Only July 1st in 1996 I celebrated the fact that I wasn’t an alcoholic by drinking many, many vodka lemonades with a stranger in a Minneapolis bar. My reasoning made sense at the time: I hadn’t had any alcohol for three months, so, surely, I must not be an alcoholic.
What I didn’t understand then is that how much, how often, when, or what I drink (or how long I don’t drink) doesn’t tell me much about my alcoholism. Whether I’m drinking or not, I’m allergic to alcohol. When I drink it, I experience almost immediately a physical craving for more. I simply don’t have the ability to moderate my drinking once I’ve started. We all know what drinking too much alcohol can lead to, ranging from a messy personal life to death of oneself or others. So, you’d think that stopping drinking would be the solution, right?
Well, in addition to the physical allergy, I also have a quirky brain that doesn’t let me remember I’m allergic. The book called Alcoholics Anonymous (also known as “the Big Book”) describes this as a “mental blank spot,” or a “peculiar mental twist.” No amount of will power will keep this truth — that I’m allergic to alcohol — in my brain. The “Big Book” even describes this as a kind of insanity, and I don’t use that word lightly. It’s baffling.
It turns out I needed to find a spiritual solution; the power I need to keep the truth in my brain — that I can’t drink safely — has to come from what I now call god. Other people call it spirit, a higher power, universal wisdom, or an infinite number of other terms. Through a 12 step program, I found a way to tap into that power with a focus on recovering from alcoholism, and it worked.
Each year in this last week of June and first week of July, I have faint memories of what it was like back then. The memories are fuzzy. What I remember most is how terrified I was, and how terrified I was that someone would find out I was so terrified. What people thought of me mattered a lot. And I suppose that’s probably true for most 20-somethings, but it was especially true for me. I felt like everyone else had been given an instruction book for life that I somehow missed out on.
Not drinking was only the beginning of my life getting better, but it was an important part of that beginning. After I stopped drinking, I found a way to live a life that is “happy, joyous, and free.” To keep that gift in my life, I need to continue expanding my spiritual life. And, let me tell you, addressing my own racism and the truth about white supremacy/racialized capitalism has been requiring deep spiritual growth. It’s only because I recovered from alcoholism that I’ve been able to begin facing my addiction to whiteness. In this part of my life’s journey, I’ve only just begun. Recovery through the 12 steps and the tools I learned in the fellowship of recovering people allow me to find courage and faith to stay on this path. And for that, I am so, so grateful.