Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Notes from an Abuser

Bourbon - I once drank almost an entire bottle in 6 hours.
Not cool or good for you.

Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.... topics I'm familiar with, but have remained tight lipped about. Until now and I don't know why I feeling the need to share, but I am. I know I usually "wow" you with funny stuff and couture opinions, but today I'm going deeper... much deeper. Bear with me or move on to something more "light". It's okay and I understand. Some days I want nothing but funny, as there is way to much Negative Nelly in the world.

Not negative, but awfully uppity for someone growing up on the Prairie

I think it may have been prompted by an upcoming, proposed change in the DSM-V release.  It includes merging alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence into a single new entry labeled "alcohol-use disorder". It struck a nerve with me. Not a bad nerve, but not a real good nerve either. It took me back to a dingy and poorly lit office... 18 years ago. Back to when I was 21 / 22 yrs of age and still in the USMC. I had just been diagnosed per the DSM-IV as an "alcohol abuser". The criteria listed in said manual is:

Alcohol Abuse:

A. maladaptive pattern of alcohol use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress, as manifested by one (or more) of the following, occurring within a 12-month period:

(1) recurrent alcohol use resulting in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home (e.g., repeated absences or poor work performance related to alcohol use; alcohol-related absences, suspensions, or expulsions from school; neglect of children or household) Nailed this one consistently. I was always late... despite that I was usually running to work.  In fact, I passed a company formation PT run one morning. Can't imagine what the C.O. of the company thought.
(2) recurrent alcohol use in situations in which it is physically hazardous (e.g., driving an automobile or operating a machine when impaired by alcohol use) I can honestly say that I wasn't guilty of this, as I didn't have a car. That was not alcohol related... just poor financial decisions made on my part, due to a huge ignorance of personal finance and credit matters.

(3) recurrent alcohol-related legal problems (e.g., arrests for alcohol-related disorderly conduct) I didn't get arrested by the Po-Po, but I had gotten into trouble for my tardiness once to often. The official charge was AWOL. Absent without Leave. I was 5 minutes late to work, but multiply that by 60 and you will be made an example of. I went before the company commander and received non-judicial punishment. (NJP) The punishment accorded to me?
 45 days Restriction  - The Marine Corps version of "grounding". You have to stay in your room unless you're working or eating. It didn't work, but that's another story.

45 days EPD - Cleaning transient rooms in the barracks and such.

2 months forfeiture of half my pay - My pay wasn't that much AND I still had a free roof over my head with three squares a day.

Mandatory Alcoholism Consult - Interview With the Vampire. Just kidding. It was an interview with a Staff Sergeant who was hungover. The result of that interview being diagnosed as an alcohol abuser and a two week treatment outpatient program.
(4) continued alcohol use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of the alcohol (e.g., arguments with spouse about consequences of Intoxication, physical fights) Certainly re-current due to re-occurring problems with supervisors and the Staff Judge Advocate.

B. The symptoms have never met the criteria for Alcohol Dependence - I won't bore you with a response to each of those bullet points, but I did not meet the criteria.

In all honesty, alcoholism and alcohol abuse was the norm in the Marine Corps. Much like the other service branches... it's a club of mostly young people, with stressful jobs who need an outlet. Often times, it is found in alcohol. (I.e. Work hard, play hard) At the time I was in, the accepted mindset was largely: Drinking hard is upholding tradition. In hindsight, it's easy to see how damaging it was... the failure to educate young Marines, men and women alike, about the dangers of alcoholism and abuse.

Especially a Marine like me, who was/is genetically predisposed to alcoholism and started drinking at age 14.... I'm now 39, a month removed from 40. That's 25+ years of not just drinking, but often times abusing. Fortunately, in the 18 years that have passed since being diagnosed, my drinking pattern has changed. It's no longer a case of the "Get drunk or go home" mentality that I subscribed to in the Marine Corps. Now... it's more along the lines of "Do I want a beer? I do, so I'm going to drink a beer" I don't drink everyday and I go days in between. I don't have to drink, but I just like to do so. It's that simple. Sometimes I over drink though and that is what scares me. I'm with friends or in a drinking setting and all of a sudden, I turn into Kesha. I'm like "No, the party don't start until I walk in"

It's troubling because more often than not, my kids see it. What message am I sending, in addition to the alcohol ads that proliferate the television airwaves coaxial cable/satellite signals, to my children. Drinking is what adults do? It's cool?

Have never encountered this situation
when drinking a Bud Light

The answer is a resounding: NO. Dad is an alcohol abuser at times and this is exactly what you have to avoid; experimenting with and drinking young... because of our genetics.

Use of alcohol is okay. WHEN YOU"RE OF LEGAL AGE and in moderation. You don't have to kill a 6 pack or 12 pack because it's in the fridge and you can get more. Be smart. Have a plan when you drink and never get behind the wheel, ever. Pick up the phone and call a sober driver.

These are the things I am vowing to tell my children. To make sure they understand. Cycles have endings and my family's cycle needs to end now.



  1. I love this. Really, really love it. I think this is very true in the military, but also at college, where binge drinking is considered on the spectrum of normal behavior. A lot don't have the capacity to go that far (me), and some are able to manage it as they get older (you). But some are in trouble by 19-20 and it doesn't get better. I think men have a harder time of it than women, because of the macho mentality of "holding your liquor", etc. Good that you are thinking this through for your own children.

    1. Thank you. It's not easy to mange sometimes, but the larger picture is to just educate my kids and let them know the dangers. I know they learn about it in school, but not to the degree of what a parent can teach them about themselves and family experiences

  2. I admire you. I haven't ever written about my experiences because they're too, well, real.

    1. When you're ready, the story will be told. If it's never told to us... that's okay to.


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