In A.A. we have 12 steps, 12 traditions and 12 promises. Back in the day there was a little pamphlet with a test that you could take including 12 questions to see if you were perhaps alcoholic, or at least headed in that direction. I was thinking about those questions today and Googled them. I was happy to see that they still exist. Here are my answers, from 1998, about 1 year before I stopped drinking.
Answer YES or NO to the following questions.
1. Have you ever decided to stop drinking for a week or so, but only lasted for a couple of days?
Most of us in A.A. made all kinds of promises to ourselves and to our families. We could not keep them. Then we came to A.A. A.A. said: "Just try not to drink today." (If you do not drink today, you cannot get drunk today.)
2. Do you wish people would mind their own business about your drinking-- stop telling you what to do?
In A.A. we do not tell anyone to do anything. We just talk about our own drinking, the trouble we got into, and how we stopped. We will be glad to help you, if you want us to.
No. But only because I am truly a master at being sneaky and lying.
3. Have you ever switched from one kind of drink to another in the hope that this would keep you from getting drunk?
We tried all kinds of ways. We made our drinks weak. Or just drank beer. Or we did not drink cocktails. Or only drank on weekends. You name it, we tried it. But if we drank anything with alcohol in it, we usually got drunk eventually.
Sort of. I would at times - after “greyouts” - drink only wine and beer for a week or two, staying away from the "hard stuff".
4. Have you had to have an eye-opener upon awakening during the past year?
Do you need a drink to get started, or to stop shaking? This is a pretty sure sign that you are not drinking "socially”.
No. But that eye-opener was just around the corner had I continued on. I felt it coming.
5. Do you envy people who can drink without getting into trouble?
At one time or another, most of us have wondered why we were not like most people, who really can take it or leave it.
Not really. Because I wasn't getting in trouble, again thanks to my mad skills at lying and being sneaky.
6. Have you had problems connected with drinking during the past year?
Be honest! Doctors say that if you have a problem with alcohol and keep on drinking, it will get worse -- never better. Eventually, you will die, or end up in an institution for the rest of your life. The only hope is to stop drinking.
Ugh. I guess. A lot of drinking when I didn't want to. Which is sort of a problem. And stomach ulcers, which I soon found out, goes with the alcoholic territory. But I never let the ulcers get in the way of my drinking.
7. Has your drinking caused trouble at home?
Before we came into A.A., most of us said that it was the people or problems at home that made us drink. We could not see that our drinking just made everything worse. It never solved problems anywhere or anytime.
No. Not really. But the more I drank the more I just wanted to be left alone to drink in peace goddammit. So yes, I felt that my partner was an obstruction to my being able to drink the way I wanted to. I started to wonder what I wanted, him or the booze. It was a toss-up, which is terrifying to look back on. What I would be willing to forsake for booze.
8. Do you ever try to get "extra" drinks at a party because you do not get enough?
Most of us used to have ”a few" before we started out if we thought it was going to be that kind of party. And if drinks were not served fast enough, we would go some place else to get more.
9. Do you tell yourself you can stop drinking any time you want to, even though you keep getting drunk when you don't mean to?
Many of us kidded ourselves into thinking that we drank because we wanted to. After we came into A.A., we found out that once we started to drink, we couldn't stop.
YES. Although unlike some alcoholics I could stop drinking before I got too drunk in public. But that was agony. Having a few drinks and stopping? Pure unadulterated agony. I know that if I picked up a drink today that self-imposed discipline about public drunkenness would go out the window.
10. Have you missed days of work or school because of drinking?
Many of us admit now that we "called in sick" lots of times when the truth was that we were hungover or on a drunk.
NO. At the time, no. But again, if I had continued on I certainly would have missed work. In my twenties there were days that I arrived at work so hungover that I was basically a zombie. Trying desperately to drink coffee or choke down some crackers and pretty much just a waste of space.
11. Do you have "blackouts"?
A "blackout" is when we have drinking hours or days which we cannot remember. When we came to A.A. we found out that this is a pretty sure sign of alcoholic drinking.
Maybe. I had a few blackouts, but I had more of what I called “greyouts”. Almost a blackout but you can remember some elements of the evening. Including how you got home. It's like small chunks of time coming in and out of consciousness. I can remember going to parties or clubs and not remembering anything that happened between 10 p.m. and midnight or so but remembering the rest of the evening, from midnight until 3 a.m. or whenever I went home. Or I would remember getting home but not how I got home. Had I driven? (Sometimes I had.) Taken a taxi? Ridden on the subway by myself at 2 a.m.? It was often a mystery to me.
12. Have you ever felt that your life would be better if you did not drink?
Many of us started to drink because drinking made life seem better, at least for a while. By the time we got into A.A., we felt trapped. We were drinking to live and living to drink. We were sick and tired of being sick and tired.
So, here is my breakdown:
4 “Sort of”s
But I didn't need this quiz to know that I was an alcoholic. I knew that I was. And if you are questioning your relationship with alcohol I would ask you to consider this. Never have I met someone who was NOT an alcoholic who spent any time at all wondering if they might be one. My husband for example, who is a very light drinker, has never nor ever will (God willing) question whether or not he is an alcoholic. As I heard it put so eloquently in a meeting once: "Non-drunks don't lie awake at night wondering if they are drunks". That sums it up for me.
So these 12 questions are interesting. They can’t provide a definite answer but they might be used as an indicator. If three are more are yes, the quiz says, it might be time to start looking into your relationship with alcohol. In the parlance of today the quiz asks us to consider that we may have an "alcohol use disorder" or have become "alcohol dependent". Back in 1998 when I first took this quiz it was more blunt. If you answered three or more with a yes, it informed me, you're fucked.
But I have my own questions. Questions that I might ask someone today if I wanted to know if they were alcoholic. Here are the questions, and if asked of me today, the answer would still be yes, years into sobriety. There is something very dark and twisted about the alcoholic brain and if we can get sober we can grow to appreciate it. In the rooms I have heard complete strangers admit to having these very same thoughts that made me think I was crazy, and all alone in my insanity for years! Maybe we are all nuts but at least if we are in A.A. we are in excellent company. We can sit together in rooms all around the world and laugh at ourselves and our minds that are still actively trying to take us down.
Here are the questions that I like to ask my friends in recovery today to gauge whether or not we are using the same operating system.
1. Do you spend any time thinking about or planning your own funeral?
2. Do you worry that the oncoming trucks will smash into you? Or that you will purposefully smash into them?
3. Do you find yourself having arguments with people who aren't there? Some who might even be dead or not even born yet? A future son or daughter-in-law perhaps?
4. Do you feel like you are pretending to be a grown up but that inside you are still a teenager? That this grown-up role you are playing is all smoke and mirrors?
5. Are you afraid to pick up the phone sometimes because you just know it will be terrible news?
6. Do you wonder if it might be better to check out now? While you still look good and have all your original joints in place and not replacement pieces?
7. Do you forget to drink water, carry an umbrella in the rain or wear a hat or gloves or boots in the snow?
8. Do you avoid going on vacation alone as you don't quite trust yourself?
9. Do you feel a bit superior but also like a bit of a failure?
10. Are you grumpy in the morning if denied hot coffee?
11. Do you always lock your car doors when you are inside your car? Even when sitting in your driveway? For fear of being attacked by a violent offender, or maybe even Bigfoot?
12. Have you ever had a repo man come to your house to collect your car because you "forgot" to pay your lease bill? Even though you had the money to pay that bill? But you didn't pay that bill (or others) because that would have meant finding a check, writing it out, putting the check in an envelope and finding a stamp? Even writing that last sentence exhausted me. Do I even have stamps? An envelope? A checkbook? Of course I do but do I want to look for them? Even though I know exactly where they all are? No.
I have several more but will stop there. I know, I know. SO dark. Please be assured that I am laughing as I write this but also that the answer to all of those questions is still a resounding YES! And if a normie is reading this and answers yes to all, never fear. It may not mean you are an alcoholic, you may just think like one, not drink like one. So congratulations on your thinking and remember - great minds think alike.
Some of my answers have changed in the past few years. I know now that I could take myself on vacation and not have to worry about picking up. I'm spending less time arguing with ghosts. And the repo man has not been to my house in 7 years. But just because I'm sober doesn't mean I'm sane. I'm aware of my crazy now and it actually keeps me quite entertained. I'm learning to smile at those crossing-the-Verrazano-bridge thoughts that say "you know you could drive right off of this and then you'd never have to bring the cats to the vet again".
So those 12 questions were instrumental in getting me to the rooms of A.A. and to the 12 steps, which I believe have saved my life. I have learned to respect the 12 traditions of A.A. and now after years the 12 promises are coming true in my life. So it seems that a lot of good things come in twelves. Steps, promises, traditions, even questions to see if you might have an issue with alcohol. There are a lot of other great things that come in twelves - days of Christmas, apostles, roses, bagels.
It looks like 12 may very well be my new number 1.