Addicted to Bullets.
There will never be a cure for alcoholism. I piss off my addiction-science and neuroscience friends every time I write that. But it’s the truth. I’ve never succeeded in explaining the reason for this that any of them will accept. I doubt I ever will. I don’t need to. They keep telling me that I can’t be right, because I’m not informed; I don’t understand how the brain works. Leaving aside the question of whether anyone at all understands how the brain works, I think it’s irrelevant. You don’t need to be able to solve Bernoulli’s equations to know that a plane can’t fly through a mountain.
The real issue is: even if they succeed at what they say they are trying to do, it will not cure alcoholism. A pill that makes me able to drink like a normal person, whatever that is, wouldn’t cure me. A pill that eliminates cravings wouldn’t cure me. A pill that makes drinking alcohol unable to intoxicate me wouldn’t cure me. Because the way I interact with alcohol is bigger than how alcohol affects my brain.
What addiction scientists never seem to understand is that alcohol is not our problem. There’s an interesting phenomenon with bariatric surgery, in which people who lose weight by having a “stomach staple” often become addicted to alcohol or other drugs. This is in part, it is obvious to the alcoholic, because they are effectively deprived of their drug of choice: food. When we cannot indulge to excess in our preferred way, we find another.
My alcoholism is a genetic and mental disorder that does indeed have – as one component – my brain’s peculiar responses to alcohol. But that is the least important part of my disease. The important part of my disease is that I am a person who hates to confront his feelings. I am terrified by my own self. I despise myself. I hate my history. I fear my anger. I fear my shame. I would rather not feel anything negative. I am compelled to wallow in my own negativity. I am depressive. Anxious. Reactive. And I quell these eruptions of the psyche with alcohol. Obliteration. Silence. Peace.
We have pills that treat depression and anxiety and all those things, supposedly. I’ve taken some. For me – other than the occasional SSRI for depression – they’re no better than alcohol, and in many ways a lot worse. (I do not disparage them for those people for whom they truly help. I am not anti-medication for mental health. They can help. Talk to your doctor.) They don’t give me what I need. Or, like Xanax, they give me the same thing alcohol does: a debilitating intoxication I thoroughly enjoy.
The disease is the underlying issue. The ways I confront discomfort. I had to learn to accept feeling bad sometimes. I had to change how I addressed my fears and rages. There is no pill that can do that. And there never will be. Because the act of taking that pill negates its value. If I outsource my emotional management to another substance, another procedure, I’ve simply intoxicated myself a different way.
And as for pills that remove my ability to become intoxicated? Those are worse. Alcohol is not my problem. It’s my solution. And if the alcohol won’t work, I need to find another solution. If nothing else works, then a bullet will. Because I am addicted, at the core, in the end, to not feeling bad. And if I can’t find some way to relieve the isolating rupture in the center of my self, I will end my self.
All these imaginary cures that scientists and physicians think they can provide are vapor. And they are worse than my disease. If I were cured the way they say will one day be possible, I’d be dead. The only answer is recovery. Is finding how to manage what I can manage and accept what I cannot. To sit with the thing I am and breathe it through. Relent from my need to obliterate my feelings. To intoxicate. No human power can relieve it. The very act of relying on someone to cure me derails the recovery.
Recovery is about abandoning myself to acceptance of the emotional disregulation I cannot manage. And learning to live unanesthetized in the storms. I don’t need your pills. That medicine could never fix me. It could never restore me to the life I have, in recovery. Open. Unadorned. Liberated.