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Tools for fighting alcoholism

December 2, 2015

Captain Michael Morse, retired, Providence Fire Department

Use the hammer, dummy!
We have tools. You wouldn’t use your forehead to hammer a nail into a wall, or force a door with your teeth instead of using a Halligan bar, would you? Tools make difficult jobs easier.

And fighting alcoholism is definitely one difficult job. Why then, do so many people choose to leave the tools at their disposal in the toolbox when they decide that enough is enough? In my case, I knew about AA, but I didn’t think of it as a tool to use in accomplishing a goal. To view going to AA meetings as “picking up a tool” would only have required a simple flip of the mind, and it could have taken some of the hangdog resistance out of my attitude. But I just didn’t see it at the time.

I knew I had to stop abusing alcohol. I hung on to the belief that someday, if I tried really hard, I would be able to drink like a “normal person.” So I tried. And failed. And tried some more. And failed some more. Every time I attempted to control my drinking I did so using my favorite tool, my own awesomeness. I thrived on being able to handle any and all situations. I was a take charge guy, could build stuff, play hockey and take care of my family. Putting the drink aside was simple, I figured; just don’t drink.

Never once did I stop to analyze why I was successful at so many things but an utter failure at controlling my alcoholism. Had I slowed down for a moment, and given a thought to how I had managed to build stuff, play hockey, and take care of my family, I would have seen exactly how I did it.

Life with tools

You can’t frame a room with your bare hands – well maybe if you’re building a mud hut. If I tried to take care of my family without using tools like banks, checking accounts, cars and money my family would be living in a cave eating bark and berries, with maybe a large insect for Christmas dinner, if I could catch one. We can’t take a blood pressure reading by sheer force of will, we need tools for that job, just as we can’t defibrillate a person in cardiac arrest by thinking really hard about delivering a shock.

Just like thriving in the modern world requires tools, so does maintaining contented sobriety. Sure I could go for weeks, even months at a time, without drinking – if I white knuckled it and made everybody around me miserable. “Dry drunk” is the term they use for the state I was in. I hated that expression, when I first heard it, and refused to believe that it pertained to me. I was controlling my tendency to drink a little too much now and then by abstaining from alcohol, and damn it, everybody should appreciate it! I did it for them after all.

When my tool-less foray into recovery failed, it was everybody else’s fault. I had what it took, the fact that nobody appreciated it was their problem, not mine. So I buried another failure into my subconscious and went back to the behavior I knew best.

Until the next time

It wasn’t until I finally hit bottom that I learned how to use the tools at my disposal. Nobody was going to show me how to use them, or put them into my hands, I had to seek them out. The first tool that I used was the phone book. There was actually a listing for Alcoholics Anonymous in there!

I wrote the number down, put it in my pocket, and drank heavy for a few days while I contemplated everything in my life up to that point. It was then that I used the second tool: the phone itself!

As much as I dislike calling the person who answered the phone “a tool,” in terms of my search for answers he turned out to be exactly that. Without him I would not have known where to follow up on that call, and would have wandered around town in search of others like me to hang around with. Poking my head into random church basements asking “are you the AA meeting?” did not seem very productive, so I used the tools he gave me, and followed the address I had written on a piece of paper and attended the best tool of them all, my first AA meeting.

The tools are there. Every person who struggles with addiction knows how to use them. Sometimes it takes years to finally pick one up and put it to work. Why waste any more time banging your head against a wall when building sobriety is far more obtainable by using the tools at your disposal?

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