One of the most prevalent stereotypes amongst many, including those new to sobriety, is a rather repugnant conception regarding the physical characteristics or appearance of addicts and alcoholics. Through the course of many conversations, I’ve heard folks propagate the notion of the alcoholic as a beggar on the streets toting a bottle-shaped brown paper bag.
According to reputable sources, the disease of addiction and alcoholism exists in approximately one out of ten human beings on the planet. The majority of those afflicted with addiction are not actually homeless, dressed in rags, bare fingers poking from worn-out gloves, asking for spare change from passers-by, accosting gullible types, etc. In reality, addicts and alcoholics are often intelligent individuals possessing an array of positive attributes; however, due to the nature of their affliction, they typically find themselves and their lives warped into a veritable twilight zone of worsening proportions.
My own story reflects just such a stereotype. I once believed that in order to truly fit the mold of alcoholism and addiction, I had to be homeless, begging for change, brown bag in hand. For a long time, that pervasive, distorted conception of addiction kept me from accepting my illness. Fortunately, other recovering men were willing to work with me on an intensely personal level in order to steer me onto the path of recovery. Once I saw for myself that many people in recovery actually enjoyed success and were able to demonstrate admirable qualities prior to full-blown addiction (“hitting rock bottom”), I finally made the required concession. As the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous states: “We learned that we had to fully concede to our innermost selves that we were alcoholics. This is the first step in recovery.” (Big Book, page 33) I had to ask myself how a guy who displayed so much promise coming out of high school went on to drop out of college, sabotage job after job, and ultimately stumble into trouble wherever he turned.
One of my interests has always been philosophy, and as such, I had an assortment of philosophical convictions. The Big Book makes mention of people like me: “Many of us had moral or philosophical convictions galore, but we could not live up to them even though we would have liked to.” (Big Book, page 62).
According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Socrates “…was impervious to the effects of alcohol and cold, but this made him an object of suspicion to his fellow soldiers on campaign.” The only people I know who are impervious to the effects of alcohol are alcoholics who have built up a heavy tolerance to drink. The drunk in me still believes it would be awesome to have a beer (or twenty) with a man as legendary as Socrates.
I’d answer his questions; we would discuss theories and ideas so profound, more drink would be necessary. The problem with this line of thinking is that drinking always gets me into trouble; and apparently, it was no different for Socrates, whose fellow citizens ultimately decided to put him to death.
But that’s what alcoholism is for me today: certain death, should I choose to drink again. Though I come from a background of academic success and have tested high in certain areas of study, I definitely qualify for the disease of alcoholism and addiction.
Hell… even Socrates was a drunk.