So how do you redeem yourself for all the terrible things you did while you were drinking? Do you need to seek people out to apologise? Or do good deeds to make up for the bad? Or spend your life dragging around your guilt like Jacob Marley’s ghost?
Well here’s some things to think about. Imagine there’s a drug that drove people insane and caused them to kill people. Imagine if, unbeknownst to them, you put a dose of this drug in someone’s food, and they went berserk and killed someone. Would they be responsible for that death? My opinion is that they would be innocent. They would have no responsibility for that death, it was caused by something outside of their control.
But what if someone took the drug on purpose and then killed someone? What if they took it knowing full well they would end up killing someone? Well that is a very different situation and I would have no hesitation of holding them fully responsible for that death.
These two situations are fairly straightforward, but let’s consider a third situation. What if the person took the drug of their own free will, but had been fooled into thinking it wasn’t what it actually was. What if they were told this drug made them happy and jolly and friendly? What if they took it and then killed someone? Would you hold them responsible for that death, or not? In this situation, as in the first, I would say the person is not responsible for the death.
This third scenario is really the most analogous to doing something dreadful when you are drinking. Society doesn’t see alcohol as something that causes bad temper, anger, emotional instability, spite, thoughtlessness, and violence. It sees it as something that makes people happy and sociable and friendly. Sure we know there’s a link between drinking and violence, but that only applies to drunken thugs, it doesn’t apply to us.
Of course things aren’t quite this simple because when we drink we do get bad tempered and thoughtless and obnoxious and offensive. We know from experience that we do. So to go back to our analogy of the drug that makes us kill people, we may not hold the person responsible who has been conned into thinking the drug makes them friendly, as opposed to murderous. However if they took the drug 600 times and killed 600 people, we might begin to find their excuse that ‘I didn’t know it would make me kill someone, I thought it would just make me happy and friendly’ a bit hard to swallow.
So why do we keep drinking, knowing that it makes us do terrible things? One of the main reasons is that we don’t do horrible things after one or two drinks, only after we are fully intoxicated. Again we come back to society’s view of drinking. Society doesn’t believe there is any withdrawal when you drink. There is a widely held view that alcohol makes you feel relaxed and happy, and that pleasant feeling slowly dissipates with no negative effects. This being the case moderation should be easy. So we keep returning to the drink because logic dictates that we should be able to just have one or two, avoid compete intoxication, and therefore avoid all the obnoxious things we do when we drink.
The real reason people do awful things when they drink is not because they are awful people, nor because they drink in the full knowledge that it will make them do awful things, but because they don’t properly understand that nature of it. They keep returning to the drink, and they keep doing obnoxious things, because logic dictates that they should be able to drink and not do obnoxious things. This is because their logic is based on incorrect information.
Of course if you do fully understand the nature of alcohol and still drink then you have to hold your hand up to every transgression. Those sins are yours to own. But if you understand the nature of alcohol, and you have stopped drinking, then I would say two things.
Firstly you don’t need to beat yourself up about what you did when you were drinking. You didn’t do it through spite, or even do it deliberately. You did it because you believed societies image of drinking. This is the only thing you did ‘wrong’, and frankly it’s not much of a crime is it?
Secondly, in stopping drinking you have done everything you can to make sure the problem never occurs again. You have acted, learnt, and remedied your behaviour. That’s all anyone can expect of you.
You want redemption for all the terrible things you’ve done whilst drinking? Well as far as I’m concerned in stopping drinking you’ve done all you need to do to earn that redemption.