Readers, kindly note: I’m seeing that what I write on these virtual pages are not blog posts so much as they are essays. It takes time to tell a story properly, and stories are what I write. Many thanks for reading and commenting! Oh, and here’s what gaslighting means. Plus, shameless plugs!
“Break it. … Break it. … BREAK it. … BREAK it!”
Something un-ignorable said this in my head at irregular intervals as I walked, confused and wobbly, from my house to the tall, fall-colored forest nearby. I stopped at the trail head, looking down the path at my favorite trees and out to the pond beyond. Even through the profound haze I suddenly found myself in, I knew to pay close attention to this voice. We are well acquainted.
In fact, now that I heard it plainly, I realized I’d already been following a strong instinct in line with its directive.
In short, for two weeks I’d been drinking as much as possible at night without missing work or throwing up. What that looked like for me (5’6″ woman, 130 lbs.) was upwards of a bottle and a half of red wine steadily consumed from about 6pm to 11 or midnight, when I’d finally break down and have some kind of cold dinner and then crash into Netflix-assisted oblivion until the alarm went off.
Now, I should preface this part of the story by explaining that my steady drinking (after intense, vaguely suicidal episodes in college) began about 9 years ago when divorce preceded a diagnosis of severe arthritis (devastating news for a dedicated martial artist and athlete), getting thrown out of a commune, moving 7 times, surviving 4 years with a 10th-degree black belt/narcissist, entering and extricating myself from several other self-destructive relationships, and my son leaving for college.
All of this steadily persuaded me that life was better with alcohol. It relaxed the tight, rigid muscles that were trying to hold my right hip together, and I came to believe that it helped me return to my “true self”–not the hypertense, self-critical, perfectionist, restless, pained person I’d become. Such a seductive, ingenious whisper alcohol has, doesn’t it? “Oh, what’s a drink or two,” it exhales sexily in your ear. “You deserve it, poor thing, working so hard! And with all you’re going through, too. I’m so glad you’ve made this part of your self-care routine. Smart move, gorgeous!” In fact, it’s eye-opening to read what I wrote a few months ago while sober, but mightily under the influence.
At the same time, I’ve also had an instinct over the last two years–really from the same place of inner guidance–that adamantly said this: “Alcohol is a tool you’ll put down when you stop needing it.” I thoroughly believed and trusted this, and I’m glad I did or I wouldn’t have gotten to the breaking point I so desperately needed. I’d still be sound asleep and missing my whole fucking life.
Meanwhile, back at the trail head
I looked up at my trees, there in the back of the big field at the end of the road. It was a windy day, and without realizing it, I started to sway with them. I was so unsteady I would’ve fallen over if I tried to close my eyes, so I just stood there and swayed, remembering the same movement of soothing my son when he was a baby. Back and forth, side to side. No thought and no feeling except that I was toes-out on a massive cliff over a dark void.
I knew I was–pretty much–probably dying of something. I’d left work early the day before to get a chest x-ray at the urgent care center because I was convinced I had pneumonia. My heart had been pounding hard for days, my chest hurt, and an unexplained, weeks-old, low fever caused me to remove layers of clothes right before the chills came on just as abruptly and I’d put it all back on. I’d had nearly lethal pneumonia on my honeymoon in Costa Rica in 1996 and still wonder if I hallucinated that gang of monkeys. So I knew what pneumonia felt like, but the x-rays showed no trouble. I left the ER increasingly panicked and perplexed, which of course made everything worse. It didn’t help that I’d had an awful cold a few weeks before, so I wondered if all this was some kind of severe post-viral aesthenia.
I began walking home from the forest as tunnel vision set in. My eyes had been maddeningly blurry and dry for a week or more, so I had to squint hard down at the ground to avoid tripping on anything. My hip hurt. My body burned. My stomach was bilious and dyspeptic.
Back at the house, I laid down for a few minutes to try to re-establish my equilibrium. I tried to sleep, but my eyes wouldn’t stay closed and my heart pounded faster as my thoughts raced. What was this? What was happening?! I made myself eat something, but if anything I felt worse.
I should mention that I was raised by a medical writer who always had the Merck Manual, a horrifying compendium of all hideous things that can go wrong with the human body, lying open for reference. Let me just say this: if you have hypochondriacal tendencies, do not, ever, under any circumstances, go near this four-inch-thick book, which became an obsession for me from ages 9 through 22. You have been warned.
Needless to say, I’d already diagnosed myself with several fatal and/or degenerative diseases that would explain my increasingly dire symptoms. I continued to ponder these as I started a hot shower, hoping it would make me feel better. It was the hardest, most effort-full shower I’ve ever taken, except the time I had the (real) flu and crawled into a bathtub after 4 days lying flat on my back in bed.
Stepping carefully out of the shower, I thought I’d fall down. I held my hands up to my face because they felt strange, and watched them shake uncontrollably. Frighteningly. And a phrase popped into my head. A terrible, terrifying phrase:
There was long pause as I considered this. Then the voice announced, “You have the DTs.”
Jesus. Fucking hell! Oh my God. I mean, DTs only happen to those poor homeless guys who piss themselves on the sidewalk after collapsing in a heap of filthy clothes, right? Yeah, no.
Check out this data from the multi-billion, ever-expanding “addiction recovery” industry. Everybody’s anticipating worsening addiction–especially to alcohol–and gearing up to make a huge profit. In 2015, the US addiction recovery industry was worth a cool $35 billion! So you can imagine now with current events as they are…
I went through the symptoms. Thanks, Merck Manual that lives in my head! Yup: check, check, check, and….check. All there, present and accounted for, albeit I was in the “mild” category. Still, holy shit.
The strange thing is, part of me was ebullient at this devastating news. I’d done it! I’d finally broken it! I still wasn’t sure what “it” was, but by God I’d done it!
Walking carefully back to my room wrapped in a towel, shaking like a scarecrow in a gale, I had one thing left to do: have a drink to confirm my self-diagnosis. If my symptoms disappeared, I was right.
A scientific moment
I poured a little red wine into my favorite glass and added a good amount of water. I paused before taking a sip, because this was the exactly the point in the evening that I’d lately started calling “The Process,” where I’d start to observe me getting myself drunk. But as an investigative reporter and science-minded editor, I knew it was important to finish the experiment. The Process had consisted of settling into serious, goal-oriented, methodical drinking over five or six hours of watching the Impeachment Show, my favorite serious YouTube channels, and eventually three or four Star Treks of various sorts. It really didn’t matter by that point.
I took a big sip and waited, looking out at the trees around the house. I took another big sip and waited, my heart pounding hard and my face hot.
After a few minutes more, I held my hands up at chest level to see if there was any change. And behold, they were rock fucking steady. As I noticed this, my vision rapidly cleared as though someone had just wiped Vaseline off my eyeballs. My heart rate calmed way down and my body stopped burning.
So there we had it. Hypothesis confirmed.
Oddly joyful is a thing.
Here’s what’s up with DTs, though: they can kill you. So, with my faculties somewhat restored and feeling a little pressed for time, I started researching how to deal with Delerium tremens in a way that doesn’t leave you in a coma, underground, or in the hospital for a while with “severe alcoholism” on your permanent medical record (pro tip; you’re welcome).
What I found was advice on how to taper down your alcohol intake to prevent the shock of sudden withdrawal. At a certain point, it’s pretty damned dangerous to just stop drinking, and apparently I’d reached it: even going through a work day without drinking was giving my body fits. A bunch of times, including a year ago, I quit with no trouble (except, um, my all-time record was 7 weeks), but as I’ve mentioned, my mission this time was to break the whole goddamn thing down and figure out what the hell was keeping me from quitting alcohol for good. I’d needed to drive the wheels off the fucker to really get it to show itself to me in all its true, completely un-sexy nastiness.
I had half a bottle of cheap red wine left over from the previous night’s binge, so I decided to finish that slowly as a good first step down. That went OK, and I went to bed quite sober–enough even to read one of the books I’d abandoned. I’d forgotten how much I loved that relaxing ritual, which goes way back to my childhood.
The next day, eager not to bring on the DTs again, I followed the advice to have three beers (not wine or spirits). The next night I had two beers. The next night, the night I stopped drinking for good, I had one Rebel IPA, which I’d chosen for the name. I was rebelling against the entire alcohol industry and all the ignorant shits who run it and all the socialization and wrong-thinking that goes into creating addiction. The beer tasted horrid and made me feel unpleasantly not-present and sleepy. Ugh. I waited for its effects to wear off so I could read.
In Human Being Training, I ask people to train their ego to be the servant, not the master. When inflamed and out of control, this powerful part of ourselves isn’t smart enough or evolved enough to run the show, but as a species we have a ton of trouble with this concept (with notable exceptions called prophets, whom we usually kill). Thus we find ourselves in our current predicament and in dire need of Einstein’s reminder that, “Our true measure is the degree to which we manage to subjugate the ego.” And when we start getting close to some truths, the untrained ego–terrified–goes all out to shut us down and keep us quiet.
So here I was, recovering from the DTs I’d pretty much consciously given myself to end the long nightmare of alcohol addiction that started when I was 16. Looking back, I can see unmistakably now that every time I made a big, bold move (and there have been many of them) or entered a new level of understanding of myself and the world, I would also start drinking more. My ego was keeping my spiritual growth in check with alcohol and I went along because I couldn’t see what was happening! “Sssshhhh,” said the now maternal voice, “there, there. That’s enough hard work for today. Ressssssst….”
There was also this key revelation: No matter how many people told me I’d changed their lives, or shown them how to free themselves, or created new openings for them to move through, or changed their minds about accepted paradigms, deep down I didn’t believe I could be myself in the world. (And by “world,” I mean among the general citizenry outside of my classes, lectures, writings, and workshops.) My holy terror has been to be myself because I’m different, which, by design, isn’t especially welcome in the human race. The relentless bullying in middle school and multiple failed attempts at “socialization” had let me know that for sure. It wasn’t safe.
But now, having just turned 54, I find myself in a place–professionally and emotionally–where people are appreciating my differentness. My unusual way of thinking and perceiving has even become a valued asset. Besides, what’s “safe” anyway? The only real safety is through knowing yourself utterly.
I want to say here that I had a critical advantage going into this experiment-slash-bender. Two weeks prior to my most intense period of alcohol consumption, which I’ve just been describing, I’d been reading a book called The EasyWay to Stop Drinking, by Allen Carr. I’d learned about it on the Joe Rogan Show during his interview with comedian Nikki Glaser. Already well in to The Process for the evening, I hadn’t been paying much attention, but instantly tuned in when Joe said something like (and I’m paraphrasing here),
“So I hear you quit drinking a while ago. How’s that going? I mean, you’re a comedian, for God’s sake! Get real!”
Nikki laughs and nonchalantly replies, “Yeah, I haven’t had a drink since 2008. Don’t even miss it. I’m so glad it’s out of my life. I’m fuckin’ killin’ it, man! I can trace my careers before and after.”
Joe, a notorious party boy, looking a little skeptical, asks, “Wow, that’s amazing. How’d you do it?”
“I read a book called The EasyWay to Stop Drinking by Allen Carr,” she responds, and I didn’t hear the rest because within 3 seconds I was ordering the book online. But her calm, her obvious deep inner joy, and her outrageous confidence in the face of Joe’s subsequent pro-alcohol arguments all pointed to the fact that she truly had overcome the stuff. She didn’t give two fucks (or even one) what Joe or anyone else thought. She was free.
I’m not going into any details about the book because: 1) you have to experience from scratch Carr’s argument that leads to a radical new way of thinking about alcohol [and any other addictive substance] and 2) you’re not supposed to change your drinking until you finish the book, and even then if you don’t get it yet. So I don’t want to ruin it for you if you want to try it for yourself.
Let me just say Carr’s method doesn’t involve willpower–at all–or appealing to some vague “higher power,” either. The book’s got a slow start with some belabored and repetitive points for the first half or so, but those points do bear repeating. Also it’s written, like Alcoholics Anonymous literature, with the pronoun “him” and “he,” and the language is pretty old fashioned. Just ignore it, though. Carr’s wisdom is worth any minor annoyance, if only for what he has to say about why AA doesn’t work for shit for 95 percent of people!
No matter what you decide, I’ll tell you what I frequently tell my coaching clients (and myself, of course), “Hakka yoi!” Apparently this is an old samurai expression that means, roughly, “Keep going!” So, yeah, let’s do that.
Update: Two weeks in as a “happy non-drinker” this time, I’ve come to realize that the “it” in my initial inner command to “break it” was actually the entire edifice society has erected around the illusory pleasures and benefits of alcohol. The phenomenon reminds of me of the Dunkin Donuts ad that says, “America runs on Dunkin.”
Well, yes, we’re addicted to caffeine, it’s true, but at day’s end most of us don’t go home and have more coffee. No, 90 percent of us go home and “relax” with alcohol, or weed, or something else. If we have empathic abilities we don’t know how to use properly or we are highly sensitive, alcohol turns off most of those insights and dulls our exhausted senses. If we’re procrastinating and terrified to do the things we really want to do and say (or find out what those are) alcohol soothes our shame and guilt at settling for a much lesser life.
As humans-in-training, we benefit profoundly from taking responsibility for our role in this global epidemic of addiction. After all, no one’s forcing alcohol (or other stupid, non-consciousness-expanding drugs) down our throats. Interesting echo of Carr’s book here, but alcohol represents the easy way out. Checking out is easy! Victims check out. Checking in takes significant guts. Heroes check in.
Here’s our choice: We can be frantic, powerless victims of the stressors in our lives, or we can turn around, examine them calmly, and decide to respond differently. We can choose to take back our power and our lives.
What’s your choice?
If you resonate with my experience or voice and feel like you could use some friendly, uber-practical guidance now/later, I’d love to talk with you. In addition to the book I mentioned here, I used my own unique Inner Voice Amplification ™ method to create this huge breakthrough for myself. I can show you how, too, whether it be addiction or any other goblin that’s holding you back. Hakka yoi, dear reader. Thanks for being here.
* How to Taper Off Alcohol
* Joe Rogan interviewing Nikki Glaser
* The EasyWay to Stop Drinking
* Human Being Training: Inner Voice Amplification coaching
* Are you a smoker? Try this: The EasyWay to Stop Smoking
* Empath and Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) Training (no affliation; I just like her stuff)
* A short talk by Terrence McKenna on how psychedelics can cure alcoholism. I believe this is true and have read much to this effect, and haven’t been down that road yet personally.
* A Johns Hopkins psychopharmacologist recommends psylocybin microdosing to overcome addiction.
* Microdosing: Saving Lives with Psychedelics