This is the fourth in a series about what to expect at Schick Shadel Hospital. I was going to talk about the rest of the stuff—the lectures, movies, and counseling (group or individual) we had every day, but instead, I’m going to talk about something really basic: Alcoholism is a disease. Because you need to get this. If you are thinking about your addiction in any other terms, you are suffering needlessly.
Before I came to Schick, when I thought about my out-of-control drinking, I would see it first as a lack of will power, a psychological thing I needed to conquer. After all, I gave up smoking. I stopped biting my nails. I SHOULD BE ABLE TO STOP DRINKING! I sure didn’t think of what I had as a disease. I remember asking myself over and over: “What’s wrong with me that I can’t stop!”
At Schick I learned that addiction is a disease. Let me repeat that: addiction is a disease. I probably should have started the blog series with this. How many of you thought you were weak, or had fatal moral failings? How many of you have been beating yourself up over your “lack of will power?” The late Dr. Smith, Medical Director of Schick at the time I was there, did a three-day lecture series called: “Medical Aspects of Addiction and Treatment” where we learned about the disease of alcoholism.
He told us: “In many cases it appears to be a genetically transmitted biochemical defect. In other cases, it appears to be caused by repeated episodes of heavy drinking bombarding the body’s physiology, resulting in the inability to handle alcohol normally. The disease may be aggravated by psychological and/or social pressures and is characterized by a typical progression of drinking behavior.”
I have to tell you, accepting my own alcoholism as a disease made me have to rethink all my feelings about my father. Because I thought he was weak. I thought he had moral failings. Yet, here I was, trying to get treatment for the very thing I scorned him for. I didn’t know what to do with my anger and disappointment toward him and my brothers (one died of a heroin overdose, one of alcohol poisoning. Both in their 40’s, ten months apart.
I had a lot of thinking to do. I hated my father for the pain he caused us. I was terrified of his mercurial temper. I was mortified by his behavior. But he tried to control his drinking—he attended AA meetings at various times, and I know he went into detox treatment several times while I was growing up. Sometimes he stayed sober a long time afterward, other times only a few days. I now imagine talking with him: “Dad, I’m sorry you never were able to control your disease. I’m sorry for what you put us through when you were drunk. I’m sorry for what you went through.”
Yes, all sorts of things come up at Schick. Accepting what you have for what it is might cause you some discomfort. It might cause you to reexamine your relationships with the addicts in your life. But it’s a good starting place, because you’re starting with the truth.
To be continued…