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The Myth of the High-Functioning Alcoholic

The Myth of the High-Functioning Alcoholic

High-functioning alcoholic”…ME? I didn’t even know what the term meant. But despite all appearances to the contrary, I had a secret that was destroying my life – I am an alcoholic.×450.jpg

I Wish You Knew I Was Just like You

Once upon a time, I was just like everybody else. Heck, in a lot of ways, my life was better. I had a great job with a good salary, I lived in a big house in a nice neighborhood, and my wife and I drove new cars. The problem? I liked to drink. After all, I worked hard, so wasn’t I entitled to blow off some steam and have some fun?

I Wish You Knew My Drinking Snuck up on Me

But slowly – yet somehow faster than I realized – I went from “drinking to feel good” to “drinking to keep from feeling bad”. Now, whenever I couldn’t stop by the bar before I got home or kill a few six-packs over the weekend, it just didn’t feel right – I was irritable and restless.

I Wish You Knew That There Were Warning Signs for Functional Alcoholics

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when I got a DUI. I was celebrating a co-worker’s promotion, and like I had done so many times before, I got behind the wheel without a second thought. Looking back, I suppose I should be grateful that I never killed anyone or myself. I justified the incident to my wife – “It could have happened to anybody” – but I could tell she wasn’t happy. As for the rest of it, it was mostly an inconvenience. Sure, I took a lot of ribbing at work, because I had to carpool for the next few months, but I played it off as just bad luck. Strangely, the DUI actually made my drinking worse. Because I wasn’t free to go to the bar after work, I started carrying a flask in my jacket pocket. Now, I could have a convenient little “pick me up” at any time I wanted – even at work. Of course, I was discreet (or so I thought) – I kept gum, mints, breath spray, and sometimes even miniature bottles of mouthwash in my desk. And, of course, my drinking picked up at home. If I couldn’t go out, I made sure my wife kept me supplied at home. Because it was so convenient, it was easier to have as much as I wanted. My wife gave me “the look” those times I called in “sick”, but that was about it. For those of you keeping score, I was exhibiting several warning signs of alcoholism:

  • “Needing” to drink
  • Dangerous behavior – drinking and driving
  • Continuing to drink despite negative consequences – the DUI
  • Making excuses
  • Drinking in secret
  • Increasing the amount and frequency of my drinking
  • Missing work because of my drinking

I Wish You Knew about The Power of Denial

None of this occurred to me at the time. I just kept on going, while my drinking started to bleed into other areas of my life. When my wife complained about me passing out on the couch, I said, “I’m just tired.” When my carpool commented on my hung-over appearance, I said, “I didn’t get much sleep last night.” When my work fell behind and I missed deadlines, I said, “I’ve been sick lately.” When I drank even more at home because I had a hard day playing catch-up at work, I told my wife, “I’m under a lot of stress.” And most of all, I never even considered that I had a problem – “I make too much money to be an alcoholic.”×400.jpg

Functional Alcoholism: I Wish You Knew How I Felt inside

By every outward appearance, I was holding it together. I had gotten my license back (no carpool meant no early-morning comments), I got back on track at work (no reprimands), and I was trying to drink moderately (no sleeping on the couch and no dirty looks from my wife). But inside, I was a nervous wreck. All day long, I was anxious and shaky, waiting for the moment when I couldn’t get off work, beat my wife home, and have a couple of drinks before she arrived. Then she would only witness my “allowed” drinking, none the wiser. I really looked forward to the weekend, when drinking a little bit more (a lot more) was more permitted. And I let nothing stand in the way of my drinking time – not dates with my wife, not visiting friends and family, not chores around the house. These were more warning signs:

  • Denial
  • Making “bargains” with my drinking
  • Obsessing over when I could drink again
  • Anxiety when I couldn’t drink
  • Ignoring social and family obligations in order to drink

I Wish You Knew What It Felt like to Hit Rock Bottom

People say that a person with a drinking problem has to hit “rock bottom” before they can get better. Now, my own personal rock bottom isn’t as dramatic as some people’s – I didn’t go to prison, I didn’t lose my job, and I didn’t overdose. No, my rock bottom came on a Sunday morning after a Friday-Saturday bender. I woke up (hung over, of course) and went into the kitchen in search of something to get last night’s taste out of my mouth. And there was my wife – waiting for me at the table. She told me she was pregnant, but it was the look in her eyes that stopped me cold – she was terrified at the kind of father I would be. She had never come right out and said it, but she knew that my drinking was far worse than I was living on. The stark realization that my family was growing and that maybe I wasn’t fit to be a father brought me lower than you can imagine. It didn’t matter how “successful” I appeared, my wife knew – and finally, I knew – that it was time for me to get help.×418.jpg

I Wish You Knew How Alcohol Treatment Saved My Life

The rest of that Sunday, we did Internet research about local alcohol treatment centers, and Monday morning, I called in to work – this time, for the best of reasons. I made a few calls, and was able to go in for evaluation. I was surprised how in-depth the “interview” was. Sure, they wanted to know about my drinking, but they asked so much more – my recent health (both physical and mental), my daily life, and even my family history. It never occurred to me that father’s drinking when I was a kid could have any kind of effect on me now, all these years later. I learned that, on the contrary, his alcoholism had had a profound effect on me. I ended up enrolling in an outpatient rehab program that seemed right for me. After talking with the intake coordinator, we agreed that an Intensive Outpatient Program was the best fit, because it would allow me to get the education, guidance, and support I needed, while still allowing me to work my regular hours. I also started attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, as directed by my primary counselor. I wasn’t too thrilled about having to sit in meetings with “a bunch of drunks”, but the acceptance and support I found there still helps me today. That was a year ago. I “graduated” my outpatient program, although I have attended a few follow-up sessions. I still go to AA meetings and work the program of recovery that I was taught during treatment. Best of all, I haven’t had a drink since. To some, my personal story of high-functioning alcoholism won’t seem like such a big deal. To those people, I can say that to me, being an alcoholic was just as much an internal struggle as an outward one. Dealing with the person I am on the inside allowed me to function better on the outside.