high-bottom drunk

Are there effective online AA groups and sponsors?

Q. Are there effective online AA groups and sponsors?

[The person asking the question is a public figure, concerned about negative publicity and broken anonymity.]

There are good online AA groups.  Most, if not all, have provisions for connecting newcomers with online sponsors.  Any program of recovery is only as effective as the desire of the individual to work at it.  In that respect, an online program is better than no program at all, and no doubt they do the job for some recovering alcoholics and other addicts.  Consider, however, that the purpose of a program is not only to keep from drinking.  Recovery is about unlearning how to be an addict, and learning how better to function in the world outside of AA, NA or whatever program one has chosen.

During our addictions we learn a great many undesirable habits.  We all lie, to ourselves and to others.  We are all thieves.  We may not take material things, but we steal time from our employers and families.  We steal other people’s pleasure in having a clean and sober family member, friend, or business associate.  We steal the time and resources of courts, social services, hospitals, insurance companies and law enforcement — things that are desperately needed by society to accomplish other purposes.  We steal the health of others by causing them stress, causing accidents, and taking up space in doctors’ offices, emergency rooms and other health facilities.

We also develop dysfunctional ways of dealing with other people, with stress, with personal problems, even efforts to enjoy ourselves.  Those of us who continue to function effectively in society still create our own little worlds of quiet chaos — otherwise, why would we be seeking recovery?

When we first get clean, the habits of addiction are still with us.  We have to unlearn them, and learn other ways of dealing with people, the world at large — and ourselves.  In some cases, we have to relearn skills that we’ve forgotten, or get up to date in our fields of expertise.  We have to clean up the wreckage we left behind, and reestablish ourselves in our families and society.  We have a lot to accomplish.

The Twelve Steps are a template — an agenda, if you will — for getting these things done.  They work exceptionally well, at least as well as any other programs of recovery, and better than the majority.  However, they were developed on the basis of face-to-face contact.  Some “solos” have managed to stay sober by letters and (now) email, but the great majority of successful recovery comes from the meeting halls where we interact with others who can guide us.

Sure, some of that can be done online.  This very article is one of the ways that can occur.  But online does not put us in the presence of others.  Online can’t hug.  Online can’t look at our face and tell that we’re having a crappy day, despite our protestations, and call us on it.  Online can’t give us unconditional love — because we need to see that in the face of another human being.  Online can’t tell when we’re full of b.s. — nor can we tell that about the people we interact with online. Online can’t go out for coffee and a chat, or to a picnic, or just be companionable.  We can’t call online at 3:00 AM, the midnight of the soul.  Online can't phone us to find out how we're doing if it hasn't seen us in awhile.  Nor can we do those things online for others.  In short, it’s a weak substitute for f-2-f meetings.

That’s not to say online meetings can’t be helpful, but in my opinion they should not be substituted for the real thing.  Alcoholics and other addicts need contact with people.  We avoided real interaction by keeping ourselves high and detached.  Now we need to do the reverse.  There are meetings for professionals, held privately, to avoid the issues of unethical media who no longer respect our anonymity as they once did.  A call to our local Intergroup office will probably turn up at least one in our area.

“Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path.”  Sitting in front of a monitor, regardless of good intentions, is not being thorough.  This is not meant to take anything away from the good people on line, but merely to say that depending on them alone is likely to be a recipe for disaster.

What Is A High-Functioning Alcoholic?

Here at Sunrise Detox we run across a lot of misinformation about alcoholism, addiction, and abuse of alcohol and drugs. One of the more misunderstood issues is that of the high-functioning alcoholic.

Three martoonies

Credit: Kyle May - flickr

The stereotypical alcoholics who can't keep a job, fail in their careers, destroy families and relationships and eventually end up jailed, homeless or in the morgue are only part of the picture. Not only is this picture sometimes blurry, it is one of the reasons some people who need intervention and treatment fall through the cracks.

There are many alcoholics who are high functioning. These people get educations, have stable jobs, careers, friends, get married, raise families, accumulate wealth, become community leaders, and in most ways seem like any other successful citizen. In fact it is not unusual for them to be overachievers, who excel in their studies and professional lives, who are held up as examples to others.

Because of this seeming normality, the problems of high-functioning alcoholics are ofter overlooked or misdiagnosed, and when they are noted it is usually extremely difficult to get the person to admit the problem and seek treatment. Their denial often takes the form of statements to the effect that they are successful, perform their duties and obligations, and only drink to relieve stress, or as a reward for a hard day's work.

It is not uncommon for these individuals to suffer and die from alcohol-related ailments without ever having been diagnosed: high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, organ degeneration such as cirrhosis, pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer, alcoholic hepatitis, diabetes, and so forth. It is important that family and friends take a good look at the behavior of folks who are frequent drinkers, in order to discern any destructive patterns that might indicate that their use of alcohol has become chronic.

Here are some of the things to look for:

  • whether the person often has one drink and then stops, or if, once they start drinking, they continue even in situations where it is inappropriate (such as having to drive, in the presence of non-drinking business associates, early in the day, and so forth);
  • whether they make excuses for drinking, or find reasons to justify a drink;
  • whether they become irritable or attempt to change the subject when questioned about their drinking;
  • whether their personality changes when they drink;
  • whether their sense of propriety and morals seems to change;
  • whether they drink at times or in situations where most people would not be drinking;
  • whether they compartmentalize their lives, spending more time away from home than they used to, making excuses for not being home when they say they will, and so forth.

For the drinkers themselves: do you spend a lot of time assuring yourself that you are OK, that you don't have a problem because you are successful? Do you keep telling yourself that you must be OK because you “aren't like one of those alcoholics?” If so, has it ever occurred to you that people without problems don't need to spend time convincing themselves?

Untreated alcoholism is a progressive, deadly disease. It is, however, eminently treatable once a person becomes serious about quitting. Ironically, high-functioning alcoholics tend to have resources and good insurance, and are among the people most likely to be able to afford professional help. In addition, because they do have a lot left to lose, they are often among the most successful in sobriety.