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December 28, 2022

I was contemplating on the nature of alcoholism, and whether or not I want to call it a disease. In the Human Genome Project, scientists mapped out our chromosomes, and all of the diseases that are associated with them. As I reviewed these chromosomes, I realized that “alcoholism” or “cocaine addiction” were not actual medical phenomena. I considered how in the 1930’s, it helped us collectively to understand alcoholism as a disease, because it changed our thinking and the action we took when dealing with the afflicted. Before we understood alcoholism as a disease, people stricken by it were treated brutally. It was essentially a criminal offense to have a problem with alcohol. Once we changed the narrative around it and began to identify it as a disease where the person really couldn’t control themselves, those affected by it, as well as their family members, began to see real healing to this problem.

But as I started moving further along in my recovery journey, I began to question if this model was outdated. And when I got to reviewing the chromosomes, I was convinced: not only was alcoholism not a disease, adhering to it as such was actually inhibiting us from complete rehabilitation by identifying as sick people. This new opinion proved to be challenging for me. I had decided to remove the word “disease” from my vocabulary when sharing in meetings, but hadn’t actually replaced it with anything. I didn’t even have a clear outline of what precipitated problem-drinking.

In my morning mediation today, thoughts of once again understanding my affliction as a disease began to surface. In one of my recent posts, I mused over not letting anyone bring our energy down; but what I didn’t account for, is that my energy can just be low, without any triggers. And in this instance, I am more so referring to my energy level being mostly just neutral. But as someone who has been affected by alcoholism, neutral can be a real problem. As problem-drinkers, we only want neutral when we are in trouble, and then we want a simple, respectable life. Otherwise, we want adrenaline and all the other feel-good chemicals and hormones to be running through us constantly. I want to always feel positive, inspired, and motivated, and if I don’t, I am alerted to something being wrong. In the Program, we call this seemingly universal trait amongst problem-drinkers, “The disease of more”. (As a side-note, this is why meetings work so well, because in them, we learn through our sharing about the root of what we are dealing with, that we can’t necessarily get to through self-help avenues.)

I’ve also always identified alcoholism as “loss”. That, for me, is the defining characteristic of a problem-drinker, and what in my opinion ultimately separates that person from what we call a heavy-drinker. But again, last night I had an intuitive thought: loss is the defining factor in all disease, isn’t it? Therefore, I feel ready to understand alcoholism as a disease again. While it might not have its place in one of the 23 chromosomes, for now, I don’t see any harm in continuing the status quo.

And as for always wanting more, I can keep that in remission through the tools that I learned how to use in the Program, such as practicing gratitude, being of service, and reaching out for connection. I can also use my self-awareness and plug into what makes me happy, such as creating and writing this blog post. And while I can protect my space, I don’t live in a vacuum. People who I love and trust are going to upset me, and I have discovered that it’s not about cutting people off, or micro-managing relationships; it’s about taking care of myself to the best of my ability so that I can affirm my boundaries, guilt-free, when I need to.

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