I want my readers to step outside their normal patterns of thinking. Take a moment to remember your last Fourth of July Holiday. How did it go? I’ll illustrate mine: We gather around a pool, we barbeque – it’s a celebration of independence, meat, various salads and of course alcohol. It’s clockwork – it happens every year. It’s familial. It’s America.
Now imagine you’re an addict. I am. So if you’re not I’ll describe it for you. My Uncle Billy mans the grille. He’s a master – he can cook for 50 hungry folks and get the temperatures correct. He isn’t a chef. He’s a plumber by trade; but the man can navigate a BBQ. These type of events are typically centered on three things: Food, Family and Fun. The last component largely depends on who you are and where you are in your life. Kids have fun with games and splashing around in the pool. The adults – at my family gatherings, anyway – have fun by drinking alcohol and catching up. Again, I’m an addict and I’m no kid. I can’t take my eyes off of the cooler and I feel like my entire family knows it. They know I have a problem. Most of them don’t know I have a disease. Most of them wouldn’t look twice if I grabbed a cold one.
The lack of understanding addiction isn’t their fault. For those who are not directly affected by this disease – that is, those who are not addicts, usually aren’t exposed to the research on addiction. Take the grillmaster, Uncle Billy. He can have a drink, two drinks and stop for the rest of the afternoon. He’s perfectly content. That’s how alcohol should be used -like anything else, in moderation. But me, I have no “off switch.” I’ve tried to have one or two drinks. I usually wind up in a dangerous situation after countless libations.
My Uncle Billy has said things to me such as, “have a drink with me, what’s the big deal. Have one and we’ll go home.” He doesn’t understand it doesn’t work like that. That once triggered, the disease needs to be fed incessantly. That the first drink is never the only drink. It is only the first… of many.
What I am experiencing right now as I stare at this cooler are the symptoms of the disease of addiction – otherwise known as cravings. For people like Uncle Billy, cravings do not exist. He makes a choice and can stick to the limitations he sets. For me, I think about the substance often. I obsess over it when it’s around. Cravings tell me that I know I’m an addict and I need to be aware of how to control and treat my symptoms. Uncle Billy knows he has a cold when his throat is sore, he is congested and develops the sniffles. My symtoms are my cravings. They let me know I’m an addict.
Nearly 23 million Americans – almost one in 10 – are addicted to alcohol and other drugs. I wonder how many understand their cravings and how they work? I’m lucky that I know I have a disease. I’m lucky I understand my cravings. I’m lucky I know how to answer the question: “Why not just have one drink?”
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