What picture comes to your mind when you think of an alcoholic? A homeless person under the bridge? Or a well-situated housewife, mother, or church member in suburbia driving a newer SUV? What do you think a heroin user looks like? Do you picture a young adult who is homeless, jobless, or panhandling in the metro in dirty clothes? Or do you picture the football star of your daughter’s high school, who asked her out for prom, from well-known family in town, son of a lawyer and a doctor who just got his first Mercedes? Fact is, all of these pictures are true.
Alcoholism and addiction are not just a problem for the under-privileged and under-educated. Alcoholism and addiction are pounding on everyone’s door.
Armed with that information, think of who might need your attention and help, not your isolation or stigma. Don’t shut your doors to those that struggle, or this epidemic will get worse and worse. It sometimes takes a village to help people get back on their feet. You could be the one who start it by opening your door to the one that has nowhere else to go.
Instead of shielding your children from the world, so they can’t get in touch with the “wrong people”, be the one that has information, healthy boundaries, an open door without judgement, but full of help and support. If a young person is in trouble, don’t forbid your children further contact with that person, but welcome him to a talk, offer support, or seek a conversation and tell him that he’s welcome if he turns his life around.
We all have that perfect friend that seems to have it all in a row. The daily juggle of housework, maybe a job, maybe kids, husband, home, cooking, cleaning, church and charity. What you don’t know is what happens behind closed doors. For a very long time, I was able to keep that picture upright. I bought enormous amounts of alcohol, but I spread it in a very organized way between several liquor stores, so it never looked suspicious, so I thought. Looking back I’m pretty sure that people knew what was going on, especially if they saw me drinking my way “down the shelf”. (“Down the shelf” means that expensive brands like Chevas Regal or 12-year-old malt whisky are usually at eye height in the upper shelves. At the end of my alcoholism, I was drinking those plastic half gallon bottles, which are usually near the floor board.)
At first, I drank because I loved that feeling of warmth and escape. I loved going to bed with the right amount of booze in my blood that made me tired and restful and heavy. Your mind turns off, your thoughts disappear and you float into dreamless sleep. It has been many years since I had that feeling, but I still chased it. The last years, I drank to stop the tremble in my hands, to wake up, and to function in the mornings. And at night, it was not cozy anymore, it was me passing out with little memory of the evening, most times. To the outside observer, I kept my face nice and only left my home when I was in a good state. Most people who knew me didn’t see a person with a drinking problem– they saw my mask.
I was a prisoner in my own house. I was too afraid to get a DUI to drive drunk, and when you are most often drunk, you don’t drive anywhere. (My husband worked long hours, most of the time six days a week, so me and my cat were the ones that shared life, day in and day out. I recently lost my cat, it was the hardest thing for me. She was by my side in the worst years of my alcoholism and addiction and the first years of my recovery. I can’t imagine that I would have been able to do it without her at some days, she was my rock and emotional stability when my life shattered. My husband was my biggest support and did everything for my recovery, but my cat was the unconditional love that never left my side.)
During my addiction to certain pill, and my alcoholism, I was the woman next door to you, the one who seemed to have it all together. I was the one that waved to everyone on the way to town, that mowed the lawn (1/3 at a time, since I was unable to be in the sun that long as I would have passed out), that ate healthy, grew tomatoes, and loved the flowers in her front yard. My house was clean; my car was shiny.
The outside picture was fine, but nobody was supposed to know how I look inside. I did not reach out for help, because I felt too embarrassed by my own actions. My level of shame and guilt over my drinking was unbearable, my actions and behavior didn’t match my outfit, or my morals and values. It was the worst way to live.
When it comes to addiction or alcoholism, it doesn’t matter why that person got addicted. I often hear, “It’s his own fault. Nobody forced him to take it.” and similar sentences. First of all, most people in addiction started well before their 15th birthday. Nobody can say that, for example, a 12-year-old made a well-informed decision when he took his first drink or drug. Before he gained any form of maturity, he was already a full-blown addict.
Others get prescriptions for pain (for example, after a surgery) and little they know, they would end up as addicts and eventually buy it on the street. But even if someone could be said to be at a responsible age and got into it with full knowledge, who am I to throw the first stone? It’s like telling someone who lost all his belongings in a house fire that he is an irresponsible, unreliable person, because he fell asleep with a candle lit. Was it his fault? Yes, but losing everything in a fire is still a tragedy, isn’t it? Let’s stop blaming, and start helping. Break that stigma and stop judging. It doesn’t matter why, addicts need help.
I don’t have an excuse or want an excuse why I am an alcoholic and addict. But I know one thing very clearly: While becoming addicted was not entirely within my control, it is my responsibility to do something about it. When I’m a diabetic, I need to go to the doctor, get my medicine, and keep a diet. As a severe alcoholic just before dying, I needed treatment, medical help, meetings, and to keep away from mind-altering substances. I followed my treatment plan and have not relapsed (so far) in seven years of sobriety. I didn’t do it alone.
We need to stop judging our neighbors, but be a community that reaches out. We need to stop living side-by-side without interaction and be neighbors again that care for each other. Families have to stop pointing the finger toward the “black sheep”, but get together to figure out how they can help and find a way got get their lost loved one back on a healthy track.
If you don’t know how to help, maybe just give the person our phone number: 888-312 4220 and tell him you will support him if he decides to get help. Calls are free, confidential, and no strings attached. It’s an easy way to ask about a way out of the dark place. Parents and other relatives are welcome to call as well to get tips and help.
Today, I know that somebody has to take care about it. And I am somebody. I hope you are somebody, too. Be Somebody, help somebody.
We do recover.