Understanding the High-Functioning Alcoholic
My success was the mask that disguised the underlying demon and fed my denial. In fact, I don't recall that I learned about the disease concept of alcoholism in my counseling psychology master's degree program. I was taught about the DSM-IV TR symptoms of alcohol dependence and alcohol abuse, and my denial led me to believe that I did not fit into either of those diagnoses. It wasn't until I joined a Twelve-Step Recovery Program myself that I was able to understand and admit that I am an alcoholic. Finally, my drinking behaviors and thought processes began to make sense. Society, school, and loved ones didn't teach me—a recovery program did.

As a mental health professional and a recovering alcoholic, I understand alcoholism on many levels. Throughout my drinking years, I kept a journal that has provided me with clear tangible evidence of the alcoholic battle within my mind, body, and soul. Some of these entries have saved me from having an even deeper denial of my addiction, for in the end, I could not argue with my own journal writings. I am choosing to share some of these writings and other reflective pieces to find meaning in my own struggle to recover from alcoholism and to help others realize that they are not alone.

Past Journal Entry: December 9, 1998, Age 22
How many times did I have to wake up in the morning learning about my evil actions the night before from other people? It was humorous at first, but eventually it became hurtful to all involved.

For the first time in my life, I needed to control myself. My parents were not there punishing me. I was punishing myself in my own way. No one could teach me the lessons that I was learning. I had to go through them myself. I pushed my own safety to the limit and knew subconsciously that it was a rebellion. How many close calls did I have to survive, how many mornings did I need to wake up with fragmented memories of the night before?

I didn't even feel guilt. I blew it off and continued to get good grades. To me having good grades would compensate for anything stupid that I did drunk. Good grades would keep my parents quiet and make me feel as though my life was in control.

After this past journal entry, I went on to drink for six more years. The longer I have been in recovery, the more I change my perspective on my past. I often wonder how I couldn't see certain truths about my alcoholism through the twelve years that I drank. Now, I know that my inability to see this truth was yet another symptom of alcoholism. The longer that I am in recovery, the more I am able to see the insanity of my drinking. I feel the need to tell aspects of my story because it is not that of the stereotypical alcoholic. The story of the HFA is seldom told, for it is not one of obvious tragedy, but that of silent suffering.

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Excerpted from Understanding the High-Functioning Alcoholic (Praeger, an imprint of ABC-CLIO, 2009), by Sarah Allen Benton.


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