Ten Questions You Always Wanted to Ask a Recovering Alcoholic
"What I miss most about drinking is the warmth in my stomach and the feeling I can talk to anyone."
Photos by Grey Hutton
This article originally appeared on VICE Germany.
Alcohol is all fun and games until it's not anymore. It's clear that heavy drinking damages your insides—and possibly some relationships and bar stools. But much more can be destroyed when people start to become dependent on alcohol—which the NHS estimates in the UK is about 9 percent of men and 4 percent of women.
Murat*, 37, from Berlin, is a recovering alcoholic who joined Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) not long ago. He used to drink about half a bottle of vodka a day and at one point in his addiction began trying to counter the effects of alcohol with cocaine, Valium, and Tramadol. Like many other alcoholics, Murat didn't believe that he was ill, and it took going to an AA meeting for him to realize and confess that he had a problem. To the outside world, it might have seemed that he had his life under control—he was already a bar owner by his 20s, and he now also owns a restaurant in Berlin. But his addiction made him a danger to himself and everyone around him.
I met with him in a cafe in Berlin's downtown area—he's medium-sized, muscular, and his hair has a gray streak. He seems confident, but he becomes nervous when he starts talking about drinking. He tells me he's only doing the interview for himself, to learn how to be more open about his addiction.
VICE: What is the worst thing you've done to anyone while you were drunk?
Murat: I used to get into a lot of fights because I felt strong. I cheated on my girlfriends. I threatened and insulted people on the street. I once beat up a bouncer who didn't let me into a club. But the worst thing I've done was hit ex-girlfriends. I was violent toward all four women I was with before my current girlfriend. I've been with my current girlfriend for four years. I have never hit her.
What was the most dangerous time you were intoxicated?
There was this one time when I was lying in the bath, and I was not only drunk but had also taken Valium and injected cocaine. I had a panic attack from that, and I ran naked onto the street. The police eventually took me to the hospital. Things like that used to happen often—I've jumped out of windows at least six or seven times. Luckily, it's never been from so high that it could have ended deadly, but I did manage to fracture my spine.
I also caused a car accident once. In 2012, my car crashed into a bus and hit another car, too—the driver of the other car fractured his leg. When the police arrived, I ran off. I really wanted to get to my dealer, and when they chased me, I jumped into a canal—this was during the winter. They dragged me out and brought me to a hospital for hypothermia. When the psychologist said he would like to treat me for addiction, I told him he was crazy—I didn't think I was addicted at all. I only came to realize I was addicted about eight weeks ago, when I entered Alcoholics Anonymous.
How do you think you became an alcoholic?
My dependency on alcohol started with a beer. I was 13 and very shy, when I had my first one. This girl I liked and her friends invited me to have a drink with them, and after about half a bottle, I fell in love with the feeling it gave me. It made me talkative; all my fears were gone. After that I only ever hung out with people who were drinking. I drank every weekend until there was either no alcohol left or I threw up. At 14, I got into my first fight and went into petty crime. My parents decided to send me to a religious boarding school in Turkey. That was exactly how you would imagine it—order, discipline, beatings, getting up at five in the morning to pray. I was unhappy and came back to Germany after a year. I only drank on weekends then.
At 18, I started to do sports excessively until I became addicted to fitness. At 19, I started drinking every day again until they kicked me out of the business school I had enrolled in earlier. After that, I pulled myself together again, did a hospitality-training course, and opened up a bar. People think alcoholics all sleep on the street, but they're often people who function in society. During the day, I had everything under control; at night, I would drink.
Which drink is most popular with alcoholics?
Vodka. You can mix it easily; it doesn't taste of much, and it's pretty easy to drink pure, too. It kicks in quickly, and it's relatively cheap.
Which drink do you miss the most now that you've quit drinking?
I miss having wine with dinner. That was a nice ritual.
Who did you hurt the most with your addiction?
My ex-girlfriends. They went through some rough times because of me. I hurt people closest to me the most. When I was younger I would often argue with my parents, and break things at home. While I was struggling with my addiction, my current girlfriend lost a lot of weight because of me, too. Sometimes when I was drunk I'd accuse her of awful things and try to control her. But she stayed with me, because of our good phases—and because she hoped I'd get my addiction under control.
What did your addiction destroy forever?
In regards to my body, apart from an abscess from injecting, and a spinal fracture, not much. Mentally, not drinking means I have to deal with my fears head-on—the fear of economic uncertainty, of being alone...
What do you miss most about alcohol?
The warmth in your stomach and the feeling that you can talk to anyone. When I see people drinking at the bar, I get pretty jealous. But alcoholism is chronic. If I touch alcohol now—even if it's just a rum praline—I'd slowly relapse into old habits. Many alcoholics stop coming to AA meetings because they think they're cured. They treat themselves to a glass of wine here and there, which can work out fine for a while. But then when they really relapse, the effect can be much more intense than they think, and they completely lose control.
Do you have other means of intoxicating yourself now?
I don't intoxicate myself anymore—I meditate and pray. I enjoy being in the sun again, which just annoyed me when I drank a lot. I do sometimes go out but to shisha bars that don't serve alcohol. I'm not ready to go to clubs yet.
Do you think alcohol should be banned?
No. Not everyone's a potential alcoholic. Most people can deal with it better than I can. Even as a teenager, I noticed that I drank differently than my friends did. They all stopped at one point, while I kept sliding deeper into it.
*Murat's name was changed at his request.
If you think you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline. If you're a victim of domestic abuse, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline.