Does Googling ‘Am I an Alcoholic?’ Mean I Am an Alcoholic?
How many online tests have you done? Would you like to try another?
Before I got sober I did a lot of tests online.
Alcoholics Anonymous, Alcohol Change, Drink Aware and the NHS all offer quizzes, but can you really trust those guys? They seem to be pretty alarmist, and they obviously don’t know any drinkers.
If these test results were to be believed, I was pretty sure everyone I knew was an alcoholic.
After a while, I had done so many tests that I found myself creating one of my own.
Scroll down for the results chart.
The first time I did really really well on an Am I an Alcoholic? quiz I was doing the quiz on behalf of a heavy drinking boyfriend (HDB) I was concerned about.
Answering on HDB’s behalf, I couldn’t help but notice the points I was clocking up too. These tests were so easy to ace! Too easy. He ticked nearly all of the boxes, and I wasn’t far behind.
I’d known for years I drank ‘too much’, but it was a choice. I could stop any time I liked. I wasn’t worried about being an alcoholic. The tests threatened to change that, and so I wanted to disregard the information as faulty.
Oh, this quiz thinks everyone’s alcoholic.
But how then could I use the information as evidence that HDB was an alcoholic?
It was an intellectual bind. And it was really going to give my denial a work out.
Not long after this, I found myself reading a copy of Alcoholics Anonymous in a charity shop.
My Accidental Education into Addiction was underway. I ploughed through a chapter while my friend browsed for vintage clothes.
“Why don’t you get it?” she said, noticing me still absorbed twenty minutes later.
I frowned. “No way! Why should I read it? I don’t have a problem!”
Never mind that the chapter was gripping and I was hooked. I was already firmly on the path of self-improvement: going to therapy, joining the gym, eating more vegetables. I was determined to drink less. Hadn’t she been listening? I had been to the Buddhist centre!
Never had I been less enchanted by alcohol or more in its thrall.
Over the years HDB’s potential alcoholism had really been a Debbie downer on my own love affair with booze.
This new question of whether I had an issue of my own, threatened to ruin my drinking entirely.
Cue the Deliberation Years. A period in which I was either fervently committed to not drinking, sacking that off to drink the way I wanted or carefully consuming my daily ration of white wine at home.
Without my permission or approval, drinking had become stressful.
Alcohol had loomed large over my whole life — in my family, work, friendship groups, and relationships — but somehow I’d never noticed its shadow before.
Suddenly I could see how it darkened everything.
Repeated failure to moderate began to shake my assumption that I could stop any time I liked.
“Despair is the belief that tomorrow will be just like today,” theologian Rob Bell wrote.
My life was disappearing and I couldn’t stop it.
When I tried to control my drinking I didn’t enjoy it, and when I enjoyed it, I couldn’t control it.
Worst of all, no matter how much I wanted to, I couldn’t return to my old laissez-faire style of drinking. I’d passed the tipping point. There were just too many bad times to sweep under the carpet.
Something was wrong and I couldn’t ignore it. Thirst, previously unconscious, began to tug at me, an ache at the back of my throat.
I noticed that I couldn’t resist ordering beer, that my body and my thoughts were not in alignment. I realised I didn’t much like the taste.
Pubs began to seem haunted, the act of lifting a glass again and again, spooky and neverending. Internal ghosts rising up to whisper: More.
Something deep inside wanted me to stop. Something deep inside me didn’t.
This inner schism drove me, finally, to take action beyond reading and ruminating and doing quizzes and seeking reassurance off drinking friends.
After an unspectacular drunken evening, I found that my usual tactic of blaming my bad behaviour on someone else didn’t wash. Perhaps, at last, I respected myself too much to fall for my own bullshit.
Whatever magic it was, something was different, and so began my own intervention.
In spite of wildly not identifying as an ‘alcoholic’ I took myself to a support group in the city centre.
There, a beautiful young woman called Harry talked about her drinking. She didn’t lose a job, didn’t go to prison, didn’t physically hurt anyone. But her mental health was deeply affected, as was her self-esteem. For her, dignity and drinking had become mutually exclusive.
“I couldn’t live the life I wanted until I gave up completely,” she said, and a rush of feeling went through my spine. She was talking about me.
Her story was so hopeful and inspiring that it made me cry.
She looked calm and dignified, sitting there, freestyling about how booze made her life uglier than she could cope with.
Afterwards we went for a cup of tea, and I told her how much her story had moved me, but that I could never give up drinking because everyone I knew loved booze too much.
“Especially my family,” I said.
“Me too,” she said, using the two most powerful words for when we’re in turmoil, according to shame researcher, Brené Brown. “But you have to do what is right for you.”
Over four years sober, Harry said she would help me any way she could.
It was a powerful offer, but as soon as I walked away I began to laugh it off. Sheesh, I must be really hungover, I thought. But, for some reason (self-protection?) I didn’t tell a soul about it.
I didn’t stop drinking straight away.
How could I? I had a trip to LA booked! But a seed was planted, and I’d made my first sober contact.
For the next weeks, I felt so relieved and comforted to know that all across the city, the world, even, ex-drinkers were helping each other to break this infuriating (and deadly) habit and live the lives they dreamed of.
No matter how hopeless it might seem, there was somewhere I could go as soon as I was ready.
Next time I want to drink, I’ll go to a meeting, I told myself. But when the next time arrived, I didn’t remember that meetings existed.
This is the nature of the beast that we call ‘alcoholism’.
So? What were your results? Are you alcoholic or not?
YES OR NO?
If I think too hard about it now, it might flummox me still. (One… more… Google spiral.)
That’s why, these days, I prefer to answer another question instead: does drinking get in the way of living the life I want? (Read Laura McKowen’s excellent post on the subject here.)
Deep down I knew drinking was stopping me living the life I wanted.
I had the urge to get sober for a long time. But for many years, it was weaker than my desire to drink.
Does drinking get in the way of you living the life you want?
If the answer is yes, why insist on being an ‘alcoholic’ before you quit?
If you haven’t already, do the alcohol experiment. Do whatever it takes to stay sober for 30 days: go to your doctor, try Smart or AA or Hip Sobriety or Soberistas, listen to Recovery Elevator and SHAIR podcasts. Read This Naked Mind. Try Moderation Management. Whatever it takes.
Take it seriously and pay attention to how your life changes. And remember, you don’t have to do it alone. It’s unnecessary, stressful and much less fun.
Find people who want to live in this glorious, challenging, cruel and miraculous world free of alcohol and practice being yourself with them.
First published at Beautiful Hangover <3