There are many chemicals and behaviors that can lead to an addiction. Drugs (legal and illegal), alcohol and gambling to mention a few. Addictions usually come about gradually, and in most cases, the individual will ignore or dismiss the multiple warning signs along the road to a particular addiction. In some cases, an addicted person will be able to function quite normally for many years at their job, in their marriage and in everyday life. This story will focus on alcoholism, but the path other addictions follow is similar.
My highway to alcoholism started in college a few months after turning 18, the legal drinking age in my home state. At first, I really couldn’t stand the taste of beer or hard liquor and would instead drink cherry brandy. As I got further into my studies in electrical engineering, due to peer pressure and a limited budget, I switched to beer and gradually acquired a taste for it.
As I traveled my highway to addiction, there were certain road signs that, in hindsight, documented my downward spiral. As we progress through my story, I will denote these “signs” with an asterisk (*) .
Academically I did well my freshman year with my beer drinking limited to weekends downtown in the very small village in which my college was located. During my sophomore year, I joined a Greek fraternity and moved out to reside in a rather large fraternity house off campus. And as you might expect with a houseful of 18-22 year-olds, the partying and drinking opportunities were readily available. So much so that I had to take my study times to the library in a university located in the same village. Between my junior and senior year, the fraternity voted to keep a keg of beer on tap at all times in the recreation room, which I used liberally.*
Also, during my junior and senior year, we increased from two to three people to eight to 10 engineering students in our group in the evenings at the university. We developed a precedent of stopping off at a local tavern on the way back to the fraternity house for drinks after the library closed at 10 p.m. By this time, I had progressed to hard liquor such as “Rum and Cokes,” et al.,* pretty much drinking every day.* It was at this time I received my first DUI (i.e. the legal charge for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol).* I had just returned from Florida from semester break and was out to a party. Knowing I had to drive back to the fraternity, I stopped drinking early and when I left I felt I was sober. Since I had just returned from a month in south Florida with temperatures in the 70s and 80s to northern New York with temperatures near -20°F, I expedited my return to the fraternity and got stopped for speeding, only to discover I was still over the legal alcohol limit.
After graduation, with my engineering diploma in hand, I accepted a new job in a new state. A number of intimidating changes took place at this time. For the first time, I was truly on my own. My parents had paid for my college but felt at 22 years old I should be on my own financially. I was at a new job in a state where I had no relatives, knew no one and had no savings. Being a relatively quiet and reserved person, after work I generally stayed at home, had a beer with dinner and drank a few drinks alone* in the evenings when I was reading and watching TV. Even after becoming involved with sports after work and having drinks with teammates, I would continue my drinking at home afterwards. But I felt I was in complete control since I never drank in the morning or during work, and always threw out any remaining drink at my 11 p.m. bedtime.
Along with every addiction is the denial that you indeed have an addiction problem, despite the fact that those around you notice and remark about how much you are drinking or using drugs. In my story, I was once visiting my parents’ home when my father remarked about how much I was drinking.* Then during my late 20s, I got married and the observations of my wife as to the amount I was drinking started almost immediately. After a while, I noticed that my wife was keeping track of the amount I was drinking by making pencil marks on the label of the bottle.* This caused me to hide the amount I was drinking by buying a pint of alcohol every day on my way home from work and hiding it in my briefcase to bring home.*
Along with every addiction is the denial that you indeed have an addiction problem, despite the fact that those around you notice and comment.
This went on for 15 years until my performance at work was affected and my supervisor insisted I go to a rehab center. While there, I was introduced to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) which would later become my lifeline to sobriety. After leaving the rehab center, despite what I had learned, I resumed my drinking, thinking that with the tools I now had I could control the amount I drank. This short period (about two months) culminated in another DUI and car accident.* The final incident in this period was that I started missing work and one day I found my supervisor at my door and I was promptly transported to a hospital. This was, as they say in AA, my “bottom” and I was ready to admit to myself that I indeed had a problem and was addicted to alcohol.
While lying in bed in the hospital, I finally turned to God for help. Keeping in mind 1 Corinthians 6:10, “. . . nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor those habitually drunk, nor verbal abusers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God” (New American Standard Bible throughout), I sought God in prayer and asked for healing. Some may scoff at what follows, but I can only tell what happened to me. Instantly after finishing my prayer I felt God’s Spirit within me, and I felt an immediate calm and a resolution in my heart and mind that I would never drink again. This took place more than 33 years ago and I have not had a drink since then.
What has helped to keep me from relapsing were the thoughts in Matthew 12:31: “Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven.”
This “unpardonable sin” may not be what the Bible had in mind and not applicable in my case, but in my view, it comes perilously close. I was healed by God’s Spirit and to relapse to being a drunkard is too horrifying to contemplate.
Also, a passage in 1 Corinthians 10 gives me comfort, “No temptation has overtaken you except something common to mankind; and God is faithful, so He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
The other tool I use is AA. I attended multiple meetings each week and became involved with a group of AA members who would travel to and speak at different AA meetings, prisons and hospitals in a tri-state area in the Northeast. Even AA can’t claim a 100% success rate, but for those who “hit their bottom” and truly want sobriety more than anything else, AA can be a bedrock on which you can build a new life. There are similar “12 step” programs for drugs and gambling.
Unfortunately, I did not pay attention to the many warning signs along my highway to addiction and had to hit my “bottom” before I took action. This delay cost me my marriage, damaged my health and had a negative effect on my career. In retrospect, the key was my denial that I had a problem despite the multiple warnings. The highway to addiction is wide and straight, but if you pay attention to the road signs you can escape and exit the highway before it is too late. CC