Would You Help Me?

I have seen many people drunk but, face-to-face, I have only seen two people who had been intentionally abstinent from alcohol drink again to the point of drunkenness.

Their faces showed why they drank, and what I would seek through drink, too – the careworn face smoothed, all tension of expression eased. The face shone with release, peace, “that feeling” that comes from getting to be alive but not having to handle one single memory or loss or doubt.

But the eyes. Haunted, they will haunt me – frightened like a child is frightened, knowing he’s just about to be struck, baffled as to why. And then shifting to separate, unconnected. “The eyes are the mirror of the soul” we are told and I looked deeply but saw space. No self.

Chilling.

Would you help me?

Under the right circumstances, if it all just gets too much, I might join them in drinking again. In spite of having seen what I saw in their eyes.

That’s because consequences are of no consequence when it comes to addiction.

“Think of the consequences!” alcoholics and other addicts are told.

Fear of negative consequences doesn’t motivate a person who is addicted to alcohol or other drugs to not drink or use. Gratitude for – or fear of losing – the good people and the good things in life doesn’t protect a person from drinking or using. In the moment just before drinking or using, I am unconscious of you or of me. I cannot access feelings and I cannot deliberate about choices. I become must. Must drink, must use, must do. Must.

I differentiate between what a person does and who they are. While these people were actively drinking, I scrutinized them for what we accuse alcoholics and other addicts of being – selfish and self-centered.

I saw behavior that might be termed selfish. I heard words and read texts that could be labeledĀ pro-themselves and anti-me. I saw driven choices that seemed “about them” that did not protect me or others.

But in terms of behavior vs. self? I wasn’t watching a characterologically selfish person in action. I saw only desperation.

This is where our deepest held beliefs about addiction are challenged. Is addiction an illness, a health problem to address? Or, in our secret heart of hearts, do we believe the person has a choice and just isn’t exerting enough self-control? Do we believe, at essence, that alcoholics and other addicts are bad people doing bad things?

Based on my personal experience and my experience working with others, addiction is an illness. I’ve probably written 100,000 words on this blog and will probably write a million more trying to express the absolute tragedy of having one’s self be taken from one.

  • If I fell and broke my leg, would you tell me to stand before you’d help me?
  • If I were falling into a diabetic coma, would you require me to admit I’m a cookie-binger before you’d help me?
  • If I were feverish and ranting, would you insist I apologize for my words before you’d help me?
  • If I’d had a paralyzing stroke, would you require me to reach out for help first before you would reach back?

I’m anticipating you would offer me unconditional help in these situations. Even if my prior choices had led up to the injury or illness, you’d fuss later. You’d help now.

We don’t have to discuss beliefs about broken bones, chronic diseases, mutterings that result from elevated temperatures, a disconnect between brain and body, do we? But about addiction, we have to have the belief talk.

Oh, and the plot thickens. The vast majority of addicts have trauma in their pasts from which mental illness develops. Get this: the choices that would lead up to my relapse might not have been rational. They may have been made under the influence of mental illness. That’s called co-occurring disorders and most addicts have them, too. I do. So, really, for the choices leading up to my relapse, and for my relapse, I might not deserve any scolding at all. Just help.

If I started drinking again and oh-so selfishly told you to get the f*k away from me, would you help me?

Practicing Radical Self-Kindness
If I Relapse

Comments

  1. I have been sober this past January 15 for 19 years. I can remember most all these feelings. I got sober once for a year in my early 20’s. Again for three years around 27. I started drinking and using drugs at 12. I thought it was just the thing to do. My father was an alcoholic and he seemed to be having a much better time than Mom. I’m one of six kids and no one was in control of the household. Over the years I was drinking and using, I probably tried everything out there. I couldn’t accept reality of any sort. I was actually relieved when I found out alcohol and drugs were just a symptom of my problems. Self loathing will put you down quicker than any other feeling. I became quite used to judgement from others. When you start to practice kindness and learn how to reach out for help and in turn, help the next person, it all become so much easier to understand. The three hardest words in my life were simply, I need help. Thank God for that helping hand.

    • Anne Giles says:

      Thank you so much for honoring me and us by sharing your story. “I need help.” Yes. Again, thank you so much!

  2. Anne Giles says:

    Thank you so much for your comments, Kelly and Janeson.

    >So this begs the question, when do you step in when a person is in relapse, and when do you step away? When do you just walk away completely?

    Yes, those are the questions. And I don’t think anyone really knows – not medical professionals, not addictions treatment providers, not researchers, not support group members. Statistically speaking, we know that for most people, most of the time – with the objective being abstinence or harm reduction – pretty much any treatment is better than no treatment and earlier treatment is better than later treatment. For the terrified, distraught person trying to save a loved one from this horrific illness, those are icy words. To treat or not to treat? If to treat, what kind? What a heinous responsibility falls on the individual to make a judgment call!

  3. I would. I will. No blame, no shaming. Help with open arms.

  4. Kelly Marie Alcorn says:

    Absolutely. That being said, I would wait until you were hungover. In my experience, trying to deal with a drunk who is drunk is an exercise in futility. You are not capable of hearing me, and I refuse to talk to the bottle. So this begs the question, when do you step in when a person is in relapse, and when do you step away? When do you just walk away completely? I have had to make that choice and people do die. Others do make it back. If you deal with addicts and alcoholics long enough, you’ll eventually have to go to funerals, not all of them are a celebration of a life well lived.