“I have my own climate—things can seem okay on the outside but inside I’ve got black clouds hanging low in my sky, and my soul has fallen through my ass,” says William, a 63 year-old with 30 years of sobriety who lives in Venice Beach. He’s talking about “alcoholic thinking,” that nebulous dark cloud, insidious nagging voice and negative mental groove that can lead us back to the booze. The general accepted philosophy is that if you’re feeling “restless, irritable and discontent,” chances are a little alcoholic thinking is creeping back in. But how are you supposed to distinguish AT from the blues? For “ladybug little,” posting on an anonymous recovery forum, alcoholic thinking is: “The feeling that something terrible was going to happen. I didn’t know what…but I knew it would be awful and I just had to drink because I couldn’t handle it…Anything that was even remotely good in my life, my head managed to turn into some omen of calamities to come.” “If only I had a boyfriend, my life would be perfect,” the thinking may go. Or: “If only I had more money, I wouldn’t be unhappy.” And then there’s: “If only I had a drink, life would be bearable.”
AT is the conviction that something is about to go horribly wrong or that we need external validation to fill a hole deep inside and that in the event that our own impossible demands are not met, we must drink to fill the hole. “If only I had a boyfriend, my life would be perfect,” the thinking may go. Or: “If only I had more money, I wouldn’t be unhappy.” And then there’s: “If only I had a drink, life would be bearable.” Which all leads to: “I don’t have these things and that’s evidence that the world is pitted against me. I called my sponsor to complain, but he didn’t call back. It’s because he—like the world, like God, like the universe— is against me. This is the worst day of my entire existence on this planet! Everyone hates me! I can’t stop thinking about my sponsor. Asshole. I want him to die! I also want that person who cut in front of me to die as well, not to mention that kid who nearly walked in front of my car just now even though the lights were green. Shit, he has Downs. There’s the universe again, trying to make me feel terrible! What did I do? I don’t deserve any of this. I’m a victim. It’s not enough that I have a job, enough food to eat, a car, a home, family, friends. I NEED MORE!”
In a sense, AT is like being a dry drunk, a condition that has been described as “returning to one’s old alcoholic thinking and behavior without actually having taken a drink.” If you consider alcoholism is a threefold disease—a disease of the spirit, the mind, and the body—AT is the mental part of it: the complete self-centeredness of our ego-driven negative thinking which we seek to placate or calm with alcohol and drugs. Alcoholics don’t have a monopoly on the blues, on feeling “restless, irritable and discontent,” or even being grumpy. What seems to distinguish an alcoholic from a regular person is that these feelings are often multiplied by a hundred/thousand/million (depending on the alcoholic in discussion) and that they’re often accompanied by a conviction that what’s happening now will never end; “I will always feel this way and I can’t handle feeling this way” can often equal “Drinking or using is the only escape.” Add to that an allergy to drinking or drugs—that is, the fact that we don’t have an off button once a substance is put in our system—and you see the issue.