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What can you say to a drunk in the madness to get them to quit…

November 2013
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Thank you to Fat Guy 2 Tri Guy for the inspiration for this post.  This is going to be a very heated and emotional post so know two things going in…  1)  I’m no doctor or shrink, I’m just a normal everyday guy.  I reserve the right to be wrong – there may very well be a better way that came out in the last 20 years.  2)  I am a recovering alcoholic/addict – while I’m no professional, I know what the hell I’m writing about.  This post is from the context of a person who knows what it’s like to be in the madness, and to recover from it…

My friend left this comment on my last post, I Am Living Proof that God Doesn’t Keep Score:

Jim, you need to call Rob Ford in Toronto. That man does not realize he has a problem. You saw the problem and took action. Very inspiring.

First of all, the well-known fact that he has stated, on numerous occasions, his disdain for cyclists would preclude me pissing on his gums if his teeth were on fire.  Second, while I appreciate the compliment, I did have a lot of help recognizing the problem from The People of the State of Michigan (that’s short for legal trouble folks).  Here’s the rub:  I had to realize I had a problem and that the problem was not that the People of Michigan were picking on me.  In Ford’s case, he acts as though the problem is that people are just picking on him for smoking crack.  The meat of the issue is this:  Until I was ready to quit, there was nothing anyone could say that would have changed my mind.  In other words, you could have talked to me till you were blue in the face and it wouldn’t have mattered.  Folks, I had a doctor tell me that I was dying and I still drank for another year.  The sad fact is, the pain wasn’t great enough to quit, I wasn’t ready to quit until everything was gone and I was laying awake, shivering and sweating from the DT’s in the top bunk of my bed in the treatment center.  Until that moment, there was nothing anyone could say that would have changed me – and believe me, they tried.

Rob Ford, as I see it, simply isn’t ready yet.  It seems to me that he’s where I was, sitting on the doctor’s table getting the news that my liver had less than a decade left on it (again I reserve the right to be wrong, I am writing about this from a place of sheer ignorance – I know nothing about the man away from the camera).

There was a commercial that ran here in Michigan several years ago that featured a young girl whining that she was “screaming for your help” when her parents found her drug paraphernalia.  I tore that commercial apart here.  The notion that people, take Rob for instance, are asking for help when they get busted, is stupid.  It’s worse than untrue, it gives hope where there is none.  Alcoholics and addicts are not asking, crying or screaming for help when they get busted.  They’d just as soon you forget about what they did and let them go about their using.

In fact, let’s do a little thought experiment…  You discover your daughter’s crack pipe and confront her.  After you explain that this behavior is not wise you tell her you are there to help and offer to take her to an “NA” meeting if she would like to go – then you give her the crack pipe back and let her know that there will be no consequences for her smoking crack, that things will immediately go back to normal.  Out of 100 people, how many will quit?  If your answer is anywhere between 1 and 100, you’re a fool.  The answer is zero.

This imperviousness to intelligence and logic is what makes dealing with an alcoholic so difficult.  We don’t recognize the damage that we leave in our wake.  The only things I know of that we respond to are pain and loss.  Period.  End of discussion.

Now, if you’ve made it this far, you’ve got to be wondering, well what the heck can I do.  If you want to help, the trick is to make consequences as painful and costly as reasonable and possible.  The idea is to stop enabling the behavior.  If you’re someone’s boss but need the employee, try an unpaid leave of absence (though allow the medical insurance to keep going so they can get into treatment).  If you’re a parent, kicking them out on their ear works (the mere threat did for me – but I knew they weren’t kidding around either…  One more screw-up and I was out).  A spouse?  Consequences folks, we respond to pain and loss.  If you’re a policy maker, and I’m a little out of the loop here, I haven’t even gotten a parking ticket in more than a decade, increasing penalties isn’t necessary, they’re stiff enough already.  Probation, pee tests, blow-and-go’s in cars are excellent deterrents for first timer’s.  Jail and eventually prison for second and third offenders are great…  For those close to an addict or alcoholic, family or spouses, there are meetings for you as well if you so choose.  For many, they prove invaluable.  The delicate balance is this:  Make it painful enough to elicit the proper reaction, treatment and recovery…  If you get the mix right and your loved one recovers, you’ll get to save a life and see a truly changed person, devoted to being a better them.

By the way, if you’re a friend of a drunk or an addict, run for the hills.  You know the difference between a drunk and an addict?  A drunk will steal your wallet.  An addict will steal your wallet, then help you look for it.

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14 Comments

  1. Another great post! Unfortunately I kow the Rob Ford type and it appears that there are people around him that keep telling him, he is ok. I believe his story will have a tragic ending, unlike your story.

  2. Kecia says:

    Jim, are there different “levels” (for lack of a better word) to alcoholism? My sisters and I have been concerned about our father for multiple years. He doesn’t drink before the end of the work day, but starts up immediately at its end. The start time on the weekends is variable. We know if we call after 5 pm, the chances of a slurred conversation on his end are great and he most likely won’t remember the conversation. This has been consistent for years and my mother knows there is little she can do. What are your thoughts?

    • bgddyjim says:

      Absolutely, there are different levels. I’ve known recovering people who only drank a few times a year. The definition we go by is this: If I cannot say for sure what will happen when I start drinking, I have a problem. Most normal people, when they drink, don’t like the tipsy feeling of a buzz – this is when I start to feel normal. The simple ingestion of the first drink sets off a phenomena of craving that cannot be controlled.

      I drank in the manner that you describe. Never before or during work, but after work I could walk into a bar at 8 pm with the intention of two beers and no more than 1 hour and end up closing the place and hitting the party store at last call. Eventually the “before” was dropped to stop the shaking. Then the “during” was fudged to stop still more shaking… I didn’t last much longer.

      The trick is that the individual must come to his or her own conclusion regarding their being classified an alcoholic. Feel free to make suggestions of concern, but tread very lightly with parents. We have a tendency to protect our drinking vociferously.

      Hope this helps. Good luck and God bless.

    • bgddyjim says:

      PS. If your dad’s drinking is a problem for your mom, Alanon meetings might be huge help.

  3. elisariva says:

    A very dear person on my life is an addict and was in rehab by the time she was 17. It didn’t impact her because she wasn’t ready. She got busted and part of her sentence was rehab. Now she is 22, clean, vegan, athletic, and has a very good and stable job. I asked her last year what brought the change. She told me she decided one day to believe in God. They she started feeling guilty when she got stoned. I told her “that my dear is the conviction of the Holy Spirit.” She is a rare case and she knows it, she intentionally has created a lifestyle that keeps her far away from people and places in her past life. I am so proud of her!

    • bgddyjim says:

      That is an amazing story. Your friend is blessed for sure and has something impressive. To have faith that strong is absolutely incredible. She’s lucky to have you in her life.

  4. Thank you for sharing. I’ve seen the pains of alcoholism and addictions through my career, but not until it hits home through a loved one, can it be really understood for the complexity and pain everyone suffers. Thank again, and yes – recovery is possible.

  5. runmyssierun says:

    What I would do to know the secret to that “delicate balance”. That’s probably been the hardest thing for me to deal with.. losing my baby brother to alcoholism and always wondering if I was too hard on him or too soft on him. My guilt weighs heavy on me. Great post. Hope your ride today was awesome and not too chilly.

  6. bgddyjim says:

    Myssie, I don’t know you or your situation, how you treated your brother, but there are a few things I can tell you:
    Alcohol kills people, every day, it’s ugly and messy.
    Pain and loss – these are the only two things we “get”.
    Now, of all that we “get” is pain and loss, how can you be too hard on us (legally of course)?
    Part of the wreckage that we leave when we check out early is innocent family members, wondering what they could have done differently or “better”. My dad drank himself into a wonderful combination of Alzheimer’s and wet brain. At 72 years old he can speak one or two full sentences A WEEK. He can no longer stand on his own (they use the equivalent of a cherry picker to move him around)… There is NOTHING anyone could have or should have done differently – he did it to himself. Please accept this one truth; There’s nothing you could do.

  7. saoirsek says:

    The morning after my last drunk, I just knew I couldn’t do it anymore. I was exhausted from trying to prove I wasn’t an alcoholic. I saw only not yet. The people around me were exhausted too. Although I still had plenty of ” friends ” telling me I wasn’t that bad…hmmmm Those people are no longer in my life. I am still amazed and grateful at what happens in AA but you HAVE to want it. You HAVE to do the ” suggested ” things…well I did any way. It’s not a pick and mix for me. I was truly sick and tired of being sick and tired. I’m so grateful for people like you who share so openly and gratefully. Now that’s enough nice talk🙂

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