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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Alcohol, anyone?

Here's a bit  I did a while back that I think remains relevant.  You don't have to be alcoholic to get something out of it.  As I recall, I wrote it for the spouse of a "recovering alcoholic," or for anyone who wonders why an alcoholic they know keeps going to "all those meetings."  It would seem, once the drinking was under control (stopped,) the meetings would cease to be a requirement.  If you are a friend or spouse of a "recovering alcoholic," and you wonder why they continue to go to "all those meetings," please read on.

My Prairie, My Desert
An alcoholic’s description of alcoholism

Imagine a gently rolling grassland, healthy in every way.  The grassland supports a wide variety of creatures from insects to shrews to prairie dogs to bison.  All is well. 

Rains come to our grassland from time to time.  As long as the rains are not excessive, the grassland thrives.  Indeed, a certain amount of rain is both beneficial and necessary for the grassland.  Occasionally there is a real downpour, though, and some low-lying areas are flooded.  Instead of gently soaking into the grass, some runoff forms small gullies in the landscape.  Still, as long as these incidents are relatively isolated, no real harm comes to the grassland.  The small gullies are filled with grass and, with time, they are filled in completely as the grass thatch heals the prairie. 

When the soaking downpours come in too great a frequency, though, another phenomenon occurs.  The ground stays saturated and runoff is the main way the prairie has of ridding itself of excess water.  This runoff creates gullies that grow to the extent that the grass is no longer able to heal the prairie’s surface.  Eventually the gullies become so efficient at removing the water that the prairie itself is threatened.  Less water means less water for plant growth.  It also means less water for evaporation to provide for the periodic, small rains that sustain instead of damaging the prairie.  The gullies become canyons, the ground becomes drier, and the prairie suffers. 

If the rain moderates at this point, the prairie still suffers since much rain that does occur runs off instead of soaking in.  The gullies continue to grow.  If the rain stops altogether, the gullies stop growing, but they remain.  The prairie has been damaged beyond recovery and the dry conditions turn the once vibrant prairie into a new ecosystem—a desert.  Deserts are good and worthwhile themselves, but they are not prairies.  Still the land around the gullies is maintained so long as the flooding rains do not return.  Should the rains return, the erosion will be even greater than it had been before.

If I were to stop writing now, I would have a brief explanation for how a canyon system and desert might be formed.  If I were to stop writing now, though, my reason for beginning to write would not be accomplished.  I am an alcoholic, you see, and, while I have quit drinking, I need to remember returning to drink is not an option for me—that is, unless I wish to continue to erode the landscape that is me and continue the damage to what started out as a vibrant prairie in the continent of humanity.  The fact is, I am no longer a prairie.  I am now something different.  I am a desert with a canyon running through me cutting deep into my body, even to my heart, and I will never again be that pristine prairie. 

Still, though I am changed forever, I can be of use to humanity and to my fellow man.  Prairies are great.  So are grand canyons. 

The analogy given here can be used to arrive at a pretty accurate understanding of the long-term effect of alcohol on the alcoholic.  While it is not totally applicable--a little rain is absolutely necessary to the prairie; a little alcohol to a “normal” person is often considered a good thing; a little alcohol to the potential alcoholic is just a point of departure--it is, with few exceptions, a good fit.  

Most of us began life in a relatively unscathed manner.  We had the usual variety of disabilities: some of us grew up with overbearing parents; some of us just couldn’t figure it out in high school--we never seemed to fit in; some of us weren’t the best of students.  Still, we grew up, got married, had children, and worked profitably to support ourselves.  In short, we had a life.  We were each a prairie to ourselves with both the prairie dogs, and the grub worms nibbling on the roots of our beloved grasses.  All was, apparently, well. 

Somewhere along the line we began to drink, or use, as the case may be.  As long as we drank reasonably, our prairie continued to grow well, and we thought all was good.  Unfortunately, we had a bit of something in us, be it genetic disposition or whatever, that would not let us leave well enough alone.  We liked drinking.  We liked the taste; we liked the way it made us feel.  We even liked getting drunk.  We didn’t like some things that came with the drinking (DUIs, hangovers,) but we discounted these as not particularly significant compared to the specter of quitting drinking, and we kept drinking.  Giving serious consideration to quitting drinking was something we just did not want to do.  Our prairie had begun to develop gullies that could not be grassed back. 

Eventually we discovered wrecked cars, job losses, jail.  With luck, we did not discover we had killed someone while driving blacked out although this has happened altogether too often.  Some of us lost our homes and our families.  Nevertheless, we continued to build our canyons, wondering why.  As long as we continued to drink, we continued to dig our canyons deeper and deeper, not much noticing the change of our prairies into the deserts of the alcoholic.  All was not well.

The lucky ones of us discovered Alcoholics Anonymous sometime after we realized the changes we had made in ourselves and began to realize the irreversibility of our state.  Some even more lucky ones of us discovered AA early in the process and availed themselves of the knowledge found in the literature and in the fellowship to prevent descent into the very depths of the change we learned would certainly follow.  Indeed we met example after example of people who had ridden the alcoholic elevator down to depths we hoped to avoid.  No matter how bad it had been for us, we could always find someone who had had it worse.  Some of us would read remembrances on our clubhouse walls of those of us who died in sobriety.  We would, every so often, hear stories of those of us who did not die sober.  These stories were, in the least, sobering.  The alcoholic death, be it by chemically induced disease or by a rope, is not to be wished on our worst enemy.

Still, even with all the information available, some of us came into AA and went “back out.”  Those of us who made it “back in” to AA were able to tell how our disease had started back as if it had been progressing even while we were experimenting with sobriety.  The rain fell on our deserts and ran into our gullies and canyons as if no cessation of rain induced problems had occurred at all.  Sobriety does not insulate us from our disease unless it is practiced without exception.  Breaks in sobriety can be devastating.  The good thing about our experimenters is they confirm our understanding of our disease.  Unfortunately some of them are not able to come back.  They join the list that is not maintained on our clubhouse walls. 

In my opinion, and in the opinion of many AA's (Anonymous Alcoholics) and workers in addiction, alcoholism is a disease.  It is a disease of mind and body.  It is not curable.  It may be lived with, but only in sobriety.  Those of us who have found our way into Alcoholics Anonymous find AA helps us live with our disease.  While AA is probably not the only way, it is a way that is proven and more cost effective than probably any other. 

If you think you may have a problem with alcohol, or with any other addiction, for that matter, AA is something you should try.  At the very least, the knowledge you will gain will enable you to know if you are an alcoholic (or addict) or if you just had a bad run of luck (no one ever even thinks about AA unless some substance abuse problem, for example: a DUI or a problem at work or with a loved one, has occurred.)  In any case, you will learn about alcoholics and alcoholism and hear some things you just might be able to use in your life.  You may find you have a talent for public speaking you never suspected even though you will not be required to speak at all. You may revive some old friendships in the meetings.  You will certainly have an opportunity to make some new friends and new contacts.  AA is not just about alcohol.  It is a twelve step program about living life in such a way that alcohol is not something to be needed  or even desired--and that is something anyone can benefit from, alcoholic or not.

Steve / 16Feb2010/ World Famous New Ellenton Group

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