Veld fires raging north and south of the village but today it is rainy and overcast, a great relief.
A sad day and plenty to think about — I had news that somebody I met in meetings a year or two ago died after a terrible, chaotic relapse. The person who phoned to give me the news is not a recovering alcoholic and you would think we were talking about two different people. Alcoholism is so misunderstood and it takes a long time — a lifetime even — for those not afflicted to understand how addictive illness robs someone of choice, lucidity, humanity. I know that sometimes alcoholism is compared to diabetes or cancer, but for me the closest analogy is a debilitating and inexorable insanity.
This may well fall on deaf ears and yet I feel compelled to set it down yet again. There is no point in reasoning or pleading or bargaining with or threatening an active alcoholic. You might as well be arguing with someone in deep dementia or someone who has fallen unconscious. The alcoholic can’t hear you because the need to protect the addiction is all that matters. That is the nature of the illness or insanity. Active alcoholics may be well-dressed or penitent or university-educated and seem outwardly ‘normal’ charming lovable people but to think that way is to miss the point. Alcoholism has made them increasingly delusional and they are held fast in the grip of an overwhelming compulsion. The damage is on the inside and that emotional chaos is fundamentally irrational.
Each time I go into the village, I walk past groups of young children with foetal alcohol syndrome. Sometimes their mothers are still alive and begging for money or liquor outside bottle stores or getting the children to beg or steal for them. These are not wicked, irresponsible, selfish or evil mothers. They are alcoholics and what they have done fills them with terrible anguish and perplexity. To harm their children was the last thing they meant to do. But that is what happened and will happen again if they don’t die before falling pregnant again. When desperate they will sleep with men in order to get the money to buy alcohol. They may sell their daughters in order to get the money to buy alcohol. If you don’t understand alcoholism, this is deplorable and inexplicable.
The simplest and most frequent criminal activity amongst active alcoholics is driving drunk. During rare lucid moments of not being drunk, most active alcoholics will admit that if they begin to drink they lose all sense of why they should not drive. The compulsion to drink though is far stronger and more cogent than the concern about driving while drunk. The active alcoholic doesn’t want to drive drunk. They just want to get drunk. What happens after that is, well, another kind of problem.They may remain vaguely aware that they could hit and kill somebody while driving, but that matters far less than getting to the pub or the bottle store to replenish supplies or keep on drinking. And the drunk driver feels fine and competent.
One of the more tragic stories of an active alcoholic in denial is that of Audrey Kishline of Moderation Management. This horrible and irrational story sends those who don’t understand alcoholics into a moralizing frenzy. Audrey Kishline began Moderation Managment because she knew she had a problem with alcohol, but wanted to learn to drink normally and moderately. She has always insisted she is not an alcoholic. The ideal in Moderation Management was for women to drink nine drinks a week and men 14. Moderation Management was a successful self-help group and Audrey got a book contract.
Then on March 25, 2000, Audrey Kishline and her bottle of vodka got into a pick-up truck and went for a drive. She hit and killed a man and his 12-year-old daughter. Audrey’s blood alcohol level was more than three times the legal limit. She recalls nothing of the crash.
So Audrey was sent off to prison for four years. The woman who had lost her husband and daughter, Sheryl Maloy Davis, began visiting Audrey and forgave her. Audrey felt she had been given a second chance. Once out of prison, Audrey began drinking again and left her family. She went to see Sheryl and the two women wrote a book together about their journey to forgiveness and friendship. Audrey has now found a job at a dry cleaners and walks to work and back home. She still believes that many people with drink problems are able to learn moderately controlled drinking, but says she doesn’t know what happens after people cross a certain line into uncontrollable drinking. She admits that she is still drinking, but says she will never drive again.
Would you believe her?
If you are not alcoholic or have no understanding of alcoholism, all kinds of moral questions and abhorrences come to mind. No sane person would do what Audrey Kishline has done and continues to do. And that is the point.
Step 2: We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.