Alcoholism and Surrender

by angeliska on August 18, 2012

My friend and intrepid traveling companion Brett Caraway wrote this piece about alcoholism during our journey up to Canada. It is the product of his path to understanding over the past year, and has also been the subject of many of our long talks over the past few months. Every bit of what Brett wrote here resonated deeply with me. These are the subjects I have been grappling with understanding every single day. If you want to truly understand where my heart and mind are at right now, please take a moment to read further.

My Thoughts on Alcoholism and Surrender

“The drinks don’t taste the same anymore. I used to enjoy long island iced tea. Then it was whiskey. Later on, it was gin and tonic. More recently, it has been rum and coke. But try as I may I just don’t enjoy them like I used to. Although I have never had a problem with drinking myself, I have had my life shattered by alcoholics on two occasions now. Unsurprisingly, my patience for the monotonous, unremarkable, and morose conduct of those who drink excessively is in short supply. Still, part of me struggles to understand the disease of alcoholism which drives some individuals to drink uncontrollably, often hurting the ones they love, subverting their own potential, putting innocents in jeopardy, and destroying their own lives in the process. I drink very seldom these days. Yet I can’t help grappling with alcoholism every time I take a drink. Drinking will never be the same for me.

“If you want to understand a society, take a good look at the drugs it uses. And what can this tell you about American culture? Well, look at the drugs we use. Except for pharmaceutical poison, there are essentially only two drugs that Western civilization tolerates: Caffeine from Monday to Friday to energize you enough to make you a productive member of society, and alcohol from Friday to Monday to keep you too stupid to figure out the prison that you are living in.”
― Bill Hicks

Not too long ago I was having a conversation with my good friend Ron. We were trying to figure out those traits in people which are deal-breakers for us. That is to say ― what characteristics are essentially unpardonable? We settled on just one ― unrestricted cowardice. I am no champion. Like most humans, I am full of fear and insecurity. However, one may be bold despite one’s fears. Bravery and fear coexist. As a part of my own healing process I have strived to confront and understand not only alcoholism but my own shortcomings, neuroses, and fears. With the help of a very astute therapist and a core group of healthy and spiritually perceptive friends I have faced the trauma in my life with conviction. Healing is a social process which requires community in one form or another.

Curiously, alcoholism seems to transform the drinker into a gutless bag of bones incapable of confronting the reality of the disease. The alcoholic insists that the root of their unhappiness lies in circumstances and people having little to do with their own ruinous pattern of drinking. Nonetheless, cowardice is not the exclusive purview of the alcoholic. There is always a network of enablers surrounding the alcoholic who are all too willing to facilitate their destructive behavior.

“There’a a phrase, ‘the elephant in the living room’, which purports to describe what it’s like to live with a drug addict, an alcoholic, an abuser. People outside such relationships will sometimes ask, ‘How could you let such a business go on for so many years? Didn’t you see the elephant in the living room?’ ― And it’s so hard for anyone living in a more normal situation to understand the answer that comes closest to the truth; ‘I’m sorry, but it was there when I moved in. I didn’t know it was an elephant; I thought it was part of the furniture.’ There comes an aha-moment for some folks ― the lucky ones ― when they suddenly recognize the difference.”
― Stephen King

What kind of person would enable an alcoholic? Well, me for one. I have bought and served drinks for the alcoholics in my life on a regular basis. So this commentary does not come from a condescending or judgmental place. This is introspection for me ― not proselytizing.

So again, what kind of person would enable an alcoholic? As far as I can tell there are three types of enablers: other alcoholics, vultures, and the clueless. These are not mutually exclusive categories. Other alcoholics is pretty self-explanatory. Misery loves company and it’s best to surround yourself with those who are either in similar circumstances as you, or worse off than you. In doing so the alcoholic does not feel compelled to cast a critical gaze inward. As the individual drinker is subsumed by alcoholism surrounding themselves with other alcoholics is simply the path of least resistance for the disease. Vultures are those opportunistic and wretched cowards who, lacking all honor and strength of character, are willing to exploit the addiction of others to get what they want. Simply put, they are human trash and require no further elaboration here.

Clueless enablers deserve special consideration because they often seem to surround the alcoholic in greater numbers and are not uniformly malicious in their intent. They are friends and family; they are spouses and life partners; they are bosses and co-workers; they are people who toast to your happiness and throw parties for you; they are people at the margins of your circle of friends and at the center. Sometimes these people lack sufficient information to understand the full extent of the drinking problem for the individual. Alcoholics are incredibly adept at subterfuge. They may never take a single drink in front of select groups of friends, family, and aquaintances.

Still, sometimes the clueless are not really clueless at all and may be in denial. Like the alcoholic, they choose not to face reality because to do so would be terrifying. The idea that your own child or spouse could be an alcoholic is paralyzing. Therefore, many people join the alcoholic in denial. This was me for most of my adult life. Never again.

If someone you love has a drinking problem, first recognize that the drinker’s behavior has an impact on you. Get yourself to an Al-Anon meeting (distinct from AA, Al-Anon provides support for those affected by someone else’s alcoholism ― it’s free and there are meetings everywhere). Know that you are not alone. Know that you are not crazy. Those people who tell you that you are blowing things out of proportion are nothing more than enablers of one sort or another. If you are able, find yourself a counselor or therapist with a solid background in addiction. The important concept here is surrender. You can not and will not change the behavior of the alcoholic. It’s totally beyond your control.

Circumstances will vary, but no matter what, you will have to learn the art of detaching with love. Moreover, it is imperative that you understand you will not achieve genuine healing by going it alone. Just like the alcoholic, you will need help. This is what surrender means in the context of dealing with another person’s alcoholism.

“The idea that somehow, someday he will control and enjoy his drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker. The persistence of this illusion is astonishing. Many pursue it into the gates of insanity or death.”
― Alcoholics Anonymous, The Big Book

Surrender for the alcoholic is likewise crucial. The first step to recovery is to admit the problem and to annihilate all vestiges of denial. I’ll just cut through the bullshit for the sake of brevity:

If you feel like you need alcohol to unwind, relax, or have a good time; if you drink until you are “buzzed” on a nearly daily/nightly basis; if you hide your drinking from certain people; if you have blacked out or had your memory impaired from drinking on numerous occasions; if people in your life have expressed concern about your drinking; if a therapist or other professional has expressed concern about your drinking; or if drinking has caused problems in your relationships with others ― guess what? You have a drinking problem. I’m sorry, but tough shit. Life dealt you a shitty fucking hand. But no amount of denial is going to change that. All of your excuses are just attempts to mask your unwillingness to face up to the problem and your fears. It’s not that you are misunderstood or that other people are overreacting. Sorry, but you are not so nuanced and complex that you are misunderstood by those that love you. In fact, with every drink you take, you become increasingly and depressingly simple. Nor is your drinking simply a preferred way of socializing. For you, it’s not a choice at all. So dispense with the excuses. This is not fucking rocket surgery. Yes it sucks, but stand up dammit. Get yourself to an AA meeting. No matter how much you may wish it, you will never be a normal drinker. You will never solve your problem on your own. Let me repeat that. You will never be a normal drinker. You will never solve your problem on your own. Let that sink in. It’s a bitter pill but it’s better than running from the truth all your life.

“I would not put a thief in my mouth to steal my brains.”
― William Shakespeare, Othello

I write this with a stern yet loving heart because I know way too many alcoholics and people who have been devastated by other people’s drinking. In many respects, alcoholics can be some of the best people you’ll ever meet. Yet their cowardice condemns them to a life of banality at best and tragedy at worst. And to the consternation of those of us who care about them, alcoholics persist in a stubborn state of bootstrapping, insisting that they are in no need of help. In doing so, excellence is transformed into mediocrity, missteps into catastrophe. All that is extraordinary about the individual is betrayed. And the ensuing damage is seldom constrained to the individual drinker. Alcoholism affects everyone.

These thoughts pass through my mind every time I am in the presence of alcohol now.

Try as I may, the drinks just don’t taste the same.

― Brett Caraway


Thank you for posting. Though I still occasionally enjoy a glass of wine, I haven’t been able to celebrate, joke about, romanticize, etc drunkenness in a few decades. Too much damage. Everywhere.

by christine on August 18, 2012 at 4:57 pm. Reply #

I truly resonate with this. it’s heartbreaking in its truth and brilliantly written. it has taken me years to realize the damage of alcoholism and how monumental an alcohol problem may be in the larger scheme of things. I will pass this on to every person I know who may be struggling with alcohol and internal conflict concerning their drinking. Thank you for sharing.

by katja on August 18, 2012 at 5:00 pm. Reply #

Hieeeee…..well you and I have spent so much time talking about this and I loved reading Brent’s take on it. You know my experience with an alcoholic parent…living with this parent on and off all summer has been more than hard. I really like that Brent mentions that it doesn’t matter if you are no longer drinking, that you are still an alcoholic, because it is pretty rare for my father to drink now, yet, he still acts like and is an alcoholic with so much rage and sadness. A new friend, when I was telling him the things that happen with my dad about every two days, said, “Is he usually drunk when this happens?” and I said, “no, he hardly drinks anymore, but that part is not important.” It is wild to think that our society condones drinking and cigarette smoking as ways to alleviate stress or show that you are a social person, when these two things are just plain killin’ ya every moment that you partake. In Mexico, there is a great word that describes thy what, why, how and who of alcoholism and dependence in general: “Estupificientes”. You can use it to describe the drug or the person. This summer, I am surrounded by prescription pill addiction (friends here in Maine) and the ravages of an alcoholic family, with two parents whose codependency has reached a point of madness so obvious to all but the two of them. Like Bob says, you gotta let them go with love. It’s all we can do. I finally understand what he means….Love you Angel!!!! I want to see your beautiful face soon…….love, P

by Patience on August 18, 2012 at 5:39 pm. Reply #

With alcoholism on both sides of my family, I have seen the tragedy first hand. I have seen friends, relationships and productive humans be reduced to the lowest level of what passes for functioning….such a huge waste of brains and talent. I find I have no patience with drunks.
When Jake was in middle school, we had a talk about this. I told him that addictive behavior was on both sides of his family…that not a single one of these people had thought they would turn into addicts the first time they had tried the thing that had destroyed their lives. I explained that addiction takes over your life: you spend every waking moment looking for the next drink/fix, figuring out where it will happen, what do you need to do to hide it, where will you get it, where will you get the money to pay for it…on and on. Nothing can determine if you are predisposed to this…and if you like your life, if you enjoy being creative and productive, if you want to stay as healthy and smart as possible into the later part of your life, than Just Don’t.
Being a realist, I followed up with this:
And if you do, watch yourself…did you like it just a bit more than the fun would justifies? Was there any sort of price to pay after? Are you spending Any amount of time figuring out when you can do it again? Yes? Then, there is a problem and you should run in the opposite direction as fast as possible.
At 21, he is the inquisitive human we raised him to be, and I assume and know he has explored….respectfully, carefully, thoughtfully.
And thank goodness, not repeatedly.

by Jane Clarke on August 19, 2012 at 9:53 am. Reply #

Thanks for sharing this. “The drinks don’t taste the same” is the perfect way to put it. I hope his strong words break through to someone. I feel like I know too.many great people who have been shackled by the disease while still feeling like things are normal and they are holding it all together. There is a richer life on the other side, they only need believe.

by Camille on September 3, 2012 at 3:29 pm. Reply #

Thank you, Angeliska. And everyone else here.
Estupificientes…yeah, that seems right.

by Ian Wood on October 26, 2012 at 11:00 am. Reply #

Research shows that the effects of alcohol vary widely from person to person. For some, being drunk approaches a heroin high, others don’t experience any euphoria at all -just the hangover. Knowing that, it seems clear to me an individual’s perception of drug addiction must be related to their personal response to the drug. I would define addiction as the surrender of self control. I don’t agree with the passage. Its easy to frame another’s habits as the result of cowardice, fear et cetera. No one is free from vice, even feeling good about yourself can be a vice, even reading excessively (I know you’re laughing but I’ve lived it). Of course its unfortunate when one’s behavior ruins them and damages people they love but, what Brett is expressing resembles intolerance more than insight. I think he got fed up with drunks.

by Francis Mann on December 11, 2012 at 6:11 pm. Reply #

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