The pelican papers

A big bird’s eye view

I need help to quit drinking

Posted by Ron George on March 13, 2011

Vernacular stop sign

A sign in time to be ignored at one's peril

I can quit but I haven’t, even though I’ve tried many times. Gave it up for Lent. Just plain gave it up, too, sometimes for months. Then, usually for no good reason at all, I go back to it. I enjoy how it feels, and I usually promise myself to be prudent. I establish rules, such as only on weekends and then only two glasses. I break the rules. I drink every day, sometimes two or three big glasses of wine. And then I “quit.” For awhile, until the next excuse comes along, the next rationalization.

The Web sites say I’m a social drinker; but frankly, I’m somewhere between that and a problem drinker, alcohol dependent. I tend to drink too much when I drink, and I don’t like the me I become under the influence. So, let’s just say it’s a problem and I want to fix it. At this point, I don’t much care what label I’m wearing.

I have friends and family who have quit drinking because they are alcoholics, and I can’t tell you how much I admire their courage and strength. They tend to say the strength lies in their higher power, that they, themselves, are powerless; if so, then it’s the manifestation of that power I admire. They are admirable to me because they are sober, even though their bodies scream for booze. If my body were that way – well, I wonder whether I’d find my way to sobriety or just roll over and die in the gutter. It’s not a sure thing that I would choose to live. Temperamentally, I’m a quitter.

I’m about half way through Mary Karr’s book, Lit, which is the story of her recovery and religious conversion, neither of which were sure things on page 1. Her art is poetry, but her gift is memoir, telling her personal story in strikingly effective terms, even when her grammar sucks. It’s the same old story – the downward spiral of addiction to the point of having to choose recovery or death – but the power of Karr’s prose brings it home with conviction, honesty and humor. In short, it’ll preach.

Andy Capp looking for excuses

Lifestyle excesses: No laughing matter

Maybe that’s what got me thinking about all this last night – well, over the past week or so that I’ve been reading Karr’s book. I’ve been mulling my faith, too. In her case, she was as in denial about God as she was about her addiction. I, too, have been in denial about God for awhile; so, in an obverse way, Karr and I are walking similar paths of recovery and faith. That’s the way it felt, anyway, as Karr described her first AA meeting in utter denial and then her first prayer.

Higher power, I say snidely. Where the fuck have you been?

The silence envelops me. There’s something scary there, some blanket of dread around me that feels like God’s perennial absence, his abandonment, if he does exist … It’s hard to sit in. A few seconds later, I say: Thanks for keeping me sober today. Then I get up.

Wait the sober mind says – that’s trying? You could’ve died last night [in an auto accident].

I flop back on my knees. And help me. Help. Me. Help me to feel better so I can believe in you, you subtle bastard.

At this point in her story, Karr is nowhere near being out of the woods, but it’s a first step and it touched me to the core. I’ve taken that to mean there’s truth in it for me, and that perhaps I ought to be listening as well to the other part of Karr’s story, the part about drinking. It’s not good for me. I’ve known it for years. It’s past time to put that knowledge into play – but how? One day at a time, the recovery community tells me; and, rely on that higher power. It doesn’t matter whether it’s God; what matters most is that I acknowledge its loving authority.

Serenity

A way of prayer: In hope, a way of life

I’m a bit like Karr at this point. I don’t want it to be about me and God. I just want to make a rational decision to stop doing something that isn’t good for me. A friend once told me that alcohol is poison, literally. It metabolizes into acetaldehyde, which is more toxic than arsenic. The body can tolerate both, but why bother? How absurd is this question: “Would you like a glass of arsenic with dinner tonight?” Alcohol is a depressant, and it depresses me. I feel better when I’m not drinking, not just a little better but much better, and I’m a more pleasant person. Just ask my wife. Hmmmm. Let’s assess: Quitting alcohol means I’ll stop ingesting poison and that I’ll be a happier person. Why in the world would a rational person do otherwise?

Well, the data are in on that, too. Rationality doesn’t get you there; at least, it hasn’t gotten me there. It takes a change of heart, which is another name for repentance; and it takes some kind of conversion, which is change wrought by letting myself be loved. Yep. Takes a higher power, the power of love, which is God – at least to me.

I once had a conversion experience that came unexpectedly. It changed me by the power of love into another kind of person, still flawed but less fearful. I thought I’d found a way to transmit that love into the world, but I was wrong. Well, maybe this way will work better, something less grandiose than that old, ego-centric idea. Just give up the booze, and be thankful.

One doesn’t have to be an alcoholic to recite Reinhold Niebuhr’s prayer with some conviction, even if one’s faith has waned: Give me grace to accept with serenity the things that can not be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.

Amen to that.

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8 Responses to “I need help to quit drinking”

  1. Patsy Durham said

    No doubt, this first step is the most important one. Another item to add to my prayer list. Blessings to you.

  2. Ralph Willis said

    Thanks for the sharing of what is bothering you Ron. As a recovering Fundimentalist (really) I know the pain. Maybe I can develope the courage you have. Blessings my friend.

  3. BobHorner said

    I’m not surpried at your public approach to your booze issue..you have a gift of bold sharing of yur stuff and I suspect you hit a nerve with many like me who like to be the Social drinker who can handle the nasty stuff, which tastes so good..I flirt with a few of those issues as do many of my clergy friends..they’re either coming or going on the AA circuit..At our parish we have the most succesful AA ops in the county, sadly I believe the culture/society is creating AAers faster than they’re being cured.. Ron, I can only suggest AA plus getting a faithful sponsor who will walk/ride/crawl/run thru the trip with you..and it’s a never ending journey which of course is like our walk with Christ..not a destination..bleessings and prayers and love my friend..

  4. Phyllis said

    Thanks, Ron, for your fearless honesty. I just quit caffeine, and the withdrawal has not been fun. Boy, I understand the “knowing it’s not good for you but wanting to do it anyway.”
    Best to you,
    Phyllis

  5. Jim Abbott said

    Ron, As someone who lives ‘way to much in my rational mind and has the deep, deep failures to show for it, thanks for your honesty.
    I guess we will be in each other’s prayers now, every day, sort of like the weak leaning on the crippled. I knew you could not stay away from God forever. peace Jim

    Just re-read this and it does not make a lot of sense, but will post it anyway for whatever good it may do. PAX

  6. Catherine Penn Williams said

    I admire your honesty and wish you many blessings as you find your way through this landscape, Ron. Having recently been asked to do something I DID NOT want to do, I found that gratitude has, so far, given me a changed heart and attitude about the task before me. I do, however, resist the sentimentality of calling it a “learning experience” or “God’s plan for me”….ugh.

  7. I really hear and understand you my brother. My Prayers and support are with you always. Love
    Your Brother in Law Steven A. Utley
    Recovering Addict and Alchoholic since 1995 and still kickin it…

  8. Harold Hollis said

    You bet, Amen! I am unclear about the church and God matters you reference and that you wrote about a few months ago. No matter, your message here is clear. And, I will be heading to my local book store for a copy of Mary Karr’s book. I read her first two installments a few years ago. Blessings…Harold

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