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Overcoming My Addiction
by Patricia Burns
I have been going to Progoff Intensive Journal® Workshops since 1997.
At my first workshop, I realized and admitted to myself my addiction to alcohol. The
Intensive Journal program, which helped me recognize my
alcoholism, is a tool I continue to use in working through the steps of
my Alcoholics Anonymous ("AA") program.
I started drinking as a teenager, and although I had problems
from the beginning--I drank more than my friends, I drank until I
passed out, or got sick--I considered my drinking within the norm of
teenage behavior. I loved the initial feeling alcohol gave me because
it helped me relax and feel comfortable with other people. Usually
quiet and shy, I became talkative and fearless after just a few drinks.
People were amazed at the transformation; I was the life of the party.
My father was an alcoholic, and I equated alcoholism to
drinking everyday like he did. My drinking was normal; I was just
having fun with my friends. Sometimes while drunk I would be
argumentative and do and say things that I regretted the next day.
However, because I could stop for long periods of time, I rationalized
that I couldn't possibly be an alcoholic. From the time I was sixteen
years old until I got married at twenty-seven, I had periodic bouts of
heavy drinking followed by strict abstinence. Besides, I had plenty of
reasons to drink and always blamed my circumstances for my drinking
because during that time period both my parents died. I was twenty-one
when my mother died within a year of finding out she had uterine
cancer. Three years later, my father died of a heart attack after being
ill from a series of strokes, which left him paralyzed on one side.
My problems with drinking continued after I got married. After
once again getting drunk at a function my husband was catering and
starting a fight with him in front of two hundred people, I stopped
drinking. Soon after quitting, I became pregnant, and I was able to
stay sober for almost five years primarily because of my baby daughter.
When my daughter went to school and I went back to work, I
decided that I could now be a social drinker. I wanted to be able to
have cocktails after work and wine with dinner like everyone else. I
had successfully separated myself from my former life. I lived in a
different city away from home and the people with whom I grew up. I had
no family members living nearby, so I became a part of my husband's
family who knew nothing about my drinking. I shut out all memories of
my teenage years and young adulthood; it had been an extremely
difficult time, and I did not want to relive it.
I had been abstinent for five years, but within a few months
of beginning to drink again, I had a blackout. I then realized that
had changed in my drinking behavior, and I experienced the same
problems of being unable to stop once I had the first drink. I went
through a period of trying to control it: only drinking wine, only
drinking on weekends, or sipping on a glass of water to slow down my
My drinking progressed over the next seven years until
eventually I was drinking almost everyday. I did not go out drinking at
instead, I was quietly getting drunk at home. My husband worked nights
and my daughter was in bed by 9:00 pm, so I spent my evenings alone
numbing myself with the alcohol. It calmed my anxiety and mellowed me
so I did not have to think or feel. Even though I was unhappy, I did
not see that alcohol was the problem. I considered alcohol one of my
I was always searching for something to help me with my
feelings of emptiness, unworthiness, and depression. I went to a couple
of different therapists without much success. I became a collector of
self-help books. I realized I needed to cut down on my drinking, but I
was not acknowledging that I was an alcoholic. I then came across the
book At a Journal Workshop by Ira Progoff. I was drawn to it because it
focused on therapy through writing. I had used journals for years, and
I liked the idea of using writing exercises instead of talk therapy.
Working with the book on my own was a frustrating experience, so I
signed up for an Intensive Journal workshop.
During my first workshop, I acknowledged for the first time that I was
an alcoholic. My drinking behavior kept coming up in different parts of
the Intensive Journal workbook, and I realized that alcohol had
dominated my life, first with my father's alcoholism, and then with my
own drinking problem, which I had been struggling to control since I
was a teenager. Although at times accessing some of these memories was
painful, I felt I had made a breakthrough in my problems. It was a
feeling of finally having some insight into myself and behavior instead
of just experiencing confusion and depression. I felt like I was
finally making progress after years of being unable to move forward in
my life. It was a powerful feeling.
I know to nonalcoholics reading this essay about my drinking
that it might seem obvious I was alcoholic, and incredible that I could
not see it. It is illogical to deny that I had the illness, given all
of the problems I had, but I was a functioning alcoholic. I went to
work most every day and I never had a car accident or D. U. I.
conviction. I should have or could have had some of those things happen
to me especially during my early drinking years when I was out drinking
at bars. Because I did not suffer from the more devastating
consequences of alcoholism, I could have been in denial much longer. I
believe the Intensive Journal method helped me to see clearly my destructive pattern of drinking that seems so obvious now.
One of the uses that alcohol provided for me was to shut out the
unpleasant memories of the past. I did not want to go back to that time
when my parents died and deal with the unfinished business of my
relationships with them. Using the Intensive Journal method was nothing like the journal writing I had been doing for years. The structure of the
Intensive Journal exercises helped me to go deeper into my life
and my history than I was able to do on my own. The writing exercises
bring clarity to my life by directing my focus from where I am now to
different periods in my past and the circumstances and relationships
"Intensive Journal" is a registered trademark of Jon Progoff and licensed to
Dialogue House. © Copyright 2003. Reprinted with permission of the author.