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Circling the Drain of Alcoholism

Susanne Johnson
| April 30, 2017

I already knew that I was an alcoholic before I ever made the decision to stop drinking. How did I know? By the way I felt without alcohol in me. I often jokingly told my friends, “I don’t have a problem with alcohol, only without!” Ha, ha. What sounds like a funny joke line that made people laugh was actually the bitter truth.

Alcohol began to impact my life in my teen years. Since I was young, I would spend enormous amounts of time thinking about how to get my next drink. I felt crazy without alcohol. I was either sick from the last drunk and I thought I needed more. Other times, I was too sober to function, and I still thought that I needed something. Only another alcoholic can imagine how hard it is to concentrate on a simple task if all you think about is how to obtain a drink. Mistakes happen more and more. You can’t function properly while intoxicated, but you can’t function while you are sober, either.

I did not experience conflicts with the law, so legal actions were not what woke me up. I lost my driver’s license at the young age of 24 for a short time, but that only happened once and it was due to nothing serious. I have never been arrested. I attribute that small blessing more to luck than wisdom or proper planning. I even used drugs in middle eastern countries, where an arrest could have ended up in a disaster. While I was in the middle east, I even drove while I was intoxicated. I could have killed someone.

I was a Western foreigner living in Egypt. As such, I had lots of opportunities that locals did not have. We went diving in the Red Sea, we climbed Mount Sinai in the footsteps of Moses and the Exodus, we enjoyed the beaches of the Sharm El Sheik, we took walks in the Mediterranean town of Alexandria, went horseback riding around the pyramids of Giza, and made weekend trips into the Sahara. We even climbed on hands and knees into the pyramids to explore the Pharaoh’s worlds.

We had special colored license plates as non-citizens. Many of us had diplomatic vehicles, and we were usually not stopped by any officers. The fear of mobs and revenge of local bystanders, we were even advised not to stop in case of an accident, but to even act in a “hit and run” to home or a nearby embassy in case anything bad might happen. Drunk driving was not an illegal offense and was not controlled by law enforcement. You could drive with a beer can in your hand– and we all did plenty of times, especially on long distance trips. Drugs were readily available at low or no cost.

I remember one night clearly. I was stumbling out of the bar and I was totally wasted with my best friend from Germany at that time. We both had a car there and we were ready to go home and pass out. She said, “I can’t drive anymore! I said, “I can drive if you know the way; I can’t see the road.” And there we went, with me seeing double lines, driving without my headlights (I simply forgot to turn it on) at night. She instructed me from the passenger seat, “If you feel the next bump in the road, we must turn sharp left.” When we finally arrived home, she stepped out of my old S10 Blazer, and fell straight into the freshly sprinkled muddy flower bed beside the car, lying on her back, unable to get up, both of us laughing like idiots. We made it home again. Straight from the manure mud to the shower cabin, but home. It will happen again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next… same bar, same friend, same way home, same car, but accident free… again?

I lived that life for many years, first in Europe, then in Africa, later in the USA. I was circling the drain in floods of alcohol, ready to go down any minute, but unable to see it. I couldn’t see the problem simply because all my friends did the same thing, over and over again. It was “normal” to live this way. A million people can tell you that it’s not normal to live like that, but it’s all in your perspective at that moment and up to the people you hang out with. As long as everybody you know is doing the same thing, it can’t be bad, right?

What I didn’t see is that I didn’t do what my friends did. I can’t blame anyone for my addiction or my behavior. Although I lived in different continents and had different friends, it was all the same life with the same problems. I had the addiction in me long time before that. I chose my friends to match my lifestyle. It was my way of validating my alcoholism. If you are like I was, the theme is that “everything must be alright with me. I’m fine!”

Many parents believe that their kids come to addiction because they hang around with the wrong people. That’s at times entirely possible, but there is also that scenario that your kid IS “the wrong guy”. Also, since my teen years, my reality was to choose my friends hang-out preferences. For the most part, it’s probably a good mixture of all of those things.

I circled the drain for a long time. I was 42 years old when I finally found my way out. It was a last-minute rescue before my health conditions got so bad that the overwhelming fear of dying put that stopper into the drain and saved me. My poor health finally gave me the motivation to enter treatment.

My life has changed drastically for the better since I stopped drinking. I’m on dry ground and nothing is pulling me down anymore. Please never stop swimming, even if the drain seems so close. There is a helping hand available to pull you out of it. “Circling the drain” is described in a dictionary as “a project or campaign at the brink of failure”, or in medical terms, it can describe “near death”. I was near death, and my life was at the brink of a total failure before I entered recovery.

If you or someone you love is racing in circles around that drain right now, please don’t wait to get help. Please share this story with others, on your page, on Twitter or in a group. You never know when someone is feeling helpless, circling that drain, and in need of some hope to get out.

What was your stopper to avoid going down the drain? Legal issues? Your health? Your family? Please tell me what gave you the last minute rescue. I would love to hear your comments.

We do recover.
Susanne Johnson


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