Yikes! It was the third time this week, and it was still Tuesday. “Dude, you’d better get off the booze.” It didn’t matter where Dishonest John went—it followed him everywhere. Dammit, at least his bowling team was supposed to be on his side, wasn’t it? Sheesh!
He pointed at a few nearby barflies in protest. “Whoa, now! What about them?” His familiar Budweiser accent boomed, rattling the establishment’s stemware. “Get off my back! I ain’t that bad!”
After the outburst, he snatched his bottle and slipped back into his comfort zone directly across from the barmaid and his blurry reflection in the tavern mirror. “… Ain’t that bad…,” he grumbled to anyone who would listen. Meanwhile, legions of dipsomaniacs who populate bars and easy chairs everywhere are singing the same old tune. Many will succumb to despair if they don’t cease their deadly dance with denial.
Twelve Step Recovery shops everywhere have shelves full of coffee mugs, T-shirts and fridge magnets that wisely proclaim ‘Denial is not a river in Egypt’. Likewise, ‘Despair is not a tire in your trunk with no air in it’, either. It’s the real thing– just not a big seller.
To further complicate matters, a time-honored but questionable cliché is often echoed at recovery meetings, declaring ‘No one can tell you you’re an alcoholic.’ It’s no surprise that it’s popular with many newer members—it harmonizes perfectly with denial. However, a contrary pearl of wisdom reveals, ‘We were the last ones to know’. Now if everybody else knew, why didn’t they tell us?
Evidently, it’s not difficult to decipher, and a no-brainer for the friends and loved ones who were replaced by a liquid friend. When we’re finally confronted with the pain and problems our drinking caused, we respond with defiance, disbelief or apathy, and top it off with a lethal dose of stink-eye. Fortunately for them, they don’t adhere to the wisdom that lies in No Pain, No Gain; the lucky ones recognize a losing battle and beat feet for greener pastures.
Along with the rest of the bottle-tipping gang, I was delusional when it came to my boozing. Things were getting out of hand, but I wasn’t pointing any fingers at the real culprit; the subtle lies alcohol told me gradually disguised themselves as truths, and I believed them. They burrowed deeply into all my excuses. Every wretched bender was followed by self-enforced periods of sobriety, but my reality flybys back to the wreckage were awkward and painful. During those times, my brief interludes of not-drinking always drove me back to drinking. But of course, I couldn’t see it that way—I just thought I overreacted.
Consequently, I tried different methods and initiated new rules, hoping they would reinstate my past partying success and eliminate my frequent troubles. Ultimately, worse problems bottlenecked as I persisted, followed by a fitful series of collapsible bottoms. When the time finally came for a little Reality Check, I knew my next jag might be the bottomless one. And that’s a long way down. It was time to surrender.
Still, even though the calamity of my boozing was unmistakable, the early days of my recovery were littered with obstacles. The biggest hurdle I faced was that I had to diagnose myself, and I didn’t want to be an alcoholic. Nobody in my worldwide peer group did. During this self-diagnostic tug-of-war that’s tilted in King Alcohol’s favor, I naturally compared my drinking to every hooch hound I knew. After this absurd process began, clues to a sanity glitch were glaring.
When I realized the dire implications of having this disease and that my only solution might be sobriety, I immediately came down with a fresh dose of denial to go with a bad case of the blues. If it was a booze ballad, it would go something like this…
“Them Denial By Comparison Blues”
Jail time from a life of crime, or closet drunk who’s in a funk?
Kicked out of the bar? Misplaced the car?
Job loss and still on the sauce?
Lost the money? Been walkin’ funny?
Count me in—Wait! Count me out.
Denial’s what it’s all about.
Any nut house stays? Drinkin’ Spouse-Away?
Havin’ spells of DTs? Walkin’ on your knees?
Seen men in white suits, or just snakes in your boots?
Pink elephants or blue monkeys? Gnats or white snakes?
Will gin or cheap whiskey smooth out them shakes?
Count me in—Wait! Count me out.
Denial’s what it’s all about.
You know, I mighta did that, but I never done this.
I may be a lush, but I’m not on your list.
I still ain’t beat by the booze–
I got them denial by comparison blues.
Because the Compare-a-Drunk-a-Meter I devised was the quintessential tool to reinforce my denial, it had to be disabled before I could honestly assess my symptoms. Inasmuch as drinking patterns and problems vary in many ways, no cookie-cutter diagnosis for this malady was possible. We’re all a little different. Hence, such diversity in the broad spectrum of the alcoholic’s sad plight leads many to a stubborn chorus of the ‘I never’s’–
“Hey, I never went to jail!”
“I never actually jaywalked.”
“Bladder malfunction? Not me!”
“Dry heaves? Sure, but I never scared ALL the birds in the neighborhood away.”
And the classic Wino Joe-ism–“I never got a sunburn on the roof of my mouth!”
A long, ugly list spills into the detox wards and graveyards of every town. How bad would it have to get? How many drinkers would have to undergo every god-awful thing they heard before admitting they’re an alcoholic? Believe it or not, some might twist it that far.
From across the bar, Dishonest John pointed out he’d never been divorced, but I suggested, “Dude, you gotta get married first.” He didn’t like that either.
And so what if I lit the wrong end of a cigarette a few times—it could happen to anybody. Besides, I never smoked the entire filter. I really wasn’t that bad… Hey, maybe I’m not an alcoholic?
And by the way, I’m pretty sure I never saw a pink elephant in my travels, either. I rest my case.
Then again, I did see the gnats the last time I quit. A rambunctious cloud of them in my living room late in December, hovering off to my right— the side where my eye doesn’t work. There’s at least a couple of things wrong with that. I was too busy shaking to analyze it, though, and simply shrugged it off as seeing things. However, I have an elephant like a memory—it was plain something wasn’t right here. I knew I hadn’t miraculously regained my vision after having the Mother of All Hangovers. There was something odd about those gnats, not to mention the case of the jitters that gripped me…
Ever since man crushed grapes, folks wisecracked about drunks seeing blue monkeys and pink elephants when they came off the booze. Cowboy lore of the Wild West spun wild tales of cowpokes with DTs who had ‘snakes in their boots’. The chatter spread from the prairie to the far-out urban legends of Technicolor chimps and elephants, to the annoying gnats in my living room. My first sponsor was captivated by it all. It didn’t take much.
His perspective was compromised by the nonstop spacing-out he did in the seventies, which led to his aversion to Sir Isaac Newton’s classic line, “Whatever goes up, must come down.” His goal in life must have been to defy the laws of gravity of the Hippy Happy-Hour as much as possible. “I tell ya—some guy gets plunked by an apple, and he goes around making rules for everybody!” he complained. “It ain’t right!” When he was out there ripping and running, he hit up everyone he knew, everywhere he went— “Got anything for the head?” I would have offered him a mask.
When I first went to meetings, he’d pat me on the back and say “Ever seen a pink elephant?” with a “Yuck-yuck” afterwards, like Goofy from a Disney cartoon. He talked like that. It was a little embarrassing. I was pretty sure he’d taken too many trips or had one too many slips.
Undeniably, I still had a bit of rebel in me. ‘I know they say– Relate, don’t compare,’ I thought, ‘but I’m comparing this one.’ I wasn’t quite sure where he was going with all of this. It was plain that seeing pink elephants would be symptomatic of a rare and extremely advanced type of alcoholism, and that definitely wasn’t me. Compared to that, I had a mild case. I suspected he fell out of his car one too many times on his head. Exactly on the spot that had some brain in it.
I wondered, ‘What do pink elephants have to do with it anyway?’ I knew you didn’t have to see one to be an alcoholic—if you did, it would have been at the top of the Almighty Twenty Questions.
On the other hand, I don’t know what else you’d be if you ‘seen one’. All doubt would be removed—a real game-changer in diagnosing a drunk. Just check the pink elephant box and get yourself a coffee. You’re in.
Nevertheless, even though there were times I drank too much, I wasn’t a morning guzzler, and haven’t been in jail or the nuthouse, either. Plus, I never missed work on payday—you really have to be bad to do that. And this lush never spotted a blue monkey or red giraffe, and I doubt if I ever would. Myself, I saw the gnats. A cloud of them. And maybe pink elephants in a blackout or a mirage, who knows, but absolutely no snakes in my boots.
I didn’t own any boots. Hey—maybe I’m not an alcoholic?
Maybe I’m not a crackpot, either. But don’t compare. Relate.
It just might save your life.