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Understanding Alcoholism - Interview with Beem Weeks

I am grateful to Indie author Beem Weeks for agreeing to answer questions regarding his previous battle with alcohol addiction. His candid answers I hope might help others going through the same problem:

1. Can an addictive nature be inherited?

I believe so. My father was an alcoholic for most of my life. My grandfather (my dad’s father) had been quite the drinker in his younger days—though he’d quit long before I was born. But just because a parent or grandparent has that addictive nature doesn’t mean it has to be passed down. I became an alcoholic, as did my younger brother. However, my older brother and sister haven’t had issues with addiction.

2. Do you think that some people are born with an addictive personality, or could a craving for alcohol happen to anybody who likes a drink?

I believe both instances are possible. I have always been the addictive sort. Drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, music, sex, and writing: I’ve been guilty of allowing such things to occupy predominant portions of my time at various points in my life. Even as a child I could be obsessive about things—though childish obsessions aren’t usually dangerous. And that’s really what addiction is; it’s an obsession, a compulsion. On the other hand, many of my friends that drank with me, drinking to excess, these people quit once they married, had children, grew into mature adults.

3. Did you originally drink because you liked the taste, the effect, or both?

That would most definitely be the effect. I was extremely shy as a child. That carried over into my teenage years. I found that drinking allowed me to be open and talkative. To my early way of thinking, alcohol was a magic potion. It allowed me to be somebody quite different from my real personality. That’s really the only reason I started drinking. It was like night and day.

4. Did you drink to ‘fit in with the crowd’ which then subsequently got out of hand?

I guess you could say that. To fit in meant to interact with others. I convinced myself that I needed alcohol to come out of my shell. However, the ‘crowd’ wasn’t drinking in quantities that I drank. It got out of hand with me very early into my drinking career. There were friends who knew I had a problem as early as age 16.

5. Did you care that alcoholism was damaging your health?

I didn’t have health issues early on, so I didn’t even consider the damage being done. I was just ‘having fun’ with drinking. As I grew older, the damage began to manifest itself in the form of the shakes, anxiety attacks, a swollen liver, severe mood swings, and the deepest states of depression. I realized I just couldn’t live like that any longer. I had to make changes or die—simple as that.

6. Would you have done anything to secure your next drink?

No. I could go days—and even weeks—without a drink. In fact, there were times I’d gone a month or so without alcohol. During those stretches of time, the fog left my mind, the shakes subsided, and I just generally felt better. So why not celebrate with a drink or four? The cycle would get rolling all over again.

7. Were you addicted to anything else at the time of your alcoholism?

Cocaine, cigarettes, and marijuana were favourites. So, too, was sex; there were numerous girls who knew me at my worst.

8. What made you decide to stop drinking?

A near-death experience caused me to see the light. I basically drank myself to death one October night in 1996. At the hospital I blew a .32 on the breathalyzer—which is four times the legal limit for being considered too drunk to drive here in Michigan. (I wasn’t driving, though.) Shortly after seeing the doctor, I suffered a massive seizure and popped out of my body, where I found myself completely sober and in a dark place. There were people milling about in the shadows. Everybody appeared miserable and suffering and lost. If that place wasn’t hell, I don’t care to see the real place. I couldn’t just continue doing the same thing after that experience. I needed to make changes to my life.

9. Do you suffer any lasting ill-effects from your drinking?

I guess the only thing I’ve noticed is my short term memory has slipped a bit. I’ll find myself struggling to recall a name or an event from time to time. But that could be age-related—I am nearing 50. Other than that, I’m in fine health.

10. Did you find when you stopped drinking that you became addicted to something else?

I guess you could say I became addicted to studying the Bible. I really dug deep into learning what the words mean in their original languages and contexts. I also re-discovered writing once I got sober. There’s a happy addiction there. But I also shed the addiction of cigarettes and coffee after getting sober.

11. Are you able to have one or two social drinks now on a night out, or do you ensure that you never touch alcohol at all?

I hadn’t tried it until my birthday recently. I had two small glasses of beer with my meal at a restaurant. It was my first drink in over 18 years. I didn’t get drunk, I didn’t crave more, and I didn’t lose control. I’m in a completely different frame of mind than I was back in those dark days. But that doesn’t mean I’ll make this a regular event. There aren’t any social drinks on a night out. I’m just not interested in going down that road again.

12. Do you ever have a craving for alcohol now in times of stress?

No, I don’t. Having been sober for over 18 years, I’ve learned better ways to deal with stress. That’s where the Bible really comes in handy. There is no stressful situation that will ever require my getting drunk in order to ‘cope.’ That’s not really coping; that’s avoiding. Nothing ever gets solved through avoidance. If there’s a situation in your life that’s causing stress, deal with it before it becomes trouble.

13. Do you agree that no amount of rehab will cure an alcoholic unless he/she actually wants to stop drinking?

There’s a saying in Alcoholics Anonymous: ‘A. A. is not for those who need it; it’s for those who want it.’ If a person isn’t interested in getting sober, there’s not a rehab therapy or program that will work. My father had been in rehab several times. He would be sober for a few months after, but then he’d go back to drinking. He told me after one such stint in rehab that he just didn’t want to stop drinking. He only went to rehab to please his family or his employer. An addict has to really want it for self. There is no other way to achieve sobriety.

14. Can the husband/wife of an alcoholic do anything to help them?

There is nothing anybody else can do—even a much-loved spouse. Sure, a threat to leave may cause an alcoholic to quit—perhaps even for years at a time. But unless the underlying issues that led to the addict becoming an addict are dealt with by personal choice, this person will only become what’s referred to as a dry drunk. They are sober, sure, but the old habits and attitudes remain. Now they are sober and miserable rather than drunk and miserable. Addiction runs much deeper than simply being drunk or high.

15. What would you say to a young man going out for his first drink with friends?

Don’t get behind the wheel if you’re going to be drinking. Get a designated driver. Other than that, I wouldn’t say anything. If it’s his first drink, there’s nothing to suggest he may have a problem. He’s going out with friends. Let the man live his own life. I didn’t listen to my grandparents, my mother, or friends who spoke to me when I began exhibiting signs of addition. I had to figure things out for myself. There are paths we each must travel on our own. If a young person is struggling with addiction and asks for help, then I would gladly offer my advice and point them in the right direction. Sobriety isn’t taught, it’s earned.

16. Has alcoholism made you feel angry because of the ‘lost’ years, or do you feel proud to have beaten the addiction?

I’m not angry. I am saddened by the loss of many years and opportunities. I wasted too much time, effort, and money on such a foolish endeavour. I lost relationships that I will never get back. I lost years that can never be relived. There are those who will never trust me again. But I am proud that I’ve overcome that dark battle. I am where I am meant to be at this point in my life. The roads I’ve travelled have brought me to this place in time.

17. Do you attend AA meetings these days?

I went regularly for over 15 years, though it’s been about three years since my last meeting. But there’s always one open should I feel the urge.

18. Do you have to stay vigilant so as not to fall back into your old ways?

At this point in my life, that’s not really a threat. As I said earlier, I’m in a completely different frame of mind these days. During the first 6 or 7 years of sobriety I had to be on my guard. These days, I don’t worry so much about it. I just live life and try to be as productive as I can as a writer and a human being.

19. Have you ever managed to stop somebody else becoming addicted to alcohol?

Aside from chaining somebody down, stopping another from becoming an addict is really impossible. I can offer advice—but only where it is requested. I cannot stop anybody but myself.

20. Should alcohol be banned, like it is in the Middle-East?

Absolutely not! We tried that here in the States back during the 1920s. The only thing prohibition achieved is the rise of organized crime. Freedom doesn’t come through banning; freedom lies in mastering self-control. Not everybody who drinks becomes an alcoholic. In fact, only a small percentage will develop an addiction. So why punish the entire population?

Thanks so much Beem, for your most interesting and candid answers.