Alcoholism: – The disease of perception
Getting sober in AA
I soon found out why I drank after getting sober. Early recovery was awful. I will never forget what my mental and emotional state was like after putting down the alcohol. If I knew how traumatic my new sober life was going to be, I’m not sure I would have ever stopped drinking. Of course, now that I know that recovery is possible for the worst of us, I would have found a sponsor and started taking suggestions a lot sooner.
Problems other than alcoholism
I was one of those alcoholics who suffered “from grave emotional and mental disorders.” Looking back, I had little or no “capacity to be honest” (BB p 58). It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that I was very unwell. Alcohol was the glue that held me together. Without it, I fell apart and usually jumped straight into a new addiction. It gradually became apparent that I had problems other than alcoholism.
It was in my best interests to seek psychiatric help. I was prescribed mood-stabilizing medication. It enabled me to function and gave me a quality of life that I could tolerate. The doctor gave me another diagnosis that went hand in hand with my alcoholism. It was Borderline Personality Disorder. I certainly fulfilled all of the diagnostic criteria. In truth, as a newcomer to AA, I was too mentally unstable to do the steps. It didn’t help that I also didn’t believe in God.
Instead, I went into therapy in an attempt to heal the unresolved issues of my childhood. Surprisingly, talk therapies made me even angrier. I persevered with it for a long time, hoping it would help me. Despite medication, which ensured my survival, therapy took me to a very dark and lonely place. I was so angry that I was unapproachable. It became increasingly clear that something was seriously wrong with how I perceived myself, my history, and the world.
The disease of perception
With such a pessimistic worldview, I was unable to stay sober. I kept relapsing for a long time. One day, about five or six years into recovery, someone gave me an audio cassette of an AA circuit speaker. His name was Clancy. I went home and began to listen. The title of his talk was the ‘Disease of Perception.’ Despite my fragile mental health, I understood exactly what Clancy was talking about.
Clancy declared that for people who have alcoholism, alcohol wasn’t the problem. It was the solution to a conflicted and tortured inner duality. He went on to say that drunk or sober alcoholics twist their perception of reality beyond any normal and balanced reaction to life. Clancy believed that this made it a potentially killer illness. He called it a disease of perception. It was the first time I heard myself described in this way.
Personality disorder or untreated alcoholism
Clancy had described what I was like stone-cold sober. Was my poor mental health the result of my personality disorder, or was it untreated alcoholism? Perhaps it was both? At meetings, they were describing something they called a dry drunk—a state of abstaining from alcohol which, as time went on, becomes increasingly more intolerable. Perhaps Clancy was right; I was so impressed with his interpretation of alcoholism that I began to wonder. Was it possible that my borderline personality disorder was just an extreme case of the disease of perception?
On the day I listened to the audio cassette, I began to believe that alcoholism is truly an illness. At meetings, people shared about the dis-ease with a hyphen in the middle. Boy, could I relate to that! Since childhood, any sense of ease had been entirely alien to me. I was DIS-EASED in every area of life. Despite having a dual diagnosis, I was so impressed with Clancy’s interpretation of alcoholism that after many years of going to meetings, I decided to get a sponsor and give the program my best shot.
Trapped in the matrix of untreated alcoholism
For the longest time, I sponsored myself and could not stop relapsing. The AA program was my last hope. Perhaps the twelve steps would save me. As someone who didn’t believe in the traditional idea of God, I surrendered to a sponsor’s Good Orderly Direction (Acronym for God). He became the Morpheus who freed me from the matrix of delusion.
In hindsight, I lived in a world of illusion. The illness condemned me to play my perception of reality through a distorted prism of blame, resentment, and self-pity. Fear was at the heart of my “twisted thinking” (BB p 133). I was afraid of finally facing myself and taking responsibility for the carnage I had created as a practicing drunk.
Freedom from the bondage of self
The twelve steps gradually opened the door to a new life experience. Truth has removed the fear that kept me in the “bondage of self.” (BB p. 63) It has also raised my consciousness. I am happy to call this enormous change in my attitude to life a non-God-centered spiritual awakening. Whenever I connect to this higher consciousness, it does for me what I could not do for myself.
I have become a seeker after the truth. The self-honesty that I learned from my sponsor and step work has set me free. AA has taught me that true happiness is possible when I practice love and service to others. These principles have become my primary purpose.
It no longer matters to me if I suffer from borderline personality disorder. What I discovered was that this mental health problem has also responded to AA’s program of action. The twelve steps have freed me from the matrix of this “cunning, baffling and powerful” (BB p, 58) disease of perception.