Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The casualties of alcoholism/addiction

Meetings and discussions this week with those I sponsor were about how trust goes out the window when alcoholism and addiction are front and center.  It seems that addictive behavior means having to say "I am sorry" over and over, until finally, those words are no longer meaningful to those who have been repeatedly hurt by believing them.

Addiction is often said to be a disease of denial,  but it is also a disease of regret. As the disease progresses,  the emptiness of what has been lost is filled with regrets, "if-only"s and "could-have-been"s. 

There are lots of casualties that occur with addictive behavior.  The truth is probably the first thing to be cast aside and squandered.  Not only does the alcoholic/addict deny the truth to himself, but as the disease progresses, lying becomes a habit.  Most who are active in their disease are practiced at lying in all matters related to the defense and preservation of the addiction.   Evasion, deception, manipulation, and other techniques for avoiding or distorting the truth are necessary parts of the addictive process.  The fundamentally insane and unsupportable thinking and behavior of the alcoholic/addict must be justified and rationalized so that the addiction can continue and progress.

I have heard and read a lot of sharings by alcoholics.  It seems that the disease protects and strengthens itself through being "terminally unique".  I also hear this in Al-Anon as well, from those who are convinced that their situation is different and worse than others.  Being able to reconcile behavior due to special considerations provides an explanation for the preservation of the disease.  The thinking may go something like this: 
    • Under ordinary circumstances and for most people getting drunk  (or nagging) all the time is bad.
    • My circumstances are not ordinary and I am different from most people. I have more stress than most.  I feel anxious and down. 
    • Therefore I need to drink (or nag) because of my special circumstances. 
This is delusional thinking.  For the individual in the grip of addiction,  it all seems rational that his circumstances are such that ordinary rules and norms of behavior don't apply to him at the present and must be bent or changed because of his special needs.  It is a charade that is often accompanied by a promise to get back on track as soon as the "right" circumstances permit.  This is the mindset of those who make promises to "quit drinking when my mind quiets down" or who say, "I have to drink because I have so many problems and can't cope", or that "I have the right to be angry because I live with a drunk."

The behavior of being "terminally unique" is not believed after a while by anyone.  The same old song and dance over and over strains relationships.  It doesn't take long to reach the conclusion that the alcoholic/addict isn't to be believed in matters pertaining to his addiction.  I heard a lot of times that "this is the last drink".  It may be well-intentioned at the time but eventually the old behavior would return, the "terminal uniqueness" would take hold, and the excuses and alibis for continuing to drink would come up.

This behavior repeated over and over does a lot of damage in relationships.  At the time, the promises seem sincere and probably are.  But as the promises are broken time and again,  the hope and joy gives way to bitter disillusion.  I think that Lois W. explains this well in her book about how she lost hope and was bitterly disappointed by Bill W.'s relapses. 

How many times do family members ask: "If you really love and care about me, why don't you stop what you are doing?"  And most of the time the answer back is another promise to do better, or as the disease progresses, the alcoholic will point out the faults of those who are nagging him to stop.  This is the "the best defense is a good offense" maneuver.  The alcoholic thinks of himself as the victim of the unfairness of the family who are nagging about his drinking.

The family may start to feel crazy with feelings of self-pity, resentment and fear.  Relationships totally collapse in the downward spiral of mistrust.   Those who keep trying to preserve a relationship with individuals who are in the throes of progressive addiction come to feel as if they are not as important as the bottle.  The "less than" feeling takes hold because the family begins to feel that the addiction is more important than they are.   And at the time, they are right.

Questions, discussions, presentations of facts, confrontations, pleas, threats, ultimatums and arguments are all part of dealing with alcoholism.  Sometimes these ultimatums work at getting all parties into recovery.  Or the pleas will fall on deaf ears. And the delusions continue that "no one is being harmed by drinking"; "I can stop at any time"; "drinking is necessary to deal with the crappy circumstances of life". Those who express concern are to be avoided and are often criticized.  

Sadly, those who care about the alcoholic the most begin to feel crazy as the disease progresses.  Emotional and social withdrawal, secrecy, fear and shame are just some of the feelings of those who live with active addiction.   Fear, anger, confusion and depression often result.  None of this is pretty.  There are times that I need to remind myself just how fortunate I am to have gotten help before I became a casualty of alcoholism.    


  1. Alcoholism and/or drug addiction is a brain disease and once it has gone from substance abuse to addiction you are into the disease with all the out of control behavior. Unfortunately the family is dragged along for the ride and suffers the consequences. Learning about the disease helps as then you begin to understand and let go of some of the anger and resentment, but it is difficult and an ongoing process.

  2. well you capture well the descent...i have watched it in several...

  3. MY CIRCUMSTANCES ARE SPECIAL! See, that's why I had to go on taking heroin for so long!

    Bloody hell I needed some excuse and that's why I like being clean: my thinking seems to be a lot less skewed and biased when I'm not using the stuff...

  4. Great post, Syd! I've never really thought about it this way before, but your post made so much sense to me. Thank you!

  5. Sober not SomberJuly 28, 2011 at 7:17 AM

    With the alcoholics and drug addicts I sponsor, I reply to terminal uniqueness with: "Yeah, yeah. You're unique. Just like everybody else." That way, I've somewhat agreed with them and they no longer try to convince me.
    I also tell them that neglects lead to regrets, which lead to resentment, which is the #1 offender. Great post, Syd.

  6. You certainly describe it accurately. The guilt and anger on both sides of addiction, for the addicted and for the families. Keeping it secret adds more stress. What a mess.

    I like that you are grateful for your work to become healthy and not to end up another casualty.

  7. Nice post, Syd. Very helpful.



  8. Oh Syd, Awesome post! Should be published somewhere, really!

  9. Well captured. It's sad when "I'm sorry" becomes as meaningless as "new and improved."
    I was a champion nagger: the problem with that being, I was the only one listening.

  10. A newcomer shared at Alanon that she felt like her home was a prison. I knew that feeling well, and I shared that with her.

    Now she knows, just like I found out in Alanon, that she is not unique.Or alone.

    Great post, Syd.

  11. I haven't stopped by in a while, but I love what you've done with the place!

  12. I have made the decision to start attending Al-anon meetings in addition to my regular AA meetings. I was in denial for a very long time about the drinking going on in my marriage. And while the marriage has been over for two years, I am still hanging on to anger and distrust.

    Thank you for another fine post.

  13. We had an AA meeting recently on this very topic. "Why do we still lie after we're sober?" It was really interesting and proved once again how difficult it is to have a true relationship as long as the lies persist. Thanks for all the info from the Al-anon perspective.
    PS: I loved your comment on my latest blog entry and share your frustration ... in spades !

  14. This is a good post, Syd. I guess you saw my little freak-out on your blog the other day. Just because I no longer nag or even mention times I think my alcoholic may be drinking (to him), I need a place to vent. Thanks for being that place the other day. I have made a promise to myself to keep my suspicions to myself. :)

  15. Hmm, I am an adult survivor of two alcoholic parents. I am a survivor of the State foster care system. I am a survivor of sexual molestation & physical abuse @ age 8 for a "lengthy period of time". I am a cancer survivor. Lastly, I am ALMOST a survivor of losing my only child, Kevin, to an accidental heroin overdose of which smothered me because he was coming up on his first year of. I believe not enough people care. Society Stigma has hurt addict's greatly. Let's be honest, who in their right mind would want to be an addict. A slave to Heroin, Cocaine, Meth, Crack, etc.

  16. this post helped me so immensely today for the reasons i listed in a comment on your next post. i love starting my day with this feeling of just having been given (or reminded of) a tool that can make my life better. thank you.

  17. Thank you for your blog. I stumbled upon it a few days ago and may have gone crazy without hearing that my feelings are completely normal given the state of my marriage to an alcoholic. I shall be going to Al Anon right away.


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