Often, we are taught that addiction is something intrinsic to a person’s personality, to their nature and identity. This is why the Twelve Step programmes refer to the stock character of The Alcoholic or The Addict, having defining characteristics that can be recognised by all people undergoing similar struggles. In other words, a lot of the time addiction becomes not a behaviour, but an identity. As an identity, it is harder to shake. If you are, for example, an alcoholic, your behaviour will always be informed by this identity. You will, as the literature states, never be able to drink “like a gentleman.” Your character itself prevents this from being a possibility because it is a trait of your character that you will lose control after the first drink. At least, if you’re a “true alcoholic.”
I am going to make a controversial statement here.
I was an alcoholic.
For many years, I drank to excess on an almost daily basis. So often that I can actually count instances in which I didn’t drink (the time I had labyrinthitis, for example). My behaviours were certainly those associated with alcoholism: I lied about my actions; I drank to excess; I lost control.
But I got better.
How I did this remains a mystery to me. It’s as if one day I was tee-total through complete fear of the consequences of my drinking and the next… I wasn’t. It wasn’t easy. I had several “benders” when I went back to drinking at first. I put this down partly to the addiction model itself: as I had been told I would lose control, and believed I would lose control, I did. A self-fulfilling prophecy. I also put it down to the fact that I wasn’t fully well yet. In time, though, my behaviour changed. I am able to drink in moderation- and I say this in all honesty, not lying to you, not lying to myself.
I know how much the disease model of addiction helps people. I am not even denying that it is real. I only know that for me, it proved to be untrue: there was a way back. This may be rare, but it is true. Perhaps I was never a “true” alcoholic- but I fit all the criteria for one. What I see now, is that it was behavioural. An entrenched behaviour, sure, and an almost impossible one to modify. But it wasn’t impossible.
I understand why some people never drink again. I see that as a success story. But for me, learning moderation was a major success too.