Alcoholics can't control their drinking. If you are an alcoholic, you have a compulsive desire to drink. When you drink, your negative personality traits, such as anger, may be intensified and your problems may seem magnified. In order to cover up your alcoholism, you may tend to overdo in other areas of your life.
Chances are, you need a drink at certain times of the day in order to get going, to face your problems, or to relax. And you may even drink on the job. Of course this means that your work and efficiency is slacking off. And your home life is probably suffering as well. You are enslaved by the sin of alcoholism.
Yet there is hope. God is able to deliver you completely by cleansing, sanctifying, and justifying you (I Corinthians 6:9-11). Though alcohol abuse is a failing of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21), the Holy Spirit can, and will, produce the self-control you needto overcome it (Galatians 5:22-23).
What Scripture Says
"He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy." (Proverbs 28:13).
"Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective" (James 5:16).
"If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:8,9).
"Your wickedness will punish you. Your backsliding will rebuke you. Consider then and realize how evil and bitter it is for you when you forsake the Lord your God and have no awe of me" (Jeremiah 2:19).
"For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him" (John 3:17).
"Jesus answered her, 'If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water'" (John 4:10).
"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). (Here is the key to beating alcoholism -- through the power to overcome.)
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law" (Galatians 5:22, 23). (God will produce will power for the powerless.)
"Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit" (Ephesians 5:18).
"Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler: whoever is led astray by them is not wise" (Proverbs 20:1).
Is There Hope?
If you have a drinking problem, you have probably felt condemned by yourself and others. Rather than condemning, however, God emphasizes how to overcome by receiving salvation, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and the fruit of the Spirit. With these you will have the ability to become free and stay free of alcohol.
The saying "once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic" is based on the fact that a recovered alcoholic can never go back to drinking in any amount without being controlled by it again. Therefore, you need to ask God to deliver you from the desire to drink at all.
You probably have tried to stop drinking before and it has not worked for you. You may have tried religion or you may even be a Christian. What you need is practical spiritual help. Seek out a Spirit-baptized counselor. Ask him to pray for deliverance for you -- especially from compulsiveness, psychological and physical dependence, and even from the desire to drink.
You may have been told, "You must stop drinking and never drink again." But the pressure of having to face life without drinking may be overwhelming. Focus on the present. Decide that you will not have a drink right now. "Live one day at a time. Each day has enough trouble of its own" (Matthew 6:34).
You need to modify and change your lifestyle. The Bible speaks of being transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Romans12:2). You can renew your mind through your reading and thinking habits. The Bible and devotion testimonial books will be most helpful. Dwell on God and His Word rather than on your problem.
Learn and follow the principle of praise (honor and respect) to God each time you are tempted to drink. "Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise -- the fruit of lips that confess his name" (Hebrews 13:15). It is important to change your perspective from yourself to God, and from the drink to God. Praise God the Problem-solver rather than the problem. Remember that you can be just as chained to sin by trying not to do it as you are by doing it. As long as your attention is on the sin, you are honoring it. But if your attention is on God, you are honoring Him. "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith" (Hebrews 12:2).
Contact a Spirit-filled church, or prayer group, and Alcoholics Anonymous. The 700 Club or a local church pastor can help you do this.
You may have a spouse, relative, or friend who is not an alcoholic and wants to help you. He or she may need salvation, the baptism of the Spirit, and the fruit of the Spirit for their own sake. They can then better intercede for your deliverance from alcohol.
Your close relatives may need to know how to help spiritually in your effort to recover. They should know that openly condemning an alcoholic is not effective. It may just feed your sense of "joyous agony" because you are "getting what you deserve." Jesus came to save, not to condemn (John 3:17).
That's not to say that they should tolerate your alcoholic behavior. Instead, they should offer to help you. Your spouse, friends, or relatives can find out how to help you by contacting a Spirit-filled fellowship, AA, or ALANON, an organization for friends and relatives of alcoholics.
As You Pray
If you are not yet a born-again Christian, ask God to forgive you, save you and fill you with the Holy Spirit. An unforgiven, unclean drunkard cannot inherit the Kingdom of God (I Corinthians 6:10; I John 1:8,9; Romans 10:13; Luke 13:5; Acts 1:8).
Pray for deliverance. Offer thanks and praise for God's deliverance, mercy, ever-present help and power to overcome.
Pray for deliverance from fear -- the fear that "I won't be able to make it" (II Timothy 1:7).
If you want to experience God's abundant LIFE, pray this simple prayer with me:
Heavenly Father, I come to you in Jesus' name. I know that I am a sinner and need your forgiveness. I believe that You died on the cross for my sins and rose from the grave to give me life. I know You are the only way to God so now I want to quit disobeying You and start living for You. Please forgive me, change my life and show me how to know You. In Jesus' name. Amen.
At seven, Sarah Hepola began stealing sips of beer from her father's cans, relishing in what she calls "that wicked ka-pow." In college, she once got so drunk she mooned passing cars in gridlock traffic, but her peers were often equally incoherent, so no one held a grudge. As time passed, she developed romantic relationships, moved to New York City, and established a career, but she continued to drink, with occasionally alarming results.
In Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget, Hepola, the personal essays editor at Salon, bravely describes her descent into alcohol dependency and the episodes of amnesia that abruptly ended many of her nights. By examining her own history with alcohol -- the things it provided her, and the things it took away -- she also sheds light on the increasingly complicated role alcohol plays in the lives of women, particularly those of us who grew up in the age of the empowered, martini-sipping pop culture heroine. Unflinchingly honest, deeply empathic, and more than a little humorous, Blackout will leave you chomping at the bit for Hepola's next book (until then, there are always essays to tide you over). We talked to Hepola about writing books versus essays, procrastinating as a lifestyle, and why alcohol is like Spanx. (Seriously.)
Signature: You’ve been the personal essays editor at Salon for some years, and have contributed a number of pieces about your drinking to the site, but this is your first book. Aside from time required, was there anything about the process of writing a book that was different for you? Anything you were surprised about?
Sarah Hepola: How incredibly hard it was. At Salon, I’d gotten to this place where I was writing personal essays in a pretty lickety-split manner. Writing had long been a slow and tortured process for me, but I had reached this place of boom-bam-bing, write a 1500-word ditty one day and publish it the next. As soon I sat down to write, though, I was crawling through the dirt again.
I underestimated everything: How long it would take to write a draft, how many chapters or drafts would have to be abandoned. All the early, messy wrangling. It took three years to finish the manuscript, and even though it's only 230 pages, that is a small fraction of what I wrote.
Also, when you write a personal essay, you're working in a small, controlled space. It’s easy to avoid certain subjects, which isn't necessarily true with a memoir, where you owe your audience a more complete landscape. I’ve never written much about my childhood. Not because I’m embarrassed by my family. Quite the opposite: I didn’t want to embarrass them. They’re good, loving people, and dragging decades-old mistakes and tiny little heartbreaks into print for all to read is not the most pleasant process. So the memoir was a growing up exercise in a larger truth, as opposed to little dashes of truth as I saw fit to share them.
SIG: In your memoir you discuss the increasing number of women who struggle with alcohol problems. What do you see as the major contributing factors to this rise, and do you have any intuition as to what might help alleviate the problem?
SH: Women are drinking more than ever, and there are so many reasons for that. Maybe the primary reason is that we can. Drinking is socially acceptable, legal (after the age of twenty-one), readily available, heavily marketed to women, and has become threaded through bonding rituals like happy hours, bridal showers, and book clubs. Alcohol’s appeal is universal: It feels good, it’s a way to ease the tension of your day, whether your day is spent in the board room or the Gymboree. As humans we tend to imitate people in power. What have men in power traditionally done to blow off steam? They drink.
Booze does hold specific appeal for women, though. For me, it quieted those self-critical voices in my head that told me what I was doing was wrong. There are so many conflicting messages about how to be a woman -- you should be a good girl and a lusty goddess, you should be a selfless maternal figure and a strong leader who knows her own value -- and I think we internalize all those conflicting voices, and it’s exhausting. Booze gave me a break from the tyranny of "should." It quieted my perfectionism. It silenced my doubt. A lot of women struggle with self-image problems or body issues, and alcohol can give you a roar of confidence. Alcohol was like the greatest pair of Spanx in the world to me.
Of course, the more women drink, the more women have drinking problems. There are biological issues at play here. Women can’t metabolize alcohol as fast as men, and as I point out in the book, they are more prone to blackouts -- one of the scariest side effects of excessive drinking. As for what can alleviate those drinking problems, AA is a profound program that changes lives (including mine), but I’m sympathetic to the idea that it isn’t for everyone. I hear from a lot of women who don’t check those boxes for alcoholism, and they still feel like drinking holds too much power. They are numbing themselves out to life instead of participating in it.
Drinking is a convenient mask for pain: The heartbreak of divorce, the loneliness of a troubled marriage (or a troubled singlehood), the isolation of parenting, the misery of a bad job. Anyone who finds themselves drinking too much might do well to probe around underneath it. What is the alcohol trying to fix?
SIG: A lot of recovery memoirs delve into the complicated family dynamics that often precede or build around the addict, but I noticed in yours a different focus: the nature of female friendships, and how those affect and are affected by addiction. Did you talk to any of the friends you included in the book about the material beforehand? Were they supportive of your desire to write about your history, and theirs?
SH: When you announce that you’re writing a memoir, your friends fall into two camps: "I better be in that memoir," and "oh my God, I hope I’m not in that memoir." The people I wrote about are probably a mix of those, but even people who didn’t necessarily want see their personal histories in a book were extraordinarily generous about my decision to write it. I don’t know what private anxieties were lurking around, but they never let me see them.
When I got close to a working draft, I started talking to friends who were in it. "So, I need to tell you something." Most of those were good conversations, and some were really illuminating, because we were talking about crisis points in the friendship that hadn’t ever been discussed from a safe place of distance. The best part of drinking was how it brought me closer to people, and the worst part of my alcoholic drinking was how it estranged me from them, so all of these conversations felt like a bridge back to something strong and true.
I'm glad you see this as a book about friendship, because I do, too. My family is essential to the person I am, but I didn’t drink with my family, I drank with my friends. Drinking felt like a way of being present for them. Bad day? Here’s a bottle of wine. Breakup? Let’s go to the bar. Depressed? Bored? Happy? Let’s drink. Drink, drink, drink. And of course alcohol was a friend for me, too, because I spent so much time alone. It was a way of feeling like you had constant companionship, and losing that security blanket was agony.
SIG: On the subject of confessional writing, so to speak, you say, "I wanted to be on record. I wanted to double down on public humiliation to keep me from backsliding." This is obviously the basic instinct for an increasing number of memoirists. Do you think it’s a healthy one overall? Do you see any potential issues with that premise?
SH: Relapse is a very common part of the recovery process, and too many people rush out there, hang the "mission accomplished" sign, and then slide back. It’s not good for the addict, who has to live in the shadows of shame, and it’s confusing to people who can’t figure out whether to support that person or berate them. And probably what the addict is really looking for is accolades and admiration and attention when they should really be weaning themselves off those drugs, too. So yeah, I see potential issues.
However, as someone who had been writing about my life in public for some time, that decision felt appropriate. I was six months sober, and I had two fists around a sobriety that I had to make work, more for my integrity and self-esteem than any medical reason. I just couldn’t fail myself anymore. I had spent two years in relapse-land, doing that thing where you swear up and down you’re not going to drink at dinner and then you get to the restaurant and your friend says, "Wanna split a bottle?" and BAM -- you’re off again. I had zero resolve. So I needed to put some obstacles in my path. I needed that accountability. I also had a terrible fear I would never write again, not like I used to, so the fact that I could write ANYTHING honest about my life felt like punching a hole in the sky. Would I recommend to someone else that they publish an essay about quitting as insurance against future backslide? I would not. Am I glad I did it? Hell, yes.
SIG: Were there any memoirs or biographies that you found particularly inspiring when working on yours?
SH: Caroline Knapp’s Drinking: A Love Story was a book I kept on my nightstand for the three years I was working on this. I couldn’t read it too often, because I would get frustrated and throw it across the room (with love). It’s so beautiful and aching and right. But I forced myself to know it intimately, so that I could think about what I might add, and what had changed in the nearly twenty years since that book was published. A generation brings a lot of cultural shifts, and there was a big one around young women and alcohol.
David Carr’s memoir The Night of the Gun is so rigorous, so weighted with insight, so completely him -- he was an inspiration in every part of his life. I opened the book at random right now and found this: "The high would last fifteen or twenty minutes, and then the synapses would begin making a fuss -- a head full of little baby birds with their beaks open, crying out for more." How can you not love this man? I’m so sad he’s gone, and for that matter, so sad Caroline Knapp is gone, too.
I also read Susan Cheever’s biography on Bill Wilson, the man who found Alcoholics Anonymous. I find him fascinating. Like so many leaders, he is brilliant and flawed.
SIG: At one point, when you begin to write again after a break in early sobriety, you develop a routine where you wake up at 6:30 and write for four hours. "Just wake up and stare down," you say. Is this still the beginning of your day? Or has your schedule changed over the years?
SH: Those are the prime hours. I still have to pull all-day marathons if I’m on a magazine deadline, but the longer I postpone writing in my day the greater the chance it won’t get done. I’m an epic procrastinator. I come up with the worst, stupidest excuses. I HAVE to watch this "Game of Thrones" because everyone on Facebook is talking about it! If I don’t write it between 7am and 11am, it is probably not going to get written. I typed this at 10:36am. Phew. Just under the wire.