Perspectives on Perspective.

Jul 11 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

Hi. I'm Dr24hours, and I'm dying. Not rapidly, or soon, I hope. But also not quite in the same way as we're all dying, that is, the way that we're all mortal. I have a terminal, incurable, progressive mental illness. I am an alcoholic. My disease is in remission now. But I'm not so arrogant as to say that I am certain to remain in remission forever. Not many alcoholics find recovery, though it's more today than it used to be. Of those of us who do, many relapse. I don't have the numbers in front of me, and I'm not sure I trust all the published reports in any case. But my experience is that most alcoholics die of alcoholism. Which is to say, we die of complications associated with the chronic or acute intake of extraordinarily large quantities of alcohol.

Liver failure, or liver cancer. Pancreatitis. Esophageal cancer. Acute alcohol toxicity. Motor vehicle accidents. Domestic accidents. Suicide. Stroke. Heart failure. Kidney failure. Alcoholism kills us, usually slowly, in floridly myriad manners. We often take others with us, either to the grave or by destroying the lives of those around us through brutal, chronic anti-social toxicity.

We alcoholics are characterized in general (though of course not universally) by selfishness, isolation either physical or psychic, defensiveness, rage, childishness, and fear. Getting from there to recovery, to being able to be a useful and productive member of society, is a long and difficult road. In my case, it involved rehab, counseling, and attendance at AA meetings. I continue to go to meetings. I did the twelve steps. I have a sponsor. I continue to go to meetings.

I'm not going to rehash my journey from alcoholic misery to my current condition here. If you want to read about it, please come over to my personal blog at Infactorium, where I write about it with some regularity. As I said in my first post here, I have found my path to recovery in AA. I know it's not the only path to recovery. I know it's not for everyone. I'm not here to speak for AA or for the recovery community. I couldn't if I wanted to.

But I did want to talk a bit about the variety of reactions I've received, online and in person, to the revelation of my sobriety. The online reaction has been almost universally positive. People are kind, interested, friendly. I wonder sometimes if the impersonality of the online world allows people to be friendlier in this case. No one online has to worry about relying on me, there's no personal risk if I relapse. So there's no danger, no reason not to be fully supportive and engaged. I've also been surprised by just how many people have had personal experience with alcoholism, either in their family, their work, or in themselves. I've had no small number of people reach out to me privately asking for advice or help. Sometimes I can help. Sometimes I can't.

In person, the reactions are more mixed. I've had women I've dated decide not to date me any longer when they find out I'm in recovery, because they don't want the anxiety of being involved with an alcoholic, someone who could theoretically relapse and cause untold pain and misery in a relationship. I can't blame them for that. It hurts me, but I respect it. There are things I can't accept in a potential partner too. We all get to choose our own boundaries.

A few of my co-workers know my condition. Including my boss, who is a psychologist. He's fascinated by it. Very supportive. It never seemed to occur to him that relapse could cause a problem at work. I can't even remember how it came up any more. My boss keeps forgetting that I'm in recovery and has occasionally asked if I want to get a beer after work, before remembering. It's comfortable and friendly. I had another mentor be shocked that I went through graduate school as a drunk and still managed to graduate.

One of the meetings I used to go to a lot, but haven't been to recently, is an open meeting, meaning anyone from the community is welcome to attend. It's near the large school of social work near where I live, and so we regularly get students from the MSW program sitting in. It's part of their curriculum that they have to go to a couple of meetings. I have found them almost universally to be unbearably condescending. They say things like, "Good for you that you've managed all this!" when people talk about ordinary things.

For some of us, yes, just managing to get out of bed in the morning is an accomplishment. It's like that for all of us in the beginning of sobriety. But as time goes by, we return to society, to normalcy. We are simply men and women who have faced an addiction and come out on the other side. It's unremarkable. And it's amazing. Many ordinary things are amazing to me. But I don't deserve special credit for accomplishing ordinary tasks, like showing up to work. These young MSW students mean well. They're trying to be supportive. But it's grating. It comes off as a babysitter telling a precocious child that they're a good boy.

I'm fortunate. I found recovery prior to doing irreparable harm to my body. Before doing irreparable harm to my finances or employability. Before doing irreparable harm to my psyche.

Today, I have a great job. Well, I'm on soft money. But I love what I do. I am able to be of service to science and engineering. To health care, in a time when that's a matter of some critical national concern. I get to apply my skills to problems that will hopefully, eventually, help provide care for many people. Today, I run. I care about my own health, my own future. I am content, most of the time. Not always happy, but always grateful for where I am and what I have.

Today, I dedicate myself to my recovery. I've done the work on myself. I know why I drank, what I needed from alcohol. I know what I have to do to remain squarely centered. I keep my mind on my recovery and on the things I need to do to avoid the pitfalls of the mind and heart that might lead me back to alcohol. One of those things is helping others. People with addictions. People who love people with addictions. I welcome inquiries from people having trouble with alcohol, because helping those people helps me.

I live today in a place of gratitude. I am able to let go of things that trouble me when I don't benefit from hanging on to them. I am free to live day by day, looking to the future, informed by my past, but rooted in the present. I know how to flourish today, where before I merely persisted. I just survived. Now I thrive.

Hi. I'm Dr24hours. And I'm living.

5 responses so far

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  • DrugMonkey says:

    That was amazing. And ordinary. But amazing.

    You are good people homes....despite any political differences we might have :-p

  • scicurious says:

    I'm always impressed not just with your own strength in recovery, but in how you can share your story. I'm sure that getting your experiences out here will help a lot of people.

    I was very interested, though, to hear about your experiences with MSW students. Do they...grow out of it? I mean, do you think this is a problem in the profession? I'm just curious because I know thy do so much work with addicted individuals.

  • Dr24hours says:

    I don't know if they grow out of it. My experience is very limited: a few (perhaps 15?) MSW students at one school, and one or two working MSWs. I wouldn't want to make generalizations based on this little data.

    What I have observed in my own very limited experience is that people who work in the field of clinical mental health practice seem to exhibit a lot of co-dependency. Sometimes that manifests as condescension.