I like stories. I’m going to tell you one about a guy named Larry*. I promise there is a point, so stay with me. OK? (Larry isn’t his real name. You knew that, though, right?)
I met this guy, Larry, at my first ever 12-step meeting. Believe it or not, the meeting was on the second-floor seating area of a McDonald’s in a Tokyo suburb. What a venue. I was a bit of a wreck. My drinking had gotten pretty bad, and I’d done some things I wasn’t proud of, though I hadn’t been caught. The nearness of real consequences was pretty uncomfortable. I was physically a little shaky and hung over, but mostly keeping it together. I could still make it to work, but something felt wrong about my drinking: how much, how often, and what I did when drinking. The shame I felt the day after, which was almost every day, was the worst part.
Well, I had no idea what any of this meeting stuff was about. There were no speeches or any kind of coherent lesson. When were they going to divulge the secret to successful drinking, so I could get back to the fun and stop complicating my life with uncomfortable secrets and small (yet embarrassing) consequences? The meeting ended with ten or so men holding hands in a circle and praying together… In a McDonald’s (I could not get over that fact.). I was uncomfortable and wanted to leave. What was the point of this?
A big guy with a thick Irish brogue and one blind eye, graying hair, who looked much older than he probably was, came over and shook my hand before I could crawl away. Larry was grizzled, having taken a pretty good beating from booze. He’d been one-eyeing me during the other guys’ shares, since it was painfully obvious I was new.
Quietly, he said, “So, you think you might have a problem with the drink, eh?”
I said, “Yeah, maybe,” or something like that. I didn’t answer him definitely or really make eye contact. I wasn’t ready to talk about it, and he seemed to sense that.
“Right… Yeah… I get it. Well, kid, all I can tell you is this …”
Then Larry delivered the truth.
“The bad news is that if you think you have a problem, you probably do. I mean, odds are, right? You don’t sit around worrying about your drinking and come to a meeting, and then wake up one day only to discover it was just athlete’s foot or something.”
That truth never left me.
It took me something like 8 more years of trying to control my drinking, destroying my life, career, family, and mental health before I got it, but I never forgot what Larry had told me. Every time I convinced myself I was taking this problem too seriously, that there were plenty of others who drank as much or more, that there was a strategy to control this without quitting all together, Larry’s words came floating back to me through the haze. I knew those things I was telling myself were lies, and my fear way down deep was the truth.
There was something different about what alcohol did to me — Something that led to a lot of drinking that I just couldn’t turn off. I often said, “Not today!” and then did it again. It ate away at me. I felt self-pity and depression. I felt anxiety about the misdeeds that either didn’t happen to others or they seemed to laugh off. I just couldn’t shake the gut feeling that something was wrong. After every bout, every binge, every spell of remorse, I remembered what Larry had said. I could hear it way in the back of my mind.
And it pissed me off.
Larry was right.
That inkling of a problem, before long, became a well-known fact to me, my family, my employer, friends, and anyone else who paid any attention. Over time, my life became a dumpster fire, and all people could do was watch it burn because I wouldn’t take real action. I knew the truth, felt powerless to stop it, but I couldn’t stomach accepting any help.
My guess is … If you’re reading this, you might be worried you have a problem, too. Normal drinkers and casual users don’t sit around pondering this. They stop. They go on about their lives.
We don’t. We can’t.
If you have this problem, our experience shows that it is going to continue to get worse over time. Consequences will become more severe, people will walk away, we will hurt more and more, and drink or use to cover it. We don’t “learn our lesson.” The pit will deepen. We will more desperately pursue the solution of oblivion.
Let me repeat Larry’s truth:
If you think you have a problem, you probably do.
There is a way out.
We have been in the same hole, and someone showed us the way out.
Reach out. Click the inquiry button or call Solutions of North Texas. Perhaps you could contact your local 12-step group. Get in touch with somebody who has already walked that path out of the fire. As ex-problem drinkers and addicts, we encourage you.
Because if you think you are developing a problem, you probably already have one.
Thanks for telling me the truth, Larry*. I never forgot it.
This story was originally written for Solutions of North Texas, and posted August 22, 2016