“Telescoping” describes the faster progression of alcoholism in women as compared to men. A study in The Journal of Studies on Alcohol & Drugs examined onset of and intervals between “landmark events” in the course of alcoholism and found that while men initiate drinking regularly at a younger age, women progress through the landmarks of alcoholism in significantly shorter intervals (Randall, Roberts, Del Boca, Carroll, Connors & Matson, 1999).
The major landmark events used to gauge the progression of alcoholism are: 1) being drunk regularly; 2) first problems due to drinking appear; 3) loss of control when drinking; and 4) worst problems encountered due to drinking prior to treatment. The study found the following:
- Men began drinking regularly at age 22 while women began at age 26
- Loss of control occurred for men at age 27 and for women at age 30
- Time lapse between first getting drunk regularly and encountering a problem with drinking was 2.3 years for men and only 0.9 years for women
- Time lapse between loss of control and worst problem drinking was 7.8 years for men and only 5.5 years for women.
Women with anxiety disorders exhibit an even faster progression (Kushner, Maurer, Menary, Thuras, 2011). The escalation of alcohol abuse and dependence occurs simultaneous to women’s prime reproductive years, making women and their children vulnerable to the negative consequences of alcoholism at an already vulnerable time.
Reflecting on my own drinking career, I can see how quickly alcohol had me in its grips. I was drinking regularly before I was legally allowed to drink. I exhibited a loss of control and suffered negative consequences almost immediately and within five years from the time I started drinking regularly, I was on my knees begging a God I didn’t even believe in to help me stop drinking.
I wanted to read more about the phenomenon of telescoping, which I learned of in Ann Dowsett Johnston’s book, Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol, because I have had my own little analogy about telescopes and recovery that I’ve been repeating to myself and in the rooms for years.
The more powerful telescoping experience happened for me after I got sober.
When I was drinking, I largely lived in my own head and was hyper-focused on myself. How was I feeling? What was I upset about? What did other people think about me? Was I getting what I wanted? What was wrong with me? I was consumed with self… drowning in self.
At its most intense point, my painful focus on self made me think the only solution to my pain was absolute annihilation of the self. I am so grateful that I never acted fatally on some of the dark thoughts I had during the dark and drunk periods of my life.
In my active addiction, I lived life looking through the wrong end of a telescope or like I was looking through my father’s thick glasses as a child – all I could see was a tiny piece of a thing but it consumed my entire view. The more I drank, the more my life shrank. Alcohol crowded everything else out and I became trapped within the four walls of my own self-centered being. Even if I was out, among friends or family, I retreated to a space inside myself – driven by impulse, self-will, rumination, and self-centeredness.
Recovery has been this amazing process of climbing back down the telescope, shedding layers of crippling self-centeredness, gaining perspective and wisdom, and getting to behold an entire world of beauty and wonder from a more right-sized relationship with the universe.
A telescope allows one to more intimately experience the magnitude and mystery of the cosmos. On the right side of the telescope, the self feels small and that ultimate insignificance creates space for perspective, humor, compassion, forgiveness, and growth. Climbing back down the telescope I learned how to not take myself so damn seriously, how to let go of the fear that kept me knotted up inside, how to allow myself and the people around me to be fully human, how to accept my imperfections, and a host of other attitudes and outlooks I couldn’t grasp when I was actively drinking.
Now, before my husband reads this and calls me a liar, I will admit that I can climb right back to the wrong end of the telescope with a quickness and sometimes I still linger there too long… BUT… I know when I am there and I know what to do to get back to the space that provides me perspective and peace.
A problem or grudge or fear could keep me company in my drinking for weeks in the past. I had resentments I nursed for years. Today when I get upset, it’s a couple of hours tops. I usually call someone, talk over what’s going on, take some deep breaths, go for a walk with the babies or read something and pretty soon I’m good again. Recovery gives me the tools to get out of my head and do something to actively move toward a solution, toward a healthier stance.
So, there’s my tale of two telescopes. Knowing the pain of yesterday makes today all the more beautiful.