Hello, my name is Stephen Mosher and I am an addict.
Haven’t we all heard that sentence using various different names over the years? In movies and tv shows we have seen characters go to Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous… you name it. There are 12 Step groups for everything. Booze, dope, sex, food, shopping, gambling; I think there is even a 12 Step group for True Blood. And every time we see a film or tv show in which somebody goes to a meeting, at some point someone says
“Hello, my name is (insert name here) and I am an (insert addiction here)”
“HI insert name here!” comes the reply.
In my twenties I went to AA. I didn’t go for very long. I didn’t believe in the program; so I thought it was disrespectful of me take up their time and their generosity in having me there – I thought it was disrespectful to the believers to have a non believer at their meetings. So I stopped going. I also stopped being sober. Nine times. That’s right. I quit drinking for a few months, got a hold of myself and started drinking again. When things got out of control, I would stop drinking again. Nine times. It was a hell of a roller coaster ride for me, for my friends and, especially, for my husband.
The last time I quit drinking was eight years ago, March 7th. The night before, I went out with a friend to a bar called Tenth Avenue Lounge. There, we took full advantage of the happy hour and drank so many superstrong Cosmopolitans that I lost track of how many there were. I came home fully loaded and verbally abused everyone in my path. Not being a black out drunk, I got to really enjoy every single minute of my downward spiral into a world of no control; I got to revel in the headache, the vomiting, the paranoia, the self loathing and the sore throat from screaming at my husband. Finally, after a long two hours, I would fall asleep. This was the pattern.
The next day I went to my best friend, visiting from California and sleeping in The Happy Room and I said “I’m sorry you had to see me like that.”
Brady looked up from the computer and said “Don’t worry about it honey. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf is my favourite movie. I love Martha.”
I never had another drink.
I have never hidden my addictions. I use the plural because I am also a former shopper, an overeater, a former smoker, and a Designing Women junkie. I have an addictive personality, I confess. I learned this about myself and I focus on not being caught up in any new addictions. I have made my addictive personality my friend; it is a part of who I am and I have taught myself to control it. I am never out of control (if I stay focused) because I believe that there is no power without control – and I like power. I know I have control and I know I have power because when I stopped smoking, drinking and eating (unhealthy eating, you understand), I did it on my own. No 12 step programs. I control my destiny.
The reason I have shared this private and personal background is so that it is clear that I know about addiction and how to deal with it; at least, how I deal with it. You see…
My friend came to me and told me he was starting AA. He has a problem with booze and drugs – one drug in particular. He hit rock bottom. Everyone’s rock bottom is different. Mine wasn’t as bad as bad as some of the addicts I’ve known and some of the people I know had rock bottoms that weren’t as bad as mine. Nevertheless, he hit his rock bottom and he wanted to stop the cycle. He had decided to get off the ride. We spoke for hours about it. We talked about the path he had traveled to bring him to this moment and about the bottom of the rock. We discussed the research he had done and his perceptions of what being in recovery would mean to his life. We covered lots of angles, from how his marriage would change, how his social life would be affected, what to say (or not say) to friends, how to work the anonymity. How to begin.
I have been called an extremist. It’s a label I neither like nor dislike; it is what it is. Sometimes I understand why people say it; others I am left a little befuddled about it. Well, if I am an extremist, I don’t know what to say about my friend in need because, listening to him talk about this, I would say he wasn’t jumping in feet first – he was doing a cannonball dive with his spouse and house chained to him with snow chains fit for an 18 wheeler. Absolutely EVERYTHING in his life had to change! He kept saying NEVER. He was NEVER EVER going to drink again. He would NEVER EVER do drugs again. He would NEVER EVER … fill in the blank. It was so dire, so extreme, so dramatic.. almost melodramatic. I can’t speak absolutely; I only know that starting recovery needn’t be so fraught with drama. There is so much baggage that we are carrying when we start recovery – it is essential to divest ourselves of it, if only temporarily, so that we can focus on our recovery. Therefore, it is essential to put down as many of the bags as possible and just walk in the door of the meeting and be one simple thing: an addict; with one simple goal: recovery. Leave the baggage behind and bring it to meetings, one at a time, and deal with it. Same as expectations. Leave them behind. I don’t really remember what the meetings are like but I do remember that one of the philosophies by which they live is One Day At A Time. So I listened to him talk and told him that it would be ok; all he had to do was get to a meeting and make a start. One step leads you through the door. There, they will teach you the other steps, hold your hand and guide you through them.
A couple of days later, he was singing a different tune.
My friend and his husband live in West Hollywood. They are A Gays. They have a lifestyle. They have friends that fit their lifestyle. They have friends and a lifestyle and a standard to upkeep. With the advent of sobriety in their house, it was considered that they would both have to become sober, they would have to become unfettered of the lifestyle and the friends who lived that lifestyle; they would have to change their lives. Suddenly, the blank unholy shock of making so drastic a change had cast a full light on their house and my friend had decided that he was going to try sobriety for sixty days. If it went well and he was feeling better, he would reintroduce wine into his diet. A glass of wine with dinner wouldn’t hurt, would it? That way he could get through his rock bottom stage, show his husband that he was better and they could go back to something that sort of resembled their previous life.
I told him “babe – it doesn’t work that way”.
When you accept the fact that you are an addict, when you admit this fact, when you seek help for your addiction, there is no gray area. You are an addict. You must change your pattern of behaviour. You either quit using or you keep using. You don’t change your label. You’re an addict. The behavioural pattern is still there – that doesn’t change. You can control it but you can’t alter the instinct. Maybe you’ll stop being addicted to booze and become an overeater. Maybe you’ll stop using drugs and start having sex with everyone. The details may change but the fact that you are an addict won’t. You don’t get to stop and start, stop and start, stop and start. It doesn’t work that way. I know. I’ve tried. AND it is disrespectful to the people in your 12 step program who take their sobriety seriously and who work the steps.
I’ve known addicts for years who couldn’t make sobriety work for them. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel. They are no different than I was when I was doing the on again off again thing with my recovery. One was a foodie who wouldn’t stop eating, wouldn’t start training; she would eat an entire large pizza and then complain about being overweight. One was an honest to goodness old fashioned junkie who ended up sleeping in bus stations and taking any pill he could get his hands on – even if it was just a Vitamin C tablet. I’ve known at least a half dozen crystal meth addicts who combined this addiction with (natch) a lovely sex addiction. They would hit rock bottom, get clean (either out of desire to be clean or an inability to buy drugs because they had so badly ruined their lives that they had no money with which to buy – though there is always some other meth addict willing to share) and then get busy once more, when they found the resources. Each of them said to me at one point, those sentences that become a part of their lexicon.
“I had a relapse.”
“I fell off the wagon.”
“I’ve only used once since getting out of rehab.”
That last one is my favourite. The story is all there, right in those nine words.
I got to a point where I had to go toughlove on them and tell them the truth: You didn’t slip, you didn’t relapse, you didn’t fall off the wagon. You got off the wagon. You used.
There IS no gray area.
You are an addict.
You. Are. An. Addict.
You quit. You quit for good. You live the rest of your life as an addict. They say addiction is a disease. I didn’t make that up; someone in charge did. And if addiction is a disease, treat it like one. When you have a heart attack, you change your diet and you exercise. When you are a diabetic, you aren’t allowed to eat certain things. When you get lung cancer, you quit smoking. When someone is diagnosed with a disease, they fight it in the ways that are necessary to beat it. If addiction is a disease, you take the precautions needed to protect yourself, your loved ones, your life. You don’t get to say “I’m an alcoholic” and then quit for two months with the plan to go back. Why even bother to quit? Why even bother to waste those sixty days getting clean and sober, just to go back and fuck up your life again? Why not just keep drinking and keep using and keep making wretched your days of wine and roses.
The Days of Wine and Roses.
Rent it. Watch it. Learn from it.
You can quit by going to meetings. You can quit the way I did and simply walk away. You can quit with your hand in the hand of a friend, a family member, a sponsor, a stranger or God. You can quit any way you like. But you have to quit. You are an addict now. You joined the group, you’re in the club. Twelve steps or not, you admitted to being an addict and wanting help. Be a man, take the first step and just quit. Forever. That’s all there is to do. You take that one step: quit.