Archive for the ‘Synapse Misfires’ Category

Alcoholics are pretty stupid most of the time.  This isn’t news.  We slur.  We forget things (like 2006 or if we’ve bathed).  We certainly can’t perform tasks that require higher order thinking very well…. or CAN we?  Recently, in fact, there have been some studies that show that high childhood IQ is a fairly good determinant of heavy adult drinking.  Perhaps the Think Tank is actually in the Drunk Tank?

Take mathematics, for instance.  I have always sucked large, reindeer sized turds when it comes to anything more than simple addition and subtraction.  I wasn’t terribly bad at algebra, but I struggle to help my 8th grader with her homework these days.  Drunks are notoriously bad at math:  think about our bank accounts and credit card statements.  And, see!   I said I was pretty good at simple addition or subtraction!  (Drunks are also charming liars.)  But we are especially effective at what I call Drunk Math or Alkie Algebra.  This kind of higher order cognition takes a good deal of math skill, memory, and careful planning–none of the things one associates with active alcoholism.  Ahhh… but if it has to do with our access to obtaining/maintaining our buzzes, we’re freakin’ GENIUSES.

An alcoholic is always painfully aware of (a.) how much booze s/he has access to at the moment, (b.) roughly how much booze it will take to get/maintain intoxication, (c.) how much money/access to more booze s/he has, (d.) how long it will take to (1.) get more booze and (2.) get drunk/more drunk, and finally (e.) which excuses and lies to make in order to achieve access and drunkenness (should this be necessary).

There are other variables that my fellow alcoholics could add almost endlessly to this list.  For example, drunks have rigid maps and schedules committed to memory:  the locations of bars and liquor stores and their opening/closing times.  (This is especially crucial to those of us who may live in states with strict blue laws or even dry counties… pity the thought!) We have to plan our days around irritating chores like work or driving or being in public places where drinking isn’t permitted.  We find ways around these obstacles of course–thus, careful planning is required.

We know that our bodies can metabolize roughly 1 ounce of liquor per hour, but know have a grasp on our higher tolerance level:  solving this problem becomes a complex exercise in experimental and theoretical math.

If you want to know what an alcoholic is “thinking,” on the surface it’s quite simple:  we’re thinking always, only about our next drink.  Even when we’re having the present drink, the next one is on our mind.  And that next drink is a site of emotional trauma and paranoia, because it might NOT be enough.  This is why, for me, the moment of almost complete happiness was the trip home from the liquor store with a heavily laden purchase in hand.  Putting the bottles away, having the cupboard stocked with alcohol was the closest I could come to a feeling of real security.  Hell, screw peace in the Middle East!  Give me a gallon of vodka and six bottles of wine in the pantry any day!

So, in keeping with 8th grade math, I thought I’d let a quadratic equation tell the story of alcoholic thinking and experience.  For those of you excellent alkie students who have graduated onto the more nuanced aspects of our inebriate algebra, enjoy the refresher.  And don’t hesitate to help your non-alcoholic classmates understand these principles!  You remember “FOIL” right?  First, Outer, Inner, Last?  Solve the following equation to arrive at the product E (the Experience of drinking):

(x-d + ac) (y – b) = E


x = booze

y = 24 hours

a = physical craving for alcohol

b = self-esteem

c = self-pity

d = alcohol immediately available

See… you thought it would be easy!  The mental gymnastics required simply to maintain our habit is staggering (and we have to do it WHILE staggering).  And, of course, one of the things that makes sobriety so difficult–once the physical cravings have been overcome–is the problem of filling the mental void left behind from these cognitive aerobics.  Newly sober alcoholics like me often joke morbidly about what to do with all this free time on our hands!

My thinking and behavior during my drinking days seems almost like that of a paranoid schizophrenic these days, especially the obsessive Drunk Math in which I was engaged.  I suppose alcoholics have this in common with schizophrenics, along with a tendency toward having A Beautiful Mind (though John F. Nash I’m certainly not).  It’s known that schizophrenics often self-medicate with alcohol–easily to the point of dependency.  I firmly believe that I have medicated my alcoholism with schizophrenia.

I wanted to be a rock star.  Not just as a kid or young adult.  I’ve always wanted to be a rock star.  Everyone does.  Don’t lie.  This, despite the fact that my voice is at best average, I can’t sight-read music, and I never learned to play an instrument.  My qualifications for entering the world of popular music might lead me toward a position as roadie (or groupie, more likely, 15 years ago) or, more optimistically, as an unscrupulous tour manager likely to skim off the top. None of these realities interfere with my grabbing a hairbrush and doing my best Debbie Harry when a Blondie song comes on.

My unfulfilled rock-n-roll fantasy came to mind as I finished my meditation this morning, which abjured me to put into practice the following mantra today:  “I am what I think.”  This simple admonition is deceptive; it’s hard as hell for me–and many of us–to turn this into a positive.  We have a self-destructive juke-box in our cerebellums playing the soundtracks we know best:  the songs of failure, doubt, and regret.  If I am what I think, given this playlist, things look grim.  Well, thought I, what if I just think I’m a rock star??? For me, thinking I’m a rock star is about as nuts as thinking I am a “capable, competent, caring, compassionate woman” like my meditation practice recommends I do, so why the hell not?

Ah, but WHICH rock star?  (more…)