The first step of any 12-step program is to admit you are powerless over something and that your life has become unmanageable.

For many addicts and alcoholics, this is an extraordinarily difficult task even though their addiction has cost them their job, their marriage, a few teeth or most of their body fat. If you are not an addict, you look at these poor souls and wonder, “How can you possibly not see what you addiction has done to you?” “Why haven’t you you made that connection?”

A lot of it has to do with denial. They blame their predicament on Steps anything and everything BUT their addiction: It’s the ultimate dog-ate-my-homework excuse on a massive scale. Taking that first step means admitting two things: 1. That you have no control over something. 2. That your life has become unmanageable.

There are some addicts and alcoholics who readily admit that  their lives have become unmanageable, but they refuse to see that the cause of the un-manageability is drugs and/or alcohol.

For others, they readily admit that they cannot stop drugging or drinking but they cannot see that their lives have become unmanageable. I am one of these folks.

I was what is known as a high-functioning alcoholic. I knew I could not stop drinking. I even admitted I was an alcoholic. But I refused to admit that my life had become unmanageable. We are the ones who often drink at home, so no one can see our unmanageability. Those around us high-functioning addicts/alcoholics don’t see it either. In fact, they praise us for how well we manage our busy, successful lives.

Although we’re very often the biggest pricks you will ever meet, deep down we are very, very concerned about what other people think of us when it comes to our drinking and drug use. We can be ruthless in our drive to prove that we have control and that our lives are manageable.

You live like this long enough and you can become exceedingly good at what you do. Which is why a lot of high-functioning addicts and alcoholics are so successful. We work our asses off – will sacrifice our families, marriages and children – to prove to ourselves that our lives are manageable. The more unmanageable our drug use or drinking becomes, the harder we work at proving to ourselves and others that we have our shit together.

God help the person who threatens our relentless drive to prove that our lives are manageable. We will eat you alive. We can become ruthless, sarcastic, self-righteous bastards in our effort to prove the manageability of our lives. We will intimidate you so you will shut up. If you happen to have depression or bipolar along with your addiction, you are a living hell.

Here’s what it looked like for me:

I was an unadulterated bitch. Luckily, I have the kind of career in which being a bitch can be a good thing. If you hung up on me during an interview, I would wait a few minutes and call back: “Sorry about that. I think we had a bad connection and I lost my signal.” I often asked questions that ticked people off and I did not shy away from confrontation.

I perfected the passive-aggressive lifestyle. Sarcasm was my best friend. I thought I was funny. To prove that my life was in order, I kept my house in order – IN ORDER. Like Martha Stewart on meth. Then there was exercise. I didn’t just go to the gym and work out, I worked out until I foamed at the mouth.

I became addicted to triathlon and swam, biked or ran every morning. I can’t tell you how many times – with a massive hangover – I would drive to a 1/2-mile long, very steep bridge and run back and forth across it 8 times. How could an alcoholic possibly do that? I asked myself. I was relentless in proving to myself and others that I had it together.

When I was depressed, I was meaner. When I was manic, I was more aggressive. It went on like that for years. I actually feel sorry now for my ex-husband. I must have been a bitch to live with.

It all came crashing down on Aug. 27, 1998. I didn’t lose my job, my car or my house. I did lose the marriage – one of two failed attempts at happily-ever-after. I remember only snippets of my last night of drinking and it was not pretty. I realized when I got up that morning that I was not only unable to quit drinking, my life was totally unmanageable. I had proven to my self that my life was out of control. I quit drinking that day and I have not wanted to drink since.

I have many friends who were also high-functioning alcoholics. Doctors, lawyers, executives and very successful, wealthy businessmen and women. They defy the alcoholic stereotype but they will be the first ones to admit they are no better than the alcoholic on the street begging for money. But for the grace of God…

I want you to know about high-functioning alcoholics and addicts because I want to help dispel the stigma of alcoholism and addiction – just as I want to do what I can to dispel the stigma of depression and bipolar. Anyone – and I mean anyone – can have these illnesses. Alcoholism and addiction may manifest one way with one person and seemingly the opposite way in another addict/alcoholic.

Different sides of the same coin.

man on stairs image available from Shutterstock.