There is such a sense of ownership when something is written with ink in your own handwriting. There is no denying that it's your handwriting, your thoughts, your journey, and your story.
The first assignment I was given in the treatment facility I went to for alcohol abuse was an "Alcohol and Drug History." The instructions were to write a narrative of my alcohol/drug use from my first drink to my last. Instructions were to include people I was with, feelings, consequences, amount, substance(s) and frequency, making note of any significant changes in them. My counselor didn't tell me what the point of the assignment was, so I just assumed it was for her to see just how screwed up, lost and morally corrupt I was. I worked on this assignment for about a week. It ended up being 19 pages. Once I turned it in, my counselor took a day to read over it and then called me into her office. Come to find out, the assignment was to show me the progression of my alcoholism. As I sat in her office for over an hour, she went paragraph by paragraph analyzing it and explaining all the notes she had made on it.
I have a binder that holds all my work and assignments from rehab, and I will often look through it. As I look back over the 19 pages of my narrative, which reads like a sad handwritten book, my counselor made the following notes in the margins with a red pen: effect, need to fit in, consequences, ego, effect, consequences, control, delusion of control, control, priority, need, control, need, justification, priority, solution, progression, powerless, delusion of control, need, dependence, progression, solution, solution, God is good, dependence, solution.
Just by reading these words, it is clear to see the progression... and that I have some control issues! I had my first drink when I was 20 years old and took my last drink 12 years later at the age of 32. The 20-year-old "me" liked the effect produced by alcohol. It was a state of euphoria. It made me feel relaxed, happy and confident. I wasn't suffering any major consequences other than the occasional hangover. I was drinking on the weekends with friends out at parties like most all college kids do. The 32-year-old "me" was a completely different story. Alcohol had become my solution... my master. There was nothing relaxing, happy or confident about it. Those feelings had been replaced with guilt, shame and hopelessness. I was dependent on alcohol to make me feel some sort of normalcy. I was experiencing major consequences. I was drinking to overcome a craving beyond my control. Alcohol wasn't my problem -- reality was my problem, life was my problem -- alcohol was my solution.
Within these 12 years there were extensive periods of time that I didn't drink on any kind of regular basis. Later, there were times I would "give up" drinking for days, or weeks. Those times were usually marked with the red pen where consequences is noted in the margins. I would do something stupid and swear I would never drink again. Like the time I woke up with a hospital band around my wrist with no recollection of being in the hospital the night before, or what had happened to get me there. I had jumped backwards down a flight of stairs, landing on the sidewalk outside my apartment in San Francisco on my 26th birthday. Or the time I got so drunk at my brother's wedding, fell out of a golf cart, passed out, and woke up with a black eye. Again, with no recollection. My nephew, 5 years old at the time, was so terrified witnessing the whole thing, not really understanding what was wrong with me. My nephew, now 10 years old, will occasionally bring it up and tell me how he thought I was dying. Talk about heartbreaking. I think both those times I stopped drinking for maybe a week. These are just two examples of more than I can count, and by far are not the worst. No matter if I was drinking once a week, a couple times a month or everyday, I have never had the ability to control the amount. No matter how many times I would tell myself that this time was going to different, it never was. It wasn't until I showed up to a 12-step rehab program that I began to understand why.
Chapter three of the big book More About Alcoholism says:
Most of us have been unwilling to admit we were real alcoholics. No person likes to think he is bodily and mentally different from his fellows. Therefore, it is not surprising that our drinking careers have been characterized by countless vain attempts to prove we could drink like other people. The idea that somehow, someday he will control and enjoy his drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker. The persistence of this illusion is astonishing. Many pursue it into the gates of insanity or death.
We learned that we had to fully concede to our innermost selves that we were alcoholics. This is the first step in recovery. The delusion that we are like other people, or presently may be, has to be smashed.
We alcoholics are men and women who have lost the ability to control our drinking. We know that no real alcoholic ever recovers control. All of us felt at times that we were regaining control, but such intervals -- usually brief -- were inevitably followed by still less control, which led in time to pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization. We are convinced to a man that alcoholics of our type are in the grip of a progressive illness. Over any considerable period we get worse, never better.
By the time I acknowledged my defeat, I had two choices. I could continue on the road I was on, unwilling to accept help, eventually ending with death, or I could accept help, admitting I was powerless over alcohol and begin a road of recovery. I chose the latter.
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.