Avoiding the abyss


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The Testimony of a Functional Alcoholic

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Avoiding the abyss

  1. 1. Avoiding the Abyss – The Testimony of a Functional AlcoholicMy name is Bob and I was a functional alcoholic. You might say highly functional since I was able tosucceed at my job in spite of myself. I was already functioning within an alcoholic reality and had beenfor several years.My first DUI occurred while married to my second wife (yes, the alcoholism “helped” me in my marriagerelationships too!). We were separated and going through a divorce at the time. The divorce itself didnot cause me to get a DUI, though. There were many, many times in my past when I had closeencounters with the tragedy that accompanies alcoholism. There were fights, jail time for publicdrunkenness, drunk at work, though never fired, occasional blackouts, one car crash, and the list goeson. I was caught driving drunk twice, but there were several times when I could have killed anotherperson or persons or myself while driving. I was walking on the edge and each time I would back away,take a break from drinking and tell myself the same lie. “You’re ok, just a one-time thing. Stay off thesauce for a few days.” Believing this lie was my biggest mistake. I racked up quite a list of “one-time”events over twenty-five years. By the grace of God and the help and care of others, tragedy did notbefall me. It was, however, always close at hand. It is important to note that, as I reflect back now, myattitude toward the DUI and the classes that followed (as well as the jail time) was one of victim. Thisdoes not make sense to me now but at the time that is how I thought – my reality. The victim mentalitywas reinforced by the relationships, brief though they were, that developed with the folks who attendedthe mandatory post-DUI classes. After we shared how the system had sucked us in, we went on to bragabout how we didn’t have a problem with alcohol and how we had just been “unlucky” this time. Everynow and then we would explore the causes, do a little objective analysis of our past and try to make aplan how we might change our distorted reality but most of the time we just bragged. We just “did ourtime” replacing reality with a program that could rarely be sustained outside of the meeting walls andtoo often repeated our mistakes. Repentance, the willingness to turn around and change direction, wasnot emphasized nearly as much as it should have been. Begging for forgiveness for having fallen off thewagon was praised, but repentance was rarely explored. The full activity of repentance, that isobserving one’s condition, reflecting on the causes and realities being lived out that cause the condition,then the willingness and agreement to turn around and go a different direction are critical to movinginto the recovery phase. Without repentance, we are doomed to repeat the same reality.My second DUI occurred at an entirely different phase of my life. I was traveling to customer sites,giving presentations and at the top of my professional game. I had alcohol under control! This was thefirst myth I was living. During a week-long business trip I controlled my drinking (only a couple of beersa night) and went into the final day with great confidence and a feeling of accomplishment. Thecustomer was happy, I had a dedicated wife waiting for me and my golf swing was really improving! Ontop of the world…in control…let’s party! I had a few shots with beer chasers and a very fine steak,medium rare. Not a problem. I am in control. This was the reoccurring mistake I had been making formany years: I AM IN CONTROL. I had proved this to myself time and time again. What was my proof?No tragedy had befallen me! I was living on the edge of an abyss, looking over into the darkness andlaughing at how close I was without falling in. Sometimes I rushed to the edge and stopped suddenly,scared yet excited. Most of the time I wandered over and looked down, shouting “You won’t have me!”and listening to the eerie, hollow echo of my own voice calling back to me. The reality is we are moreAvoiding the Abyss Page 1
  2. 2. Avoiding the Abyss – The Testimony of a Functional Alcoholiclikely than not to fall over that edge. Sometimes there is a moment of grace that keeps us from falling.Sometimes grace lets us fall a short distance onto a ledge just below the edge. Inevitability, if we keepflirting with the abyss it will have us. We will go over that edge and keep falling. The bottom is hard andcold and for many it becomes their final resting place.It was the last night before going home, the customer trip was a success, and I got really drunk. I left therestaurant and found a pool hall. I drove just a mile or so away from the motel. I was in control – Icould handle it. I parked and went in and started playing pool. It became apparent to me that I neededto slow down the drinking for a while so I could focus on the balls. My plan was to just buy one beer andnurse it until the edge of the cue ball stopped dancing back and forth. This is another of those myths wealcoholics like to believe. A beer or two is not bad. Just control the intake for a while and you will befine. This was reinforced by the many times I had stopped drinking all together. I could go an entiremonth or so without having a drink. Surely that proves I am in control. Sometimes I could have arefrigerator full of beer or several bottles of scotch sitting around and never take a drink. Surely thisproves I am in control. At some point that night “I am in control” morphed into “I don’t give a shit anymore”. When that happened the shots started flying again. Eventually I was drunk and way out ofcontrol. The cops found me sleeping it off in the rental car, in the pool hall parking lot, keys in theignition. At some point I must have tried to drive back to the motel. However, I never made it out ofthe parking lot. How lucky was that! I was taken to jail and charged with a DUI. What happened nextwas a sequence of grace moments that changed my life forever.The next morning I called the customer I had been working with for the past week. To this day I do notremember his name. I told him what had happened and that I needed $500 to make bail. I told him Iwould pay him back as soon as I got home. Now, why should this man help me? He had only known mefor a few days. Why would he even care? In spite of the odds he said he would come down and bail meout. After he picked me up he drove me back to the motel, gave me his address, and said goodbye. Inever saw him again. I don’t think he ever expected to see his money again, but he gave it to meanyway.After he dropped me off I started to review the events of the past few hours and what affects they weregoing to have on my life. I recalled the judge’s statements to me seven years before when I got the firstDUI. “Sir, you have a problem and you are likely to repeat it if you do not take your situation seriously.The statistics show that in cases like yours a reoccurrence will happen in about seven years.” Here itwas, about seven years later, and I was charged with another DUI. I had not really listened to what thejudge was saying seven years earlier. I had not taken my situation seriously in spite of an automobileaccident that could have killed me, or worse, someone else. Back then I had run up to the edge of thatabyss, yelled down into the darkness, “Not this time!” What I did not realize is that seven years earlier Ihad actually gone over the edge. For seven years I had been wandering on a ledge and now I hadslipped off. This time, though, it felt like a freefall into the darkness I had once mocked. This time thebottom was coming up fast. My job would be gone. My wife would leave me. I would spend the nextyear behind bars (this the judge had promised). Life as I knew it was unraveling rapidly and there wasnothing I could do about it. The bottom of that abyss was coming up fast and the darkness envelopedme like a black, suffocating blanket. I began to feel trapped and filthy as the floor of the pit grew closer.Avoiding the Abyss Page 2
  3. 3. Avoiding the Abyss – The Testimony of a Functional AlcoholicI took a shower, cleaned myself up, and started sobering up. I began to feel better until the darknessstarted to close in again. The realization that a totally different reality was about to consume me beganto sink in, a reality that I had no control over yet I had brought into existence. A cold chill began tocreep down my spine and I felt too weak to stand. I fell to my knees as a flood of emotion poured overme. I cried, “Oh, Lord, what have I done?” Then I began to pray, “Forgive me, Jesus, forgive me!”That’s all that would come out of my mouth for several minutes. After all the years of attempting tojustify my drinking, after telling myself all the lies and after living all the myths, all I could say in mydefense was “Forgive me.” Soon the sobbing began to subside and I heard a voice clearly say “FollowMe”. Not two or three times, just once: “Follow Me”. An unexplainable calm surrounded me, a sensethat no matter what happens from this point on, if I obeyed and followed Him, I would make it. I wasgiven no guarantee that the things I feared would go away or not happen, just a sense of peace that as Iwent through them He would be with me if I followed Him. I had stopped falling down through theabyss. It was as if God’s angels had swooped down and grabbed me by the shoulders, baring me out ofthe darkness and into the light. I wasn’t sure what would happen next, but I was sure that whatever itwas, He would be with me and right then that was all that mattered.The days, months, and years that followed were not easy. I had to pay for the mistakes I had made. Ihad to go to those I had hurt and ask for forgiveness. I did not lose my job or my wife, but I did losemany friends who would no longer associate with me. If you have read down this far you may even beready to disassociate yourself from what I am saying writing it off as some kind of religious garbage. Ifyou feel that way my experience may not help you. If you really felt that way, though, you would havestopped reading before now. Consider your own life right now. Have you been living your own mythsand lies? Are you in the same place you have been in for so many years and are you tired of that place?Have you tried all the programs that try to get you headed down a different path? How are theyworking for you? Jesus Christ, the Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary, crucified, dead and burieddescended into the hell we create for ourselves and frees all those whom He calls. He ascended intoHeaven and is now seated at the right hand of God, the Father. His program is the only one that reallyworks and He promises to go through it with you. All you have to do is say “Forgive me, Jesus, forgiveme”. I pray that you do. I promise you will hear his voice say “Follow Me”.I have been sober for nineteen years now, not by chance, by choice. I chose to accept the forgivenessoffered to me and to work toward changing a distorted reality. I stood back, observed and reflected onwhat had been happening to me, my life, and those around me, and where I would eventually end up if Icontinued on the same path. I repented, for the first time in my life, which required me not only to askfor forgiveness but to also agree to stop, turn around, and take a different path, one that did not includealcohol. I allowed people to hold me responsible and accountable for this new life plan and then I beganto live into it. When I got weak, folks reminded me of the commitment I made and I remembered God’svoice from the motel room floor, “Follow me”.What is a functional alcoholic? The website,http://alcoholism.about.com/od/problem/a/functional.htm, gives an excellent definition and describesthe signs. It was written by Buddy T. and posted on About.com on updated on October 31, 2012. Iwould encourage you to visit the site. Here’s an excerpt from the site:Avoiding the Abyss Page 3
  4. 4. Avoiding the Abyss – The Testimony of a Functional AlcoholicDenial Runs Deep With This Type of DrinkerMany people think of alcoholics as disheveled, homeless winos who have lost everything, but there arepeople who meet the criteria for a medical diagnosis for alcohol dependence who are highly functionalin society and still have their jobs, homes and families. This type of drinker is known as a functionalalcoholic. They rarely miss work and other obligations because of their drinking, although it does happenoccasionally, and they usually excel at their jobs and careers. Typically, they are clever and wittyindividuals who are successful in many areas of their lives. To all but those who are closest to them, theygive the outward appearance of being perfectly normal.Denial Is a Problem One of the main reasons that alcoholics seek help for their drinking problems is the eventual negativeconsequences of their alcohol consumption. When the pain or embarrassment gets bad enough, theycan no longer deny that their drinking needs to be addressed.For the functional alcoholic, the denial runs deep, because they have yet to encounter outwardnegative consequences. They go to work every day. They havent suffered financially. They have neverbeen arrested. They dont have a problem!But There Is a Problem The functional alcoholic consumes as much alcohol as any "full-blown" alcoholic, they just dont exhibitthe outward symptoms of intoxication. This is because they have developed a tolerance for alcohol tothe point that it takes more for them to feel the effects (including hangovers). Consequently, they mustdrink increasingly larger amounts to get the same "buzz" they want. This slow build-up of alcohol tolerance means the functional alcoholic is drinking at dangerous levelsthat can result in alcohol-related organ damage, cognitive impairment and alcohol dependence. Chronicheavy drinkers can display a functional tolerance to the point they show few obvious signs ofintoxication even at high blood alcohol concentrations, which in others would be incapacitating.God Bless You,Bob, A Recovered AlcoholicAvoiding the Abyss Page 4