What's the scariest thing you can find on TV these days? Back in the late '90s it was Y2k. In the 2000s it was Osama Bin Laden. These days, it is drugs and the extra-judicial killings allegedly committed to rid society of their menace. But because our biggest fears tend to overshadow other significant problems, a subtler yet equally troublesome substance still dominates the airwaves in the form of catchy jingles and repetitive TV ads: alcohol.
Booze has caused more broken families, car accidents, and violence than any other substance, yet politicians would rather focus on who can go in which bathroom and why a harmless plant is evil.
Don’t get me wrong: Alcohol isn’t always bad. It depends on the person consuming it. Most people would be fine downing a few drinks during parties or a night out with friends. Unfortunately for me, I am not like any of those people. I have a drinking problem.
How my problem began isn't important, but how I deal with it is. For anyone who doesn’t understand what dropping an addiction entails, maybe these points can give you an idea of what it’s like to be a recovering alcoholic.
You can change for the better
You can’t solve a problem if you don’t see it in the first place. It might sound a bit cliché, but this first step is the biggest and most difficult to hurdle. It takes humility and honesty to admit you've got issues. Sometimes reflection can come after you realize that you've fucked up big time. When you're able to utter the words "I am an alcoholic for the first time", though, you'll change your perception of the situation you're in.
Telling yourself you drink because of school, family issues, or your lovelife is no longer an option. You lose your pride and become responsible for yourself and your actions. The great thing about this is that it gives you a sense of control, something alcoholics like me lost at some point. This helps you to realize that while you can’t change the things around, you can definitely try to change yourself.
Personally, it was after blaming myself for all the grief that had resulted from drinking that I decided to address my alcoholism head on. I had gotten kicked out of the LRT numerous times, and flunked classes for being too drunk to attend them. Take note that I made those decisions, not the whiskey, rum, or beer.
Mind over matter?
Many people have this misconception that alcoholism, or any other form of addiction, is all in the mind. Mind over matter is the solution and you are an addict because of your own volition. It isn’t that simple. Substances like meth, alcohol, and even nicotine alter not only a person’s mind, but also their body.
It’s one thing to tell yourself that you can beat an addiction—it’s a whole different game to get your body to do the same. I found out about alcohol withdrawal during my first legitimate attempt to drop the habit.
It started a few hours after my last drink. My hands began to shake as I tried to text—it looked as if a jejemon and five-year-old kid were typing on the keypad at the same time. Then came the nausea, it felt like every booze I had consumed over the years was trying to crawl out of my stomach.
Excessive sweating was my noticeable symptom—not the kind you'd get after enjoying a bowl of Tantanmen ramen, but the kind you'd notice after jogging for about 30 minutes.
I also had trouble sleeping. I'd pace back and forth across my room and lay restless in bed at night. It literally felt as if there was an itch that I couldn’t scratch. I knew exactly how to deal with it, but I had already decided that that was not an option.
What’s frightening is, other alcoholics who go cold turkey experience much worse. I’ve read about people seeing hallucinations sometime after their last drop of alcohol. Other people even end up in the emergency room because of a high fever or fluctuating blood pressure.
You will make mistakes along the way
Recovering from alcohol addiction is no walk in the park, and chances are it won’t go as smoothly as planned. Your recovery might be going great, but the moment you think you’ve crawled out of the bottle is when you're most vulnerable. Remember: Making mistakes is okay, no one is perfect.
A small mistake is what you'd call a slip. These are one-time boo-boos that are often resolved right away. Having a drunken night out with your pals after a bad breakup can be considered a slip. You get up the next day, realize your mistake, and try again. Consciously making the choice to turn to drinking in order to deal with that breakup is what you would call a relapse, which is much more difficult to overcome.
The crucial thing is not to let slips escalate into a full blown relapse. I slipped recently after the stress of law school got to me. I just stopped reading, grabbed a couple of bottles of whiskey, and ended up in a drunken stupor two hours before class. What really got me down this time was it came five days before reaching a year of sobriety. It felt as if every single day I had spent fighting this thing meant nothing. This is a very dangerous thought to entertain.
You can’t beat this thing alone
I couldn’t care less about law school at that point. It was like I had just thrown away the past 360 days of sobriety (it may seem short, but I worked hard for every single one of those days) because I couldn’t handle my studies. At that moment, I felt what others like me often did alone.
Everything could have gone downhill from there and I easily would’ve ended up relapsing if it hadn’t been for one person—my girlfriend. She came to visit me that day, cleaned up the bottles of liquor lying around, and helped get me on my feet.
All the shame, disappointment, and self-pity slowly disappeared while she was in that room with me. The hangover would still be there, but some rest and a quick meal would do the trick. She might have only been one person, but she gave me all the support and reassurance I needed that day to help get me back on track.
Turn to those who matter most to you when you find yourself in a daunting situation. It's a hell of a lot easier when you have people around you in the ring. Be it your friends, family, a support group, or significant other, know that they are more important now than ever.
Keep going forward
Once mistakes have been made, there are really only two things left to do: Learn from them and keep going. There's nothing to be gained from dwelling on the past, but everything at stake in moving towards the future. The most valuable concept an alcoholic—or any addict—must have is hope. It will keep you going through all the hardships and bad memories you'll encounter along the way.
My close friends often ask me join them for light drinking sessions once in a while, thinking I’m no longer the guy who enjoys drinks during class and ends up walking home for being refused entry to public transport. And while they’re right, the truth is, you can never really know when you’ve actually beat an addiction. I don’t even know if you can. What I do know is, I feel better fighting this thing than when it had a tight hold on me, and right now that idea is enough to keep me going.