If you have been in the program of Alcoholics Anonymous for any length of time, you have likely been acquainted with Jim, who convinced himself that (although it may not have been all together too smart), he could successfully drink whiskey so long as he mixed it with milk and drank it on a full stomach. Jim’s story is one of many personal accounts referenced in the Big Book, the predominant piece of literature used in the 12-step fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous. Many of these personal accounts depict a devastating struggle with alcoholic insanity – stories that are outlandish, incomprehensible, and overwhelmingly relatable. We can probably all look back at our drinking careers and pinpoint several instances of pure, unadulterated insanity. Perhaps we were hospitalized for liver failure, and found ourselves parked outside of the liquor store 15 minutes after being released. Perhaps we had already acquired a DUI or two, yet still convinced ourselves that after only 3 beers we were okay to drive. Perhaps our loved ones threatened to leave us, or our jobs threatened to let us go if we went on drinking the way we did – and still, we looked forward to nothing more than the first beer of the day (which we enjoyed at around 7am).
My Alcoholic Insanity (One Example of Many)
A few weeks before I finally decided to give the 12 steps the old college try, I was constantly struggling to fight the overwhelming urge to drink. I was going to meetings and exercising a bit more than was typical, but still – for some reason – I was overcome with an unrelenting mental obsession. I remember walking into the grocery store after work one day. It was around Christmastime, and I had probably managed to accumulate a week or two sober (I was constantly ‘in and out’, not realizing that I had never truly been ‘in’).
I picked out the staples – eggs, lettuce, crackers, chocolate… and made my way to the check-out line. Close to the long line of anxious holiday shoppers was a display of Christmas goodies. Candy canes, gingerbread house-making kits, and… oh boy. Liquor-filled chocolates. I tried to avoid eye-contact with the chocolates, but I could feel them staring me down. I glanced around the store to see if anyone I knew was watching my every move. To my surprise, no one was. I grabbed a box of the chocolates right before the check-out guy had finished scanning my items, and guiltily paid for my fare.
I locked myself in my bedroom as soon as I got home and voraciously tore the box open. I proceeded to unwrap each individual chocolate, bite off the top, and drink the saccharine, cherry-flavored liquor inside. Before long, I was surrounded by a pile of dissected bonbons and gold foil wrappers. I felt ill (not drunk), and thought to myself, “Hm… maybe normal people don’t do things like this.”
For many of us, insanity was characterized by countless vain attempts to control and enjoy our drinking. We convinced ourselves that this time would be different – that this time, we would be able to stop after 2. Or 3. Or maybe 6. In this day and age, our insanity may manifest itself in the belief that we can safely use substances other than our drink or drug of choice. A recovering heroin addict might convince himself that a rum and coke is a swell idea, seeing as alcohol was never the issue. A recovering alcoholic might convince himself that smoking a bit of marijuana will do no harm, seeing as the drug is all-natural and non-addictive.
The true definition of insanity is: mental illness of such a severe nature that a person cannot distinguish fantasy from reality, cannot conduct his or her affairs due to psychosis, or is subject to uncontrollable impulsive behavior. Many will say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. This may be true of the alcoholic, but when we look back at our actions, can we honestly say that in the pit of our souls we expected things would be different? Did we truly, sincerely believe that we would be self-satisfied after one glass of merlot, or had we been frantically searching for some semblance of justification? Some half-assed attempt at validating a train of thought that was entirely inexplicable, crazy, and out of our control?
Alleviating Insanity in Addiction Recovery
Once we enter into recovery, we learn that our thought processes are innately insane – this is part of the disease of addiction. Our first thought is generally wrong, and when left to our own devices, we will naturally run our lives straight into the ground. Fortunately, the longer we stay sober and the more work we do on ourselves, the clearer and healthier our minds will become. Before we know it, our reactions will shift from impractical and unreasonable to sane and sensible. As we continuously heal, and as our attitude and outlook upon life continuously changes, we will grow more and more rational. When someone cuts us off in traffic, we will not think, “Screw that guy! I’m going to go get wasted!” But rather, “Well, that was rather rude. God, save me from being angry.”
Of course, it would be rather unrealistic to assume that all of our sanity will be restored, swiftly and fully intact. After all, we have dedicated years of our lives to damaging our poor little brains. Remember to go easy on yourself, trust the process, and ask for advice on, well… pretty much everything. At least for the first year or so.