Tic Tacs 

Lunch time recently I was in a liquor store , buying a sandwich, not liquor. In front of me in the check out line is a big, red-faced guy. I can see he's a heavy drinker; easy to spot; red faced, puffy, defocussed eyes, capillaries. I look down at the counter in front of him. He is buying 2 one-liter bottles of bourbon and a small box of Tic Tacs.

It strikes me that this is a perfect illustration of the kind of insane thinking and denial of reality that infects the life of the active addict.

The visual strikes me as very funny, two huge bottles of liquor and a little tiny box of mints. My first instinct is to laugh, the way folks do at AA meetings when someone tells a particularly bizarre drinking story. And I do laugh, but silently and to myself. Then some compassion kicks in. This is not an AA meeting.It is not an anecdote from someone's lurid past. This is happening in the present, and this man is suffering.

Granted, I don't know this for a fact. He could be buying the whiskey for a party, and the Tic Tacs for his teenage daughter. But he's not buying any chips and dip to go along with the booze. My initial impression is likely the truth. He has a belief that a few mints will mask the odor of massive quantities of bourbon whiskey. He needs to believe this. He needs to drink, and he needs to hide it from his boss, his wife, his kids, law enforcement and pretty near everyone else. So he has a solution, a little box of Tic Tacs.

It is well known in addiction counseling that an addict will likely do the minimum possible and hope to achieve the maximum result. Once an addict reaches a point where his life is intolerable he usually has just one goal: How do I get well without giving up my addiction?

This is easy to understand. The addiction is his best friend. In many cases it is his only friend. From his perspective, it is the only thing keeping him going. To imagine a life without that friend is terrifying. This is the addictive cycle; the only antidote the addict has for the pain of his existence is the very thing that is making that pain intolerable.

To move from this hopeless place requires a shift, a small change in perspective. It doesn't require the room to fill with light, or a stunning new understanding of life, but only a faint glimmer of hope, a wisp, a notion, a momentary failure of the defensive system that allows in the thought that there may be another way to feel OK, just possibly. Without any real belief or confidence, if he can say, “Well shit, I guess I could give it a try.” This is the beginning of recovery for many addicts.

My hope for this man is that one day he can recount this story with some sober friends, conjuring up the image of the two large bottles of booze and the tiny plastic box of Tic Tacs, and laugh at himself for the way he behaved back in the day, when he was drinking. And his friends will laugh along with him.//

© Tim 2015