We are convinced to a man that alcoholics of our type are in the grip of a progressive illness. Over any considerable period we get worse, never better. (Alcoholics Anonymous– pg.30)
When I was growing up, cultural/societal attitudes towards alcoholism were more judgmental- alcoholics were more often referred to as “drunks” that were weak people lacking in moral character and willpower rather than addicts suffering from a disease.
This was my thoughts and attitude- even as I was slipping into the clutches of this illness- that enabled me to deny the seriousness of my situation.
But to many people- friends and family members of those who were suffering from this disease- the powerlessness of the alcoholic was apparent. My dad had an alcoholic father, and he no doubt recognized the symptoms and behaviors that were beginning to present in my life. More than once, he tried to warn me about this.
On one occasion when he told me that “when you start drinking, you can’t stop” I replied “it’s not that I CAN’T stop- I don’t WANT to stop”! Part of me truly believed this, and part of me just didn’t care either way. Whatever.
I wish I had listened.
Eventually, my circumstances, fate, and Providence steered me into the program of Alcoholics Anonymous. This encounter taught me that I did, indeed, suffer from an illness that is characterized by an inability to control one’s drinking.
I was able to accept this premise finally. I was able to learn and accept that I could not drink any alcohol and how this was accomplished through working the program of AA and the Twelve Steps of recovery. I got sober and stayed sober and lived according to the principles for sober living that I learned. But, alas, there was one thing that I had not quite bought into- that I had not fully internalized. Alcoholism, as described in the quote at the beginning of this post, is a “progressive” illness. As with many chronic conditions, there is no cure. But a complete and total remission can be achieved- as long as the alcoholic doesn’t drink alcohol.
In the book Alcoholics Anonymous– the “Big Book” to those in the program- there is a chapter titled “More About Alcoholism”. In it, there is a story about a fellow that recognized at the age of thirty that he had a problem with alcohol that was causing problems in his personal life and in his career. So he quit. He was so successful after that, he was able to retire at the age of fifty-five.
After twenty-five years of sobriety, he reasoned that he would now be able to drink normally- that he was no longer an alcoholic. He was wrong. After numerous hospitalizations and several vain attempts to quit- he succumbed to the deleterious physical effects of alcoholism and was dead four years later.
It is a progressive illness, and the only way to achieve remission is to not drink.
Even though I had read this story, I had to learn the hard way as alcoholics are prone to do.
After eleven years of not drinking, I reasoned that with the time that had passed, and my knowledge of the disease, I could control my drinking. I went out to a nightclub with a friend. I didn’t remember the trip home and when I woke, my truck was in the ditch in front of my house.
But, I remained undeterred, and determined that next week I would limit myself to three drinks- control my drinking. I was successful at limiting myself to three drinks and had absolutely no fun at all, The evening was unsatisfying and nerve-wracking, being constantly gnawed at by a craving to drink more.
So the next week, I decided to not limit myself to a specific number of drinks, but rather self-monitor and not let it get out of control. If I felt it was getting to be a bit much I resolved to cut myself off and enjoy the evening in that state.
I woke up the next morning in the holding cell of the county jail, having no recollection of how I got there. It is a progressive illness.
You would think I would have learned my lesson. I did quit after that, but eight years later I decided that I could surely control my drinking this time around, being older and wiser.
By the grace of God, I did not end up in jail or the hospital- I didn’t frequent bars or nightclubs- but I nevertheless discovered that I not only couldn’t control my drinking (consuming no fewer than eight beers and up to twenty-four) but I also couldn’t go a single day without it.
This was a recent event in my life, I am not proud to admit. But I am proud to say I have found my way back to the program of Alcoholics Anonymous and I truly do get it now.
I am an alcoholic. The only reprieve from the progressive illness I have, is to not drink.
Most of us have been unwilling to admit we were real
alcoholics. No person likes to think he is bodily and mentally
different from his fellows. Therefore, it is not surprising that our
drinking careers have been characterized by countless vain attempts
to prove we could drink like other people. The idea that somehow,
someday he will control and enjoy his drinking is the great obsession
of every abnormal drinker. The persistence of this illusion is
astonishing. Many pursue it into the gates of insanity or death.
We learned that we had to fully concede to our innermost
selves that we were alcoholics. This is the first step in recovery. The
delusion that we are like other people, or presently may be, has to be
We alcoholics are men and women who have lost the ability to
control our drinking. We know that no real alcoholic ever recovers
control. All of us felt at times that we were regaining control, but
such intervals –usually brief—were inevitably followed by still less
control, which led in time to pitiful and incomprehensible
demoralization. We are convinced to a man that alcoholics of our
type are in the grip of a progressive illness. Over any considerable
period we get worse, never better. (Chapter 3, “More About Alcoholism” pg.30- Alcoholics Anonymous)
If you think you may have a problem with alcohol, I pray that you will be able to overcome your addiction, and escape the clutches of your progressive illness.
Remember that we deal with alcohol — cunning, baffling, powerful! Without help it is too much for us. But there is One who has all power — that One is God. May you find Him now!- (Chapter 5, “How it Works” pg. 58-59- Alcoholics Anonymous)
There is a way, and there is hope. The program of Alcoholics Anonymous will teach you a way of life free from alcohol. You do not have to drink.
And being free from this progressive illness will bring true joy and freedom to your life.
That freedom comes from God. He will do what you cannot do for yourself.