Mike Runner brings a perspective to Wings Like Eagles that is unique and challenging.
I normally cover topics relating to the horror of having someone else bring darkness into the home. Mike covers the same topics, but from a completely different angle. He was the one who brought darkness to his family. Mike is an alcoholic.
It is my hope that the perception of what we think we know about Family Crisis is shaken up a bit. Because there is far more involved than we think. Much can be understood by examining the other side, and I deeply appreciate Mike's willingness to help us gain understanding as he shares with us the mind as it is affected by alcoholism.
He isn't just an alcoholic. He is an intelligent mind, has a bright, hopeful future, and he is my friend. And this is his story.
Today I have been doing a lot of smirking. My smirk is not because there is anything funny going through my mind other than the usual peculiar odds and ends, but because I am trying not to smile.
You will recall in earlier columns that I have talked about certain consequences of my drinking that are common among alcoholics. One of them is physical injury. Alcohol is lighter than water and the over consumption of alcohol leads to an imbalance in the inner ear. In other words, we tend to fall a lot. In one of these head to ground moments that I barely remember, I broke my two top front teeth as I have talked about. After grinding my teeth to nubs, getting veneer front teeth and spending a few thousand dollars, I could show off my laboratory created pearly whites. Unfortunately, last night in the middle of the night I got hungry and the right front veneer shattered into a number of pieces. I have a wonderful gap and little stub of a tooth in my smile. I wore a black suit to work today and I kind of looked like the stereotypical hillbilly that was playing business dress up instead of making moonshine. Or maybe a retired hockey player going out on a job interview.
Bother. More money, figuring out how to get a ride to a dentist later in the week, and just more hassle. The ghosts of drunken episodes past. I guess I could just smirk for a while until things get more convenient though nothing out of the routine is exactly convenient when you wear an ankle bracelet and have yet to get your driver’s license back. If nothing else, it gives me something to talk about at my driving/DUI school class.
My Monday night court mandated driving under the influence classes will continue for some time. Another year or so. As a multiple offender, the classes last for a total of a year and a half. Since I was tied up in court and the legal system for about a year and four months, I didn’t begin the program until October 2012.
For the most part, the Monday night classes are a bit tedious. The format is pretty much a guy at a desk in the front of the room saying, “So, what do you guys want to talk about for the next two hours?” Then the crickets chirp. I try to be as helpful as I can as I hope I can be an example and it makes the time go faster if at least one person in the room is talking. Sometimes it is just me and the instructor shooting the breeze for a couple of hours and 15 other morose multiple offenders offering up a sentence here and there when the instructor asks them something directly. Sometimes I will ask them things about “their recovery” and I am met by a rolling of the eyes. You see, they don’t have a problem and don’t need to recover from anything. Just bad luck… again. In two days it will have been 22 months since my 3rd DUI but I’m going to be in this class for a while.
During the year and a half that a multiple offender like myself is enrolled, you also have to take six education classes. I started these a little over a week ago on Saturday mornings. The education classes are interesting as the scientific knowledge of alcoholism and addiction is always marching forward. It is quite fascinating to watch videos of a normal brain functioning compared to the brain of someone who has been using a drug or alcohol. In many cases, there are still differences after a year if someone was a regular user. The information about dopamine levels and neuro-transmitters is also interesting although I am pretty well versed in alcohol’s effects on the brain. We will get into some of the science in later columns.
What I like the most about the education classes is that first time offenders have to take them as well as multiple offenders such as myself. Last week there were about 18 blue cards (oops, I got busted) and two yellow cards (well, here I am again). The other guy on the yellow card doesn’t talk much.
My instructor loves me because of my willingness to be honest and because I have some sobriety under my belt. His experience with drugs compares to my experience with alcohol in that we both consider ourselves blessed to be where we are considering where we have been. He has been through the ringer… jail, prison, lost kids, lost jobs, almost died from medical problems, and many other of the things that are normal for someone who has lived in alcoholism or addiction for many years. We decided before my first class that I could be used for an example and I would talk openly because my testimony as a peer to the newbies was more powerful than his as an instructor. It’s perfect because I can be a living blog.
I would guess 80% of the people in the room are not alcoholics or addicts. Most of them are people who got a DUI and the scare, embarrassment, and cost of the situation is enough to change their behavior. They are people who needed to learn a lesson and most of them will set up designated drivers or cabs if they choose to continue to go out and drink. Even a first time offender will lose their driver’s license for a time and has to pay a few thousand dollars between court fines and driving school. It makes life difficult as it well should. There needs to be enough pain to change the behavior. Then there are those who are convinced the police were out to get them or it wasn’t their fault for one reason or another. They are not interested in changing anything. These people will for the most part be back on a yellow card.
There is one girl and one guy who seem to know that they might be alcoholics and that they are getting out of control but are not yet ready to entirely admit it. These are the two that I hope I can help the most as I believe them both to be alcoholics who are on the edge of denial. They are not quite willing to admit that they can never safely drink again, yet the little light bulb in their head is going off telling them that the pattern, and they are beginning to see it as a pattern, is getting worse. I told them it will get worse, and worse, and worse. It’s called the progression of the disease. By its nature, the disease always gets worse in time.
We took a verbal quiz in my last class consisting of 17 questions. (You can find many quizzes like this online.) We were told that if you answered yes to more than three of the seventeen questions, there is a good chance you might be an alcoholic. When the instructor said this, I started to laugh and he asked me why. I told him it was because I got a 15. I said, “I won!” and the class laughed along with me.
Then I got very serious with them and told them that if I had taken the quiz six years ago, I might have scored an 8… ten years ago, maybe a 4. It progressed on me and it will progress on you. It happened to me, and to millions of alcoholics over thousands of years. There is no getting around it. With few exceptions, the idea of a functioning alcoholic is a myth. To turn it around, all you have is an alcoholic who can still function. I was a functioning alcoholic for years but eventually the functional becomes more and more dysfunctional until properly functioning becomes a memory.
Normally when I get to my last paragraphs I have some extremely deep meaning that I want to convey. Today my message is this: I try to stay positive, I try to focus on the right things, I think about what I am grateful for and what I could have lost every day, I try to listen to God, help others, and continually change things in my life, I try to be willing to do things that are not comfortable for me and to be totally honest.
All of these things are have helped me to get sober, regain relationships, and other wonderful things. Yet, although it took what I went through to get me here, much of what I go through and have gone through physically are HUGE hassles. Finances to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars, time, finding rides, being “on assignment,” not being able to go certain places because I am on house arrest from evening until morning, annoying teeth issues, etc.
Over the months I have shared a lot about what happened to me on many levels. Today, I am asking you to please spare yourself from the hassle. If you are just starting out, things WILL happen. If you have been an alcoholic for a while, worse things WILL happen. It’s inevitable and neither you nor I are exempt from a pattern that has been documented by millions of cases. The only ways to stop are to change your life and stop drinking, go to jail for the rest of your life, or die suddenly or slowly from alcoholism. Those are your choices.
So today, if you have never been on the wagon… jump on. If you have fallen off, your seat is still there.
Stop living in guilt and tell yourself that you are not a bad person, but a sick person who needs help.
Realize that this is an illness that millions of people have and if properly treated, can go into remission.
Don’t go through the hassles that I have gone through or those who have been through much worse.
Don’t be a hassle to everyone else by either ending up in jail or in the morgue.
Start today by doing something different.
Admit to yourself that there may be a problem.
Take an online quiz and see where you stand.
Show up at a 12-step meeting and see if anything makes any sense.
Go to the bookstore and get an AA Big Book and read the first 164 pages.
Talk to someone about it.
Do something different and above all else, get honest with yourself.
In a lot of situations, if you do nothing, nothing is going to change. In the case of an alcoholic or a potential alcoholic, if you do nothing, something is going to change and it will not be anything you were hoping for. Save your money, save your relationships, save your job, save your driving privileges, save your life, etc., etc., etc. Save yourself the hassle and remember that one of the reasons I believe that God left me on this earth was so that I could talk to people about what I went through so that they don’t have to and to tell people, “I understand, and you are not alone.”
You are those people. You are that person.