• The disease model ¬- characterised by helplessness, the disease is chronic (always present and incurable)
• The psycho/social model – characterised by poor choice making, personality issues, lack of self-discipline in challenging situations
• Genetics – some of us are born predisposed to addictions (but don’t necessarily develop them)
• Environment – our family, friends and workplace influence our behaviours
• Group support (of which AA is the best known; based upon and an advocate for the disease model)
• Books, diets, retreat programs, other commercial ‘cures’
I first became sober in 1991 after 18 years of abusive drinking, and remained so for five years. For the first six months, I went to AA daily, including an intensive three-week rehab. I still didn’t get it though, and eventually irritation with the ‘power greater than myself’ issue drove me away. Apart from that, they all smoked non-stop and the coffee was vile. (Despite the fact AA has detrimental effects on some, there are ideas I have taken from there into my own sobriety).
However, life was a very definite ‘then and now’, and as such, my new life just took off. I started my master’s degree, reacquainted myself with chocolate bars and found a strong personality (oops!). The now was to be preserved and pursued at all cost. And cost it did, as I lost my partner to someone needier. The new me wasn’t as acceptable! Full of optimism I battled on and eventually settled down again. This time the man in my life didn’t understand the alcoholic person I will always be. And the alcoholic person jumped at his argument – hey, maybe I am cured, and can in fact have just one drink! Within a few months I was back to drinking again – heavily, secretly, disastrously. Sigh, AA got that right. Read and learn my friends, that was to last for another 15 years.
My current sobriety began on November 13th 2013. It was a day like many before it, that of being too sick to lift a glass, let alone drink from it, feeling all the self-revulsion, remorse and the feeling – here we go again … I made many attempts to stop drinking again and desperately wanted my old life back. This time I found on-line support, and made friends with people in similar circumstances. I was able to experience the understanding of the AA meeting attendees without the philosophy and dogma. Now I can speak with my new friends daily, and at all hours, as some are on the opposite side of the world. I have travelled and met with them. It’s my own little community and we are supporting each other and ourselves.
Group support has been vital for me. I need to be reminded daily that I have issues with alcohol and cannot touch it. The disease model works for me. Trying to control my drinking was a miserable pastime dogged by fear of failure and a desire for more. It dominated my life whatever the quantity, and simply is not worth the risks involved. I am comfortable accepting that I am a person for whom alcohol is not possible at all. There is far too much to lose anyway. The label does not bother me. It’s a good shorthand. The politically correct version would be ‘I am a person with alcoholism’. Too wordy. In a social situation I usually say, ‘No thanks. I have problems with it.’ And leave it at that.
I have tried medication. But if you believe what AA tell us about the cunningness of alcoholism you can work out for yourself what happens with medication. Either it isn’t taken, or one simply drinks more and faster to break through the effect. I have used Naltrexone when I have felt vulnerable – with mixed results. For me it’s nothing or all, and I don’t want all again, ever.
As for counselling, I find that a bit too trite and convenient. My life has no deep dark secrets. I am no more nor less confident in social settings than anyone else. My childhood was happy. I can do all their tests and answer all their questions, they are pretty obvious. No light bulb moments there.
I haven’t read books about fixing alcoholism in three weeks, though there are plenty of those around. There are plenty of diets too. Let’s just say I am a cynic, and if the research hasn’t been done, I am not spending big bucks on something to make someone else richer. Making money from our misfortune is, I think, immoral anyway.
So my advice is to pile your plate up with as many samples as you fancy. Try a bit of everything. Don’t be afraid to try something new and unfamiliar. Find out what approach, or combination of approaches, works for you. And stick with it.