A Prisoner of the Lord, or The Bottle
I am an alcoholic. It was just a year or so ago that I acknowledged this by using the first person pronoun and alcoholic in the same sentence.
I used to describe myself as a social drinker. Or I’d use other descriptions that gave the listener the impression that I didn’t drink a whole lot and that it was something that usually involved being with others in social situations.
As I’ve grown in age, I’ve realized that there is nothing social about my drinking. It’s mostly solitary. I still don’t drink much, but the sixty-something body doesn’t seem to need as much as a twenty-year old.
But the point is that most of my drinking is in isolation from others. I may have one with my Jesuit community. But, addiction being what it is, I have to return for a second, and, maybe a third.
Scotch is an expensive sleep aid! The irony is that the sleep is not restorative.
A bit of history. I joined the Jesuits in my early twenties. I had no history of drinking. Maybe a few mouthfuls of my father’s beer. Or a glass of wine on a special occasion. I guess that I never hung around with the wrong lot in high school or university.
My first complete beer was as a first-year Jesuit novice. My first real drink was as a scholastic. I still recall the circumstances at a popular bar on a riverside in the city where I was in studies.
I guess that I have the right (or wrong?) genetic makeup, so that I was hooked. My drinking crept up on me over the years, as my tasks began to make me busy or as they became stressful, or as I passively attended the many socials that just seem to be a part of Church and Jesuit gatherings.
Why do I drink? Common triggers for me are loneliness, boredom, a reward for hard work accomplished, and unhappiness with myself (kind of related to the existential question: Is this all there is to life?).
Different reasons have gained prominence at different points in my life. It ties in with so much else that is going on with my life.
I recently had an important insight. I’ve been trying to pay attention to the triggers that lead to my drinking. I guess that I’ve been focused on negatives that are ways of telling me that I should not drink.
I can give you lengthy lists of reasons for abstaining. I was recently reading a popular spiritual writer. I paused and realized that it’s not that I should not drink, but that God loves me and I love my life and I deserve better.
I don’t want to drink. I’ve used many images to describe my experience, mostly having to do with being imprisoned and seeking freedom.
It’s a prison of my own making and I hold the key to get out. I’m not sure if the distinction makes sense: moving away from desires based on should to a desire based on what I deserve.
I’ve certainly struggled with quitting. It never takes hold. I read and know all the right things. I’m forever trying to find the right path.
I tell myself that I’ll quit, starting tomorrow. Or starting on the first of the month. And so on! Am I really any different from the chain smoker, or the sex addict, or the gambler?
We can all know the answers and the right paths. I have a Jesuit friend who says that his father announced at eighty that he was quitting smoking because he had had enough. He never returned to smoking.
I’m not sure that I have that level of willpower. Nor do I want to wait until I’m eighty!
There is a mixed blessing in this addiction, as there is with any addiction or sinful behaviour when it is accompanied by reflection. So much of my spiritual insight is rooted in what addiction teaches me about myself and others.
This gives me a pretty honest sense of self. Humility comes with an honest perspective on self. Saint Paul writes about a thorn in the side that keeps him from getting too proud.
I’m not sure about Paul, but I definitely see my addiction as a thorn in the flesh that keeps me humble.
It is easy to find information and helpful articles on the internet. I often see things on Facebook.
Just recently I saw a short YouTube video that makes use of Gabor Mate’s thinking, to state that the root cause of all addiction is the lack of connection.
And there was a recent Globe and Mail article that tells us that noticing bodily sensations and paying attention to cravings may help curb drinking.
It strikes me that mindfulness and tools such as the Ignatian Examen can be helpful, in the same respect. Just yesterday, someone sent a link to an article from the Guardian about the pursuit of pleasure becoming easy to surrender to.
There really is a lot out there. But we have to do more than just read the words. They have to become part of us and be effective.
I’ll probably write other posts on my own addictions and those of others, occasionally exploring experiences and insights I find helpful.
I’m sure that igNation would welcome hearing about your own experience.
(igNation’s editor’s note: We welcome such sharing.)