By Joel Travelstead
My name is Joel and I am an alcohol abuser. I have decided to go public with an imperfect understanding of this addiction. I will remain open and embracing of the best treatment modality for me and work to discover what underlies this compulsion.
I have been in addiction therapy for over two years. One might wonder if therapy is working for me. A fair question. I have not been agile enough to avoid the bumps on the road to recovery. Yet, with the ability to rebound and act on the new knowledge, failure is not permanent. I have told myself that this new path will be difficult, but not impossible.
I have been graced, or so I believed, with an underlying benefit that my addiction is not a chemical dependency. In therapy, this distinction is defined, not celebrated. Yet hearing this led me to false conclusions regarding the severity of my addiction and the likelihood of relapse.
I told myself I can be a moderate social drinker or I can choose to quit, which I have done at times with limited success. Then I continued to drink because I told myself that I can stop. But I haven’t wanted to stop.
So, with a recent (fortunately, one-car) accident, I am now clear that my abuse is every bit as addictive as chemical dependency.
I expect to be coping with this, adopting strategies that will keep me on the right path and, in ways yet undecided, raise the awareness of the general population for the rest of my life. Coming clean with my commitment is the first step.
For as long as I can remember, I have been tantalized by the lure of the chemical fix. As a child, I observed adults, without judgment or preconception, in various stages of intoxication. In the climate of the times, intoxication was part of the culture. The Mad Men TV series captured that essence and I embraced it all. Then, in New York, my home state, the legal drinking age for all alcoholic beverages was 18. But by 15 the impulse to experience its effects took hold. Small sips from my parents’ liquor cabinet, then other sources led to partying. On weekends I looked forward to shooting hoops and slurping beer.
College and fraternity life came next. Not much mystery there. Then, following school, I served eight years in the Air Force as a flying officer. Still reckless in that culture, which reinforced the normalcy of my behavior. This is in no way an expose or indictment of the military. Yet, for some like me, “12 hours between the bottle and the throttle” was a slogan, not the reality.
Since moving to Twisp some 43 years ago, my drinking remained within what I self-described as nearly normal. A reckless driving conviction in 2013 brought some temporary clarity and I quit. In therapy I was afforded some options (recently). A drug designed to mitigate cravings proved to be less effective in my case. The missing ingredients were, and are, character and commitment and getting beyond denial. My second offense, or the second time I am being held accountable, on last Sept. 27, resulted from my crashing my car into a ditch. Thankfully, no one was injured.
To be clear, my decision to expose myself to scrutiny is not an indictment of the responsible, pleasurable and socially acceptable use of alcohol. I know that I will have to forgo what I thought of as a perfect complement to dining, socializing and even cooking.
Alcoholism has been described as the liar’s disease. Yes, I will have to come clean and acknowledge myriad self-deceptions and come to realize, finally, how alcohol has blurred the path to discovering my own authenticity. And, I hope to dissolve the fear of missing out on something by not drinking.
Due to my longstanding pattern of abuse, and as a necessary part of my recovery, I have chosen abstinence. I want to be there for my grandchildren. My family has been wonderful, as have been the kind and generous people who bring me supplies and take me to our gigs, as part of my sentencing will involve a one-year suspension of my driving privileges.
I do not see myself as a victim. I’ve just made some very bad choices, and I want to change. Beyond doing no harm, it is my intention to do more good with your help. After decades of self-deception, I now recognize that I can’t do it on my own. As my life moves forward, I hope to find pleasure in each moment in the small things at home and in the company of others.
Joel Travelstead lives in Twisp.