Scrupuli

blunt essays with sharp points

Alcoholism

by Scrvpvlvs
Jul 5, 2004 7:22 PM–Here is Dr. Graeme Cunningham, a physician interviewed by Barbara Myers on the subject of alcoholism.
I always felt I wasn’t good enough. There’s dense, dense shame and guilt and fear, and a little voice, “But you don’t know me. If you really knew me, you wouldn’t have anything to do with me, and you’d leave me.” And that voice was very loud in my own mind when I was ill. So in moments of clarity it was extremely painful. Alcohol took those feelings of inadequacy away. I made a conscious decision to use alcohol to be normal.

A social drinker will take a drink and it kind of goes down tinkle, tinkle, tinkle. When I take a drink it goes down BOOM, and I become six foot four with a full head of hair and can dance like Fred Astaire. It literally changes my whole perception of the world. And that’s what alcoholics chase, sometimes into the grave.

To society, they see the drinker’s problem as the alcohol. But the problem for the alcoholic is sobriety. And if we don’t offer options and strategies around maintaining sobriety, the alcoholic will continue to drink. Because that’s what makes the alcoholic normal.

When you’re living in a place of shame, you keep secrets. And in the secrets lies the sickness. I thought I was the only doctor in the world doing what I was doing. So I didn’t know any doctors that I trusted. I didn’t know any human beings that I trusted. Thinking I was the only doctor and the only man in the world doing what I was doing—it’s utterly isolating and lonely to be addicted.

The core of being addicted is isolation. The treatment is people. So what I basically do as a therapist is get addicts living with people again.

That doctor said he’d been sober for 20 years, and I just about fell over because I thought I was the only doctor doing what I was doing. And that’s why I do what I do now. By taking the risk of sharing my own wounds, I can give other doctors the permission to be sick, as opposed to be secret and feel that they’re bad.

To be addicted is to have a medical condition that has a spiritual solution. It’s got absolutely nothing to do with religion. Religion is simply a set of dogmas. Spirituality is finding out what makes you feel good in your own skin in a healthy way. Whether it’s looking at a sunset, enjoying a painting, listening to wonderful music, or being in a room full of people being honest and sharing feelings, these are all spiritual approaches.

In essence what the Twelve Steps do is take an infantile ego and allow it to grow up. An infantile ego says, “I’m the center of the world, I’m selfish, I’m self-centered, and how can you pick on a nice guy like me, and what’s all the problem about?” To the end of the Twelve Step process, where you say, “How can I be of assistance to somebody else?” So it’s a growing up process that many, many people get in their own families and their own lives automatically. And the people like me don’t have that. And so I had to grow up in a psychological sense by working through a number of steps that taught me to take responsibility for my own behaviors, to recognize that I wasn’t in control of very much in my life, and I always needed to ask for help, direction, and support from other human beings.

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