Bob said, “If your problem is alcohol, you’re wasting your time going to AA. We can’t help people like you.” I asked him, “What is the problem then?” He said, “There’s an answer for people who use alcohol as if it is the answer.” I told him that I had quit drinking hundreds of times and it doesn’t work. He said, “Yep, that’s right. That’s because your problem is not alcohol. Here you have something else. Something that sounds like alcohol, that may kill you, but it is something called alcoholism.” I was taken back, “Oh my God, Bob. Don’t play word games with me. I look terrible but I’m a smart guy!” Then he spent a lot of time with me explaining the difference between drinking alcohol in excess and alcoholism. I was amazed that all the information could be synthesized in one sentence, but I would think it is the cornerstone of my life, and if I really had an alcohol problem, it would be overcome by simply stopping drinking and cleaning up my act.
Apparently, there are some types of alcoholics who could do that. But this particular form of alcoholism I have, which unfortunately for you and me, looks almost exactly the same to the naked eye. It’s “alcoholism,” this mind consuming, perception distorting, bodily eroding thing that you will discover sooner or later if you have it. See with alcoholism, stopping drinking and cleaning up your act has no significant long term effect on your life, other than to gradually make simple abstinence so painful that you can’t stand it. I said, “Goodness Bob. Why do alcoholics drink again?” He said, “That’s the whole point. People who think alcohol does something bad for them, that’s way down the road. That isn’t what makes an alcoholic.”
“People never seem to understand something around here. What makes an alcoholic, is that alcohol has a special effect on them. It has to do with something special it does for me, that it doesn’t do for most people, and you don’t even know it. Alcohol for me is almost instantly changing my perception of reality. As soon as I drink, alcohol changes my relationship to the world around me. It makes me taller and more self-contained and ‘them’ smaller and less frightening. I remember thinking, “Well, what’s wrong with that?” Then Bob said, “Well, because it isn’t really happening, kid. You’re just fantasizing when this happens, and you’re out of step with everybody. Also, on top of that, there is something called the phenomenon of craving for people like us. That means, when we drink, we want more and more and more.”
Note: The phenomenon of craving is described by Dr. William D. Silkworth in the Big Book. His analysis was ground-breaking and ahead of its time. Furthermore, modern science has demonstrated the validity to his statements made all the way back in 1939. Most alcoholics describe this as the action of alcohol while drinking that makes them want to continue drinking after taking the first drink. Many times in meetings, you will hear the slogan, “It’s not the caboose of the train that hits you.” This is in reference to an alcoholic taking the first drink, and it setting off a chain reaction whereby it is difficult to stop.
For most alcoholics that are in AA, experience has shown them that they cannot safely drink. Sure, there may be a time or two where control over drinking is achieved, but invariably, they find themselves at some point, going back to the behaviors that go hand and hand with active alcoholism. Luckily, support groups and the 12-Steps provide a viable solution to the drinking problem they have.