On Friday evenings, I morph into Fred Flintstone at quitting time (sans brontosaurus slide, sadly), skedaddling gleefully out of the office so fast my feet can barely keep up. Within minutes of clocking out, my wheels are speeding down the highway.
And then, with the miles between work and home increasing and hyperdrive mode subsiding, it hits.
Have you felt it? It’s hard to explain. I’d call it a kind of vague discomfort — not an ache or an itch, but more like a pull, subtly dragging my equilibrium a few centimeters off-center. I just don’t feel right. There’s something missing.
If you’re an alcoholic, you’ve come to identify this feeling as wanting a drink. Maybe in past lives, you identified it as wanting something else, but you ultimately settled on alcohol as the thirst quencher du jour.
After a while, if you’ve spent a long enough time habitually reaching for “that thing” every time you feel this, you recognize the situation for what it is: a trap.
“How can I be so thirsty when I drank so much last night?” – Anonymous
To me, that question has nothing to do with dehydration.
Kids these days have a slightly more pleasant way of describing what I would call attention whoring. According to the 20- and 30-somethings in my office, the posting of suggestive selfies online in an effort to attract attention is referred to as “thirst trapping.”
When I first heard that, I let out the condescending guffaw of a wise old lady who’s above such nonsense…until I realized I’m not.
When it comes to using social media to put on a show, I’m just as guilty as the next misguided fool, which is to say I’m pretty normal. I mean, we all have issues unintentionally manifesting themselves in our daily behavior. To some degree, we’re all lost souls doing weird shit trying to fill some inner void. It’s like Springsteen said, “everybody’s got a hungry heart,” and far be it from me — or any intelligent person — to argue with The Boss.
To call this phenomenon a thirst, though, allows me a neat and tidy transition to a discussion of alcohol abuse as I mark my 50th day of continuous sobriety. I’ve made it this far relatively easily, thanks to the overwhelming support of my family and my community. That includes the folks at local A.A. meetings, which I semi-faithfully attend three times a week, and you guys.
But I still feel that old familiar thirst from time to time. It hit me hard this past Friday on my evening commute, especially as I drove past one of my regular liquor stores. What the @#$% are you gonna do with yourself this weekend if you don’t drink tequila? What do you have to look forward to, without that?
It’s a trap, and I know it. I know from the repeated experience of being trapped, of reaching for something to quench that “thirst,” then feeling more — not less — thirsty, then reaching for more, and more…
That downward spiral describes what happens when I pick up the first drink, and it’s how I ultimately knew I had a problem with alcohol that could only be solved by quitting. For the past 20 years, my seemingly insatiable thirst for alcohol was an attempt to quench that limitless thirst I felt, deep inside, all my life, for some thing or idea I never could identify, much less explain.
But really, if I’m being honest, alcohol was just my latest attempt, my last, feeble grasp at filling the emptiness after eating disorders, overspending, overexercising, attention-seeking social media habits…yeah, I think that covers them all…had already proven themselves too dangerous and damaging to sustain. If I have any regrets in life, they all happened as a result of those truly futile pursuits. In chasing them, I was running on a road to nowhere.
I’m thankful, though, because those pursuits forced me to recognize the vicious cycle and start searching for a roadmap out of it. You fail miserably enough, for long enough, seeking physical remedies for a metaphysical/spiritual issue, and you finally get it: Nothing out there (gestures toward surroundings) is going to solve what’s going on in here (pokes own sternum).
I’m no Annie Grace, whose superbly researched book, “This Naked Mind: Control Alcohol, Find Freedom, Rediscover Happiness and Change Your Life,” and accompanying podcast have been another invaluable source of support in these first 50 days, but it seems to me that this inner struggle is the root of all addiction.
I’m absolutely sure it has been for me.
“How can I be so thirsty when I drank so much last night?”
That question! It’s so beautifully confounding! Imagine the power of being able to answer it, to explain why nothing you’ve ever tried has ever been enough to cure your chronic dehydration. Beyond that, imagine being able to actually STOP feeling so damn thirsty all the time!
Really, that question from Grace’s book is the map from where I am right now: acknowledging the futility of drinking, or in A.A. parlance, Step One, to where I’ve always wanted to be. It’s not so much a destination as it is a positive momentum. I want to be moving forward, taking whatever life throws at me in stride, instead of using it as a reason to stay stuck on that road to nowhere.
Step Two in A.A. is an introduction to the concept of the higher power. I think I’m finally ready for it. Here goes…