholics.”
To his dismay, George was advised to slow down and listen. He was told that guys who think they already have the answer rarely have the open mind necessary to stay sober. He was told that it wasn’t a race, and that getting well might take quite a while given how long he had been ill.
• Richard Atwater is a licensed clinical professional counselor. He can reached by email by visiting northwestcommunitycounseling.com.