One bright, beautiful summer Saturday in 2008 I was at a party in the Hollywood Hills. My friend’s pool was once Walt Disney’s, though this contemporary house had since been built between Walt’s actual house and his pool, so we were not in the same rooms that Walt used to eat and sleep. The house overlooked the whole of Los Angeles, and since there were only about twelve people at the party, all of us familiar with each other now for a number of years, there was a more intimate feeling than usual L.A. pool parties. I knew these friends through a rather abusive and unkind person who repeatedly tried to force me into a relationship for many years, which was probably why I never felt fully assimilated into the group, and my nerves were already on alert when I arrived. So, like any good, gay L.A. immigrant I quickly headed to the tequila to calm my jittery insecurity, and soon was strutting around in my speedo just as cocky as any of the others, relaxing and having exactly the kind of day you think we Angelenos have on the regular.
Soon, however, I began to overdo it as I had so many times. Because I could put back a large amount of tequila without ever getting sick I never considered what I was doing could really be harmful. I was having the time of my life, and the reprieve from emotional and social stress was worth far more to me than being sober.
Shortly into the party a friend brought out a plate of pot brownies. I’d smoked pot a few times, and had a pot cookie many years ago when I was twenty-one that didn’t do a thing to me, and happily took a piece. They jokingly warned that the brownies were very strong, and to be careful, but after what seemed like an hour (which if you’ve ever used pot might know was probably only twenty minutes) it didn’t seem like the pot was having any effect, and I snuck another piece.
Not ten minutes later I felt sick to my stomach, suddenly angry that I was hanging out with people who never really let me in, one who asked for my number every time he saw me in a speedo but never followed up on lunch invitations asked for it yet again. Though I was in no state to drive I found my keys and decided to go to the car where I would nap until my buzz wore off.
But suddenly I was on the freeway heading straight toward a traffic barrier. It was dark out, and I had no idea how I got there, when the time had passed from day to night or what part of the freeway I was even on, and my brain immediately told my foot to lift off the gas pedal and onto the break, but my foot betrayed me and refused to move no matter how much my brain screamed at it to do so.
Helpless, my car crashed into the barrier with a noise like a freight train. When it came to a stop I was still alive, and thankfully though the airbag had not gone off I was not badly hurt. A person came running up to my window to see if I was okay, I in as much shock that a stranger would be so brave as he was at the sight of my car and that I was actually alive. Only when I tried to speak did I realize how wasted I actually was. Mortified, I convinced him that I was fine and after he left I pulled my car onto an onramp and up to the shoulder by a stop sign where it sputtered and died.
I took a moment to catch my breath, then reached over to my bag to search for my phone. It wasn’t in there. I opened the glove box, the world spinning and multiplying like a kaleidoscope, but still could not find my phone. It must have gone under the seat during the crash, so I scooped around both, panic building in me as the minutes passed. Surely someone else must have called emergency services, I thought, and sat back in my seat with my eyes closed, waiting for the help that should arrive.
But nobody came, and I began to panic, imaging a squad of police arriving and arresting or shooting me for not calling 911, so I got out of the car and set off to find a payphone. But I had a hard time standing up straight, the world tilting sideways with every step. Tears began to fall down my cheeks as I comprehended how much of a fuckup I really was, unable to even see what part of town I was in.
I stumbled along and found myself in a neighborhood, still no phone in sight. Suddenly I was somewhere else, standing next to a cab that had pulled up in front of me, maybe having hailed it myself. I got in and soon I was back at my house where I could then not find my wallet and, being harassed by the cab driver knocked on my neighbor’s door to borrow money, looking no doubt like a character from a Bret Easton Ellis novel.
When I woke up the next day the gravity of my situation seemed to percolate, and with the help of my boyfriend called around and found my car at an impound lot. To someone who has never been suicidal this might seem like it should be a wakeup call, but I had long associated near death and misfortune, and despair clung to me like a bad odor. This was the logical next event in a life full of dead ends.
Never in my long years of alcoholic drinking, not even after this terrible incident in which I could easily have cost someone else their life, did I ever consider that I was an alcoholic. This is in large part because the diagnosis — self, social, or professional — focuses on alcohol rather than actual symptoms. This would be like diagnosing diabetes by determining how many doughnuts you ate today. Stupid, right? But it’s exactly why there are countless untreated, suffering alcoholics and addicts. After my accident I didn’t think alcohol was my problem, but my choices, and it wasn’t until seven years later that I walked into my first A.A. meeting, surprised to learn that alcohol is not actually what defines an alcoholic. I had even taken those online tests to determine if I was one. Though I cheated a little, it was easy to tell myself that I wasn’t really one because none of the standards were objective, nor helpful, and each suggestion or question originated from some violation of social standards rather than tangible symptoms. Because all the questions were about alcohol, they were not about the symptoms of alcoholism. A person can get totally blackout drunk on a weeknight and still not be an alcoholic, where another person (such as a friend of mine who died at the age of thirty-four) can be an alcoholic drinking just one or two beers every day, never getting wasted or driving while intoxicated.
Other questionnaires on alcoholism or addiction, even diagnoses as they are currently defined focus and originate from social stigma surrounding alcoholism and addiction rather than actual medical insight, which is also why those afflicted by the disease try for years to convince themselves and their family and friends they don’t have it. There is no rational or measurable diagnosis for it because medicine has never been able to actually figure out what causes it and why it happens. I have, and I also wrote about it at length in an article to which a link appears at the end of this page. Alcoholism is a physical disease, and while there may be guilt about things you have done which are connected to the condition, there is no shame in having it, as it really is something that is largely out of your control.
The most profound condition of alcoholism I learned very late in my life is that alcoholism (and drug addiction too) is less about our relationship to alcohol and more about what our life is like when we don’t have it. This is where my query becomes more relevant and helpful for anyone who may have this disease (or be dealing with loved ones who do), because it focuses on the actual symptoms rather than social stigmas, which are not actually part of the disease. Generally an alcoholic will find all the answers to this quiz relevant to their situation. If you believe or suspect you are an alcoholic, do not worry, getting sober was far easier than anything I ever did while drinking, and I didn’t have to give up a single thing of value to get it. One of the biggest hesitations for many people in getting sober is the fear that we will no longer be a part of life to the degree we think we are with a cocktail in hand, but I have had more fun and satisfaction without alcohol than I ever did with it. Even better, I am now able to avoid people who don’t have my best interests in mind, and am freed of the emotional chains associated with the disease that made life so perplexing and frustrating. It’s important to know that if you are an alcoholic or addict, that treatment centers are often presented as professional or expert in diagnosing and treating these conditions, but there is no regulatory agency for recovery centers and they are often owned and operated only by other addicts, and many centers are predatory at worst or misguided at best, and centers are more often used by alcoholics and addicts as a refuge from their disease which usually leads to relapse once rejoining society. My personal recommendations for therapy and description and treatment of the disease is outlined in my book or in my article, The Cure for Alcoholism and Addiction, in which I advocate for a new classification of the condition to remove social stigma and address real symptoms and establish standard treatment for the disease.
5 SIGNS YOU’RE ALCOHOLIC (OR AN ADDICT)
- When not drinking do you find yourself restless, anxious, or irritable? Does this increase the longer you go without it? Such feelings plague an alcoholic or drug addict when they go without because the chemical in our brains which facilitates the development of alcoholism and addiction, called acetylcholine, is a neurological stimulant and excessive levels can accumulate to a point where they cause extreme discomfort in the neurological systems. Alcohol destroys acetylcholine, which is why alcohol is therapeutic to the psychological suffering of the alcoholic (or addict, as many drugs counteract the effects of excess acetylcholine).
- Do you fear financial insecurity to the point of avoiding the sight of your bank account, bills, or credit card statements, etc., especially if you have never actually been in financial straits? The fear of financial insecurity is relevant to alcoholism and addiction because, as a neurological disorder, we have learned that all life is instability and this causes extreme emotional suffering, and in no other facet of life is this perception more tangible than finances. Emotional stress due to real or perceived financial insufficiency further elevates acetylcholine, stimulating the alcoholic or drug addict to use in order to suppress the discomfort while also avoiding the source of stress. Nutritional therapies addressing the disease as outlined in my article The Cure to Alcoholism and Drug Addiction help to remove the hormonal stresses which exacerbate and inflame this aspect of the condition, and the social therapies discussed outline how to empower you over those kinds of things which seem perpetually volatile, and so an alcoholic or addict becomes calm and enjoys life, even without financial resources.
- Do you ever question whether your emotions are real, or even exist? Do you feel numb at occasions when you should in fact feel any number of differing emotions, even pretending to have them, and only when using alcohol or drugs do your feelings become elevated? Because emotions are hormones, in a person sickened with alcoholism or addiction only certain stress hormones are ever elevated, which hormones also block the release of others which impart enjoyable feelings such as dopamine or testosterone, and so an alcoholic/addict doesn’t experience the range of emotions, including wonderful ones, because of the extreme elevation of stress hormones. My article on addiction talks at length about this and how it is restored through nutritional therapy, and the emotional range becomes broader, deeper, and more satisfying as the human condition should be.
- Do you feel most relaxed and balanced after coming out of a hangover or recovering from heavy drinking, a time when we sometimes commit to drinking less, or wonder why we drank so much to begin with? This happens to an alcoholic because alcohol ultimately metabolizes into acetic acid, and acetic acid is the foundational substance not only for all of our steroids but also for enzymes, coenzymes, and other metabolic processes necessary to the proper working of the human metabolism. Because of their disease alcoholics are often deplete in acetic acid and thus helpful steroids, and the fact that alcohol metabolizes into the very thing we need in order for our brains and bodies to function further impacts an alcoholic’s relationship to alcohol. In my article I discuss how acetic acid can be supplemented, which effectively reduces alcoholic cravings and helps to heal and restore the body of an alcoholic, eliminating the need to obtain it from drinking.
- Do you have problems in the way you deal with people, love interests, jobs, finances, or quality of life that seem perplexing to you? As if you cannot understand why you do certain things like: constantly date the wrong people, yell at or abuse loved ones, associate with friends who have no real loyalty, or constantly overspend your finances even when you know there is not enough money? Do you find yourself fighting or resenting bosses or coworkers instead of enjoying your job, espeically to the point of interrupting your professional stability and quality of your enjoyment? Because of the way this disease effects our brain wiring we perceive adversity out of places and people where there may actually be none, or compounds negative experiences, which then motivates actions which are ultimately counterintuitive to what we really want, and the stress and frustration of dealing with this inexplicable behavior is temporarily remedied by using drugs or alcohol. Treating the aspects of the disease as discussed in my article The Cure to Alcoholism and Drug Addiction helps the brain stop reacting in these ways, and to learn new and creative ways of responding to adversity which no longer require that inexplicable behavior, and such problems soon become strengths, increasing the quality of life and ease with which problems are met.
Alcoholism and addiction are no longer complicated diseases, and with a little activism and care we can help ourselves and others who are afflicted by it to better achieve a world which is less impacted by this unfortunate condition.