“Paint a garbage can platinum and underneath, it’s still a garbage can.” Nikki Sixx
In Chapter 3 of the AA Big Book, we’re introduced to an alcoholic named Jim. He has a successful business until he starts drinking at age 35 in an attempt to dull a nervous tick, and everything goes to hell.
From pages 35-36:
“In a few years he became so violent when intoxicated that he had to be committed. On leaving the asylum he came into contact with us.
“We told him what we knew of alcoholism and the answer we had found. He made a beginning. His family was re-assembled, and he began to work as a salesman for the business he had lost through drinking. All went well for a time, but he failed to enlarge his spiritual life. To his consternation, he found himself drunk half a dozen times in rapid succession. On each of these occasions we worked with him, reviewing carefully what had happened. He agreed he was a real alcoholic and in a serious condition. He knew he faced another trip to the asylum if he kept on. Moreover, he would lose his family for whom he had a deep affection.
“Yet he got drunk again. We asked him to tell us exactly how it happened. This is his story: “I came to work on Tuesday morning. I remember I felt irritated that I had to be a salesman for a concern I once owned. I had a few words with the boss, but nothing serious. Then I decided to drive into the country and see one of my prospects for a car. On the way I felt hungry so I stopped at a roadside place where they have a bar. I had no intention of drinking. I just thought I would get a sandwich. I also had the notion that I might find a customer for a car at this place, which was familiar for I had been going to it for years. I had eaten there many times during the months I was sober. I sat down at a table and ordered a sandwich and a glass of milk. Still no thought of drinking. I ordered another sandwich and decided to have another glass of milk.
“Suddenly the thought crossed my mind that if I were to put an ounce of whiskey in my milk it couldn’t hurt me on a full stomach. I ordered a whiskey and poured it into the milk. I vaguely sensed I was not being any too smart, but felt reassured as I was taking the whiskey on a full stomach. The experiment went so well that I ordered another whiskey and poured it into more milk. That didn’t seem to bother me so I tried another.”
This is what we addicts call insanity. We get into this stupid idea that we can drink, eat or do drugs in perfect moderation like so-called normal people. That might mean trying to moderate drinking by ditching the hard stuff for just beer, or ditching red meat.
In the former case, you’re still getting smashed on a daily basis on beer. In the latter case — my case — you binge on everything that isn’t red meat until you explode.
At one point in my time as an out-of-control food addict, I decided to starve myself during the week and allow myself crazy binges Thursdays through Sundays. I looked forward to Thursdays because I could go into the Ground Round and order one of those colossal plates of nachos with every kind of junk dumped on top. That’s an appetizer meant to be shared between three or more people, but I would eat that myself, then chase it down with something healthy like a salad.
I’d carry on that way until the end of the weekend, and work out an hour-plus each day to balance it out.
It was but one variation of the insanity I had always practiced. As a teen and early 20-something I would binge on fast food for weeks and then starve myself for one or two weeks.
I usually binged in the car, trying to drive as I stuffed one arm into the bag of grease, flour, sugar and salt. That’s insanity too, because it doesn’t exactly promote safe driving.
It’s all about as crazy as putting whiskey in your milk and carrying on like you’re just drinking milk.
In the big picture, the problem isn’t the food, or the booze, or the drugs. It’s not necessarily the insanity of engaging in the binge.
Instead, the real problem — ground zero — is a deeper insanity that takes up residence in our souls, causing us the nervous ticks that make us do the stupid things we do. In the TV show “The West Wing,” recovered alcoholic Leo McGarry describes the nervous condition nicely:
We all have some form of insanity within us. Some learn to manage it without substances. Many more don’t.
Which leaves me with the question:
What’s your insanity, and what does it make you do?