The Drunk Zone
A reader has a very interesting point of view on True's stories -- from the perspective of a (recovering) alcoholic.
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Dan from Massachusetts is a long-time (since 2004) Premium subscriber, and recognizes the behavior he sees in a lot of the stories. He writes:
I am a recovering alcoholic and have been sober almost 13 years now. I like reading your True stories about people who get themselves into what we in AA call "jackpots" due to their drinking. Your articles are a wonderful reminder as to why I stopped drinking in the first place. In AA we all tell stories of our various jackpots, often they are funny, sometimes they are sad, but we are all grateful we don't have to be like that anymore. Your articles help me "keep it green". They help keep the reason sobriety is a good idea always fresh and green in my mind.
Heh! For a second there, I thought what he meant by "you're welcome" is that he was featured in True before he was sober. I checked, and no. Whew! He was simply "speaking in general terms about all of us alcoholics who have provided grist for your mill over the years," he said when I admitted to him that I checked my archives for his name.
Dan's 13 years of sobriety is a great accomplishment. And he's right: even though I don't call out the "alcohol was involved" aspects all that often in stories (especially compared to how many times the source story mentions it!), a lot of my stories do fall into, as Dan titled his message, "The Drunk Zone".
So much so, that when I see really stupid behavior in the news stories I use as fodder, I'm actually now looking for reference to alcohol or drug addiction. Very often I find it, but only as an aside -- like an after-thought reference to several previous arrests for DUI or drug crimes. It astounds me to realize how many cops, prosecutors, and judges don't seem to realize how much crime can be directly traced to addiction.
It's something that drives a friend of mine crazy. Doug Thorburn is a tax preparer (an Enrolled Agent, which is the highest level of tax preparer), and some years ago he realized that many of his clients were in financial messes because of alcoholic behavior -- the sort of things we all see in True so often.
Doug realized that even most professionals don't really understand why alcoholics act the way they do: alcohol (and many other drugs) grossly inflate their egos. That's why Alcoholics Anonymous works as well as it does, he thinks: the 12 steps work very well to deflate the pompous heads they develop -- like admitting there's a "higher power" than themselves. That's easy for most people; very difficult for drunks.
As far as those behaviors, Doug says addicts have a choice: admit they have a medical problem they need help with, or admit they're total jerks. The "disease" of alcoholism isn't a personality defect, he argues, but simply an inability in their bodies to process alcohol correctly. Isn't it better to admit a common medical problem and get help with it than continue to live with the alternative -- that they're total assholes who don't care that they're destroying their own lives (and, much more importantly, their family's lives)?
Doug has a free newsletter, the Thorburn Addiction Report, that discusses his ideas in more detail, at PrevenTragedy.com. Check out his books, too.
So the point that Dan brought up in my mind is, he conquered that medical problem. "I've done some spectacularly stupid things while drunk," Dan concluded after I admitted to him I wondered if he had been featured in True, "I've just never made it into the papers."
Dan said "Our world would be such a nicer place" if I couldn't find articles of people on alcohol and drugs doing spectacularly stupid things. It would indeed. I'd be out of business, but that would be OK with me. But I'm not holding my breath. Dan conquered it, though, and if you're in the same boat he was 13 years ago, you can conquer it too. It takes guts to stop; it's weak and stupid to keep going toward destruction.
But at least the addicts are making that choice for themselves. Their families don't get to make the choice. For them, there's Al-Anon and Alateen -- programs to help the parents, children, spouses, and friends that are affected by a loved one's addiction. Their site is al-anon.alateen.org, and like AA's site is available in English, Spanish and French.
There is also Narcotics Anonymous that's more centered on drug addiction.
Don't get me wrong: I don't think everyone who uses drugs or alcohol are addicts. Far from it. The key, to me, is behavior -- the more a user's friends and family think they're a jerk (or the more they're arrested for being stupid in public), the higher the odds they have a bigger problem than they think. I'm also totally against prohibition: the War on Drugs has caused more problems than it has solved, just like the 1930s attempts at alcohol prohibition did. We should look at the success Portugal has had with their drug policies. We owe it to our addicts to do better.