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Author of this essay:

Chuan Pu Shakya
(6 July 2000)

By Chuan Pu Shakya

Recently I was asked, "How do I know if I've got a drinking problem?" Good question. Only you can determine if you're an alcoholic, and only you can decide that it's time to do something about it. Just like everything we do on our Ch'an path, it's an "inside job".

I remember a friend of mine once told me, "You can always find someone to co-sign your bullshit." In my case I had myriad friends, family and co-workers, all with varying opinions about my drinking. Some, like my mother, had a personal stake in my not being an alcoholic because, in her mind, it would reflect on her ability to be a good mother. My friends, if they drank and used drugs with me, definitely didn't want me to think that I had a drinking problem. If I decided to quit partying, who would buy the pot, booze, coke? And most of all, it might mean they'd have to look at their own drinking and drug use. I've heard from other recovering addict/alcoholics that even their doctors said that they didn't have a "serious" drinking problem.

On the other hand, there are the friends, co-workers and family members who know you've crossed the line of social drinking into the realm of alcoholic drinking long before you do. They tend to be the naggers in your life. I had a few of these. My sister at one point openly called me a drunk. The point is that you can find any opinion you want about your drinking. They are all out there. Considering all these opinions is just a clever way to avoid taking responsibility for what is happening to you. Only you can answer the question "Am I an alcoholic?" - not your doctor, your mother, your best friend, your boss, or any group.

I remember thinking I don't drink everyday and I am not a street bum, therefore I am not an alcoholic. Only street bums are alcoholics. Some are, but of course if you ask them, they might deny this. They might say to you: "I am not as bad as the other bum down the street". I used to say things like this to myself. "I am not as bad as....." Denial is a very powerful illusion. Illusions like these are realities in their ability to destroy us.

For example, recently in the news, Audrey Krishline, author of "Moderate Drinking", was reported to have allegedly driven her pickup truck the wrong way down an interstate highway, smashing head-on into a car and killing a man and his 12-year-old daughter. Krishline had a blood alcohol level of three times the legal limit according to Associated Press writer Mia Penta. Krishline is the founder of a national group, Moderate Management, that promotes moderate alcohol intake among problem drinkers. After the accident she reportedly said, "Moderate Management is nothing but alcoholics covering up their problem." In the same article, George Vaillant, Harvard Medical School Professor of Psychiatry, said, "Moderation Management is built on an illusion. It is hard for us in America to realize that those with serious drinking problems can't go back to social drinking."

I was what they call in recovery terms as a "high bottom" drunk. This means that I never lost a job or lived on the streets. As a matter of fact, I was valedictorian of my senior class, with a four year scholarship to the university of my choice. From the outside I looked pretty good. I was an over achiever; but this behavior kept me and my "audience" preoccupied while I achieved my spiritual union in 2 joints and a 5th of tequila. I was a binge drinker. I had the ability to go for days, sometimes weeks without a drink, and then for some unknown reason I would go on a week or more of drinking. The consequences for my drinking included the loss of self respect that comes, particularly to women, with being an addict or drunk. When you think about it normal drinkers find no need to moderate their drinking. It is only when you have a problem do need to seek a solution. But only you can decide that you have a problem.

There is an old Jackie Vernon joke that goes something like this: "I was talking to my doctor one day... I said, 'Hey, Doc, it hurts when I do this.' (Jackie pokes himself in the eye.) So my doctor says, 'Then stop doing that!'"

Humming Bird