When I was a few years sober I spent a summer in New Jersey and kept hearing people saying “I was a garden variety drunk.” I wasn’t exactly sure what this meant so I did what I was taught, I asked someone (sidebar – Normal people know to do things like this. I needed to be taught that not only is it OK to ask people things but that it can be really helpful! I had developed the bad idea that I should know everything so there is no way I was asking anyone anything. You might think I was stupid).
The term garden variety drunk simply meant you were a run-of-the-mill alcoholic. In some sense it is a way to address talking about your alcoholism with some humility. No need for a glorified story about wild and crazy drinking exploits – please check your drunkalogue at the door.
Listening to the speaker at the meeting I was at yesterday I was struck with how it was just such a typically AA story. Man finds liquor, drinks, becomes alcoholic, learns he is alcoholic, and eventually gets sober in AA. The thought came to mind that his story was a Garden Variety AA Story. Besides the personality of the person talking and the details he discussed (I enjoyed that aspect of hearing him speak as well), I felt it was a well delivered message about how AA works. Humble in its telling, no glorification of what happened in spite of their being plenty of things that could have been played up, talk about bridging the gap from discovering his alcoholism and eventually seeking out what AA offered, and a genuine gratitude for what AA has provided him – an answer to his drinking problem!
I was struck with one other thing too. He talked about everything being fine in numerous situations while he was drinking. It occurred to me that we as alcoholics are mostly fine with life when little comes between us and our drinking. If we can find the ways and means of comfortably drinking in a manner we like, our life is pretty good. Of course being a drunk means there is unmanageability that goes with the territory. Maybe not so much at first but it will find you eventually. And often get worse, and worse……
Early on in many alcoholics lives there are many ways to mitigate the potential troubles that come with drinking too much. Or simply fool yourself into thinking the drinking is fine and the other stuff if manageable. As time goes on it gets harder to do both of these things. But therein lies the key to our beginning to face our alcoholism and hopefully think about getting sober.
The first step says “We admitted we were powerless of alcohol AND that our lives had become unmanageable.”
It was putting these two ideas together in the same space in my head and heart that was important. My drinking history only spans a decade because I was drug down fast. I had an idea within the first few years of my drinking that I did not have much control. I did not care because it was one of the few things I had ever found that I really, really liked to do. I also ran into problems that were clearly manageability issues. I rarely looked at how these things were connected to my drinking. One of my favorites strategies for doing this was deflection, as in I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, people just need to leave me alone or it was not my fault.
I could sum this up by saying I liked to focus on minimizing the problems and on the fact the drinking made me feel good. Yes, I was a garden variety drunk.
What I needed to do, face, recognize, and feel in my gut was – in spite of the fact that drinking made me feel good the other things that drinking gave rise to meant drinking was unsafe. Accidentally peeing my pants was one thing. Needing to be hospitalized and on the brink of death….a bit more serious and harder to ignore. Yet I did not pick up on how serious this was the first time I was in this situation.
I was an alcoholic AND drinking was destroying my life.
My sobriety literally started from the moment I had a spiritual experience that allowed me to know that these two things were absolutely true. This hit me like a ton of bricks and I have not had to drink since that day.
One thing that keeps me on my toes is that I have met plenty of people that lived and even died with this same knowledge in their head and in their heart. I cannot imagine what it must be like to drink and known this. What I do know is it is possible for me to learn this firsthand. All I would have to do is ignore doing what I know I need to do in order to keep my sobriety.
Wishing you all the best in sobriety,