Why I Will Lie to You If I Drink Again

Before, I had three physical needs to stay alive: air, water, and food. My existence would signal me when doing without was putting me at risk. Inhale deeply, splash water from the tap into a glass, peel the wrapper on a Larabar, and I was restored to stability.

Now, as a result of having alcohol use disorder, I have four needs: air, water, food, and alcohol. For me, not drinking alcohol is like – all day, every day – taking shallow breaths through parched, cracked lips, faint with hunger. My existence is alarmed by this constant lack, warning me that we simply must drink alcohol to save this life. Yesterday marked 3 and 5/12 years I have denied myself alcohol.

My dad

I expect to deny myself alcohol again today. I’m not excited about it. Doing without a need offers a marginal, partial, unstable life.

I heard a treatment professional say, “Addicts lie. That’s what they do.” In her book Unbroken Brain, Maia Szalavitz recounts the bitter joke, “How do you know when an addict is lying? When his lips are moving.”

If I drink a glass of chilled sauvignon blanc at 5:00 PM today, if you call me at 5:30 PM and ask me if I am still drinking I will say, “No.”

But I will still be drinking because that’s what addiction is, as Szalavitz succinctly puts it: “compulsive behavior that persists despite negative consequences.” During several of the last times I drank, I fell, usually down the stairs. The odds are good if I drink again, I will fall again. This house has two staircases with which to offer me negative consequences. But I will have bought two bottles of wine to drink, not one.

I will lie to you.

I will lie to you because I am afraid that, if I don’t, you will come over and take away my lungs full of air, my moistened lips, my satiated belly, my quivering, grateful relief at finally being free from constant deprivation. My marginal, partial, unstable life will feel full, whole, and safe. And, for me, I will feel loved like I would if my mother, gone four years, were back here with me. I so long to talk with her about everything that’s so very hard.

Who wouldn’t lie to protect that?

I have beloved people in my life with addiction and they have told me appalling, heartbreaking lies, lies that caused me to doubt myself, to doubt beliefs I hold dear, to take actions I hoped would be helpful that ended up in near ruin for me and for them. That what they persisted in doing tortured me repeatedly and mercilessly was the hardest blow. Were they, in fact, monstrous?

My father turned 83 years old a few days ago. Just over a year ago, I moved into a house on the next street to be nearby to help in case he needs it. If I took a drink today, and the additional drinks that would inevitably follow, I would be actively ill with alcoholism again and my father would be devastated. He did absolutely nothing to cause my drinking, he would not be at fault or to blame, he would not be responsible, and he wouldn’t deserve it, not at all. He would agonize that I didn’t love him enough, that he wasn’t lovable enough, that he hadn’t loved me enough.

If I drank today, it would be monstrous.

I cannot promise I will not take a drink today. I will do my best. But I cannot guarantee it.

I have a health condition – not a moral or spiritual failing – for which I did not receive immediate health care. It’s a health condition that under-sensitizes me to pleasure, over-sensitizes me to pain, impairs my decision-making ability, and confounds my ability to make a plan and follow through with it. The exact qualities that I need to help myself – see what needs to be done, tough it out, and do it – are impaired by the very condition itself. I live a no-win, double bind.

I am uncertain how reversible advanced addiction is with late intervention. We shall see.

I wouldn’t wish what I have, or what this does to loved ones, on anyone.

Over 2 million American are estimated to have opioid use disorder. But over 18 million Americans are estimated to have alcohol use disorder. If the first number qualifies as a crisis, the second qualifies as an apocalypse.

Whatever addiction is plaguing them, let’s get people like I am effective help right now.

Right now.

Unbroken Brain - Reading Group Discussion Questions
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    Why I Will Lie to You If I Drink Again