The Iron String

“Man is timid and apologetic; he is no longer upright; he dares not say ‘I think,’ ‘I am,’ but quotes some saint or sage.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

 I’m fasting so that I can take a blood test, so that I can find out if I have liver damage, so that I can take a drug that will make me not want to crave alcohol. If this drug works, I will be both happy and angry. I will be happy because it will have done its job by snuffing out those sparks in my brain that go off like fireworks when I take my first sip of a cold draft beer. I will be angry because the drug will have quickly done a job that twenty-some years of willpower and talk therapy couldn’t do. If this drug could have saved me the time and aggravation that a lifetime of alcohol abuse cost me, then yes, I will be angry.

I found this drug myself with the help of an article in The Atlantic and the Internet (it wasn’t difficult), and proposed it to my wonderful psychiatrist who, though grudgingly, often allows me to explore my own treatments. My wonderful psychiatrist is skeptical of my plan to start taking this drug without some kind of companion therapy, i.e., talk therapy. I sensed from him that he had tuned in to hear a rock-bottom tale from me about why I needed medication to help with this problem, as if I needed to revisit myself at my worst before I could be worthy of treatment. That’s the AA model. He weakly asserted that he never prescribes this drug without some kind of therapy in conjunction, and then he prescribed it. I’m glad he’s a reasonable man.

See, my doctor knows what he’s been trained to do as a professional—tell me to go to “meetings” where I can find a sponsor who will teach me to how to kneel at the altar of sobriety—yet he also knows I’m not going to do that. There exists a secular support group, he suggested, but then he wasn’t sure of its name.   Shouldn’t he know?   Even a practical, seasoned professional like my good doctor believes that, for most, it’s AA or the highway.

Here’s a bit of advice for the forty-something who struggles with alcohol addiction, who’s been subconsciously waiting for her life to fall apart before addressing the problem: don’t wait. You don’t need to wait until you’ve gathered a TV series’ worth of drama in your personal and professional life to reach a level of awareness fit for making changes. The competition among AA members to publicly outdo one another with confessions from the dark side can be a huge turnoff for a more pragmatic and high-functioning drinker. So can the hand-holding, the prayers, and the insistence that this pre-World War II method of treatment is the only true and righteous path. Trust me, the step isn’t so big. Our twelve-step culture, enabled by the medical community, just makes it seem so, and so we begin to doubt our skepticism.

If this drug works, like I said, I’ll be both happy and angry. Our advancements in medicine and technology are supposed to make our lives easier, so if I can painlessly flick that monkey off my back, my life will become easier; but then I will detest the culture of talk treatment even more. If this drug doesn’t work, I’ll just have to take a more difficult path. Either way, I’ll still be happy, because I have the power to choose it.

So if you’re wondering why middle age has not brought you new wisdom. If you are noticing that the alcohol has begun to make most of your decisions for you, and ordinarily cool people telling you that you MUST go to AA meetings, yet you feel very skeptical about that option… be skeptical. By seeking assistance for a predisposition to drink alcohol, you’re not crossing over from the dark side into the light. You’re not seeking absolution for a heinous crime. You’re dealing with a physiological problem. And like many other physiological problems, there is more than one way to approach it. Google them. Seek out multiple opinions. Be proactive. You’re not powerless.




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