I Am Not Anonymous.

2 Dec

Alcoholism (as defined by Mayo Clinic): Alcoholism is a chronic and often progressive disease that includes problems controlling your drinking, being preoccupied with alcohol, continuing to use alcohol even when it causes problems, having to drink more to get the same effect (physical dependence), or having withdrawal symptoms when you rapidly decrease or stop drinking. If you have alcoholism, you can’t consistently predict how much you’ll drink, how long you’ll drink, or what consequences will occur from your drinking.

More from MayoClinic.com: Alcoholism is influenced by genetic, psychological, social and environmental factors that have an impact on how it affects your body and behavior.

The process of becoming addicted to alcohol occurs gradually, although some people have an abnormal response to alcohol from the time they start drinking. Over time, drinking too much may change the normal balance of chemicals and nerve tracks in your brain associated with the experience of pleasure, judgment and the ability to exercise control over your behavior. This may result in your craving alcohol to restore good feelings or remove negative ones.

So, I’ve been thinking a lot lately. And I’m at this age where it really sucks not being able to drink. Because I’m graduated from college, I’m in the “adult” world, I just moved to a town I barely know anyone in, and most of my friends still drink, yet it’s definitely toned down from college partying. Like, when I was in college I could look around me and everyone was getting sloppy wasted and I could tell myself, obviously that’s not a good scene for you. But now I look and my friends are going out on weekends, dancing, doing it more socially and staying much more put-together. So it’s hard to watch that and think that I couldn’t do the same thing. So I’ve been entertaining this idea like, I know I can’t drink. I know I won’t be able to drink next month, or next year, but maybe the year after I could. Maybe in five years I could. And I’ve been having these “what if…?” fantasies, where maybe eventually I could go out to the bar and drink without getting completely annihilated. What if? What if I end up discovering that this was all just a phase?

More on that later.

The Mayo Clinic is one of the most well known names in the medical world, right? So if they (along with most other medical institutions) are putting a label on alcoholism as a “disease” rather than a “choice” or a “bad habit”, why is the rest of the world having such an issue with it? It’s 2013 and everyone raves about “be you!” and “don’t be ashamed of who you are” yet the media screams the exact opposite in just about every facet of our lives ESPECIALLY in the area of mental health stigmas. Like, why is it that the media posts all these “this is heartbreaking” stories of kids who committed suicide and “I wish we could have helped him/her”, but in real life if you get stuck with the label of “that suicidal kid” in school then you’re the freak that no one wants to talk to, not the one everyone runs to help. And if you’re posting statuses and photos on Facebook of you binge-drinking every weekend then it’s okay because “that’s just college” but if you admit to being an alcoholic, suddenly there’s shame in that. The list goes on.

Obviously you’ve noticed that I’m very open about my recovery, and my sobriety. I know not everyone is like that. Maybe you see that as a good thing, or a bad thing, to be honest I don’t really care. Because I know that for myself I need accountability and I need transparency or I won’t get anywhere. I know that when my life was at it’s most unmanageable, when it was literally utter hell to wake up each morning, it was when I was lying circles around my life, when I was only telling people what I knew they wanted to hear about me, when I displayed an image of myself which, while never great, was what you would expect to see from an average college student. Now I’m not going around telling everyone the dark secrets of my life back then, but what is so wrong with saying that things were bad and when I peeled back the layers it was fueled by addiction and I’m getting help and now things are good? Like I don’t understand where the stigma came from?

For example, I’m working my first big-girl job and my coworkers sit around and talk about drinking any day of the week, to the point of one guy pressuring me and pushing back so hard when I would shrug and casually state that I don’t drink, that I was worried it was going to become an issue. But all the advice I could get on the situation was “oh just ignore him” because reality is that it’s socially acceptable in the workplace to pressure someone to drink but yet not to admit to being in treatment for a disease called alcoholism. It’s such a common thing. Everyone in recovery is so supportive of each other, but as soon as you step outside the rooms it’s all, “oh, but maybe don’t talk about that in public…” or, “you better delete that post about being in recovery in case someone from work sees it…” And again, the list goes on.

It’s just so frustrating because I feel like the basic response I get from people outside of recovery is: “Wow, you should really be proud of yourself! But, be proud of yourself in private please.” And I think that’s bullshit because you know what? I’ve come a long way and I’ve worked my butt off and I am so grateful for the grace of God to get me where I am and if I wanna talk about it, I’m gonna frickin talk about it. And I look around me in meetings and in treatment and I see all these amazing people, who have seen horrible things and been through battles that most people could never imagine. And they are so strong and have so much to be proud of yet all the world pushes on them is shame. Even in that paragraph from the Mayo Clinic it says, “…some people have an abnormal response to alcohol from the time they start drinking”. How can you blame a person for that? How can you look at an alcoholic and say they brought the disease on themselves, when maybe the only mistake they ever made was picking up that very first drink, just like you did way back when, just like mostly everyone you know did at one point? But because their brain didn’t react the way yours did, that’s their fault? Twenty-three million Americans age 12 or older suffer from alcohol and drug addiction. And it is a devastatingly fatal disease. These people fight a life or death battle every single day, oftentimes with very little support from anyone else. When will the rest of the population start to realize that this is a problem? And that the solution isn’t prison, and it isn’t living in silence either. AA has been around for almost 80 years, and currently has an estimated 1.25 million members in the US, yet alcoholism is still this weird thing that no one wants to talk about.

If you follow this blog, you’ve probably noticed that I have this habit of demanding that people talk about things that aren’t talked about. But just like any other topic I’ve written about, if you think keeping a serious and deadly matter hush-hush is any way to encourage victims to reach out for help, you’re crazy. The media likes to talk about people actively using drugs and getting wasted, glamorizing deadly behaviors (think Lindsay Lohan, etc) and then saying “it’s a pity she can’t get her life together”. But look at what they do to those who try?! If you’re in college getting wasted every night and popular opinion is “college kids get wasted” and alcoholism is associated with shame, if you feel like you might have a problem what are you most likely to do?! Get help and either have to hide in the shadows and beat around the bush about your disease, feeling like there’s something wrong with you when you’re honest about it? Or stay in the “norm” and keep drinking until it kills you?! But there is so much more out there– there is a whole community of both young and old people in recovery, amazing people, every different kind of people you can imagine. Yet no one knows that, until they take that first step and dive in. Why don’t they know it? Because no one talks about it. How much easier would that first step be, and how many more people would be brave enough to take it, if they knew that there was a whole new world for them? Some of the coolest, craziest people I’ve ever met have been in recovery. Believe it or not, sober kids are the furthest from “lame” that you could imagine. Because they are all there for a reason. Everyone has a story, everyone looks at life completely differently than those who have never been on the brink of losing everything.

I have, however, seen the topic come up in a few movies lately. It wasn’t until I began my recovery that I watched “Country Strong” for probably the fourth or fifth time and realized, it’s not a movie about country music. It’s a movie about alcoholism. And a pretty accurate one at that, if you can find it under all the fluff in the plot. Even more so, I just recently watched the Denzel Washington movie “Flight”. Much more blunt in it’s portrayal, the movie might be a little intense for some, but I thought it hit the nail on the head; even directly referencing AA, addiction, and alcoholism. Country Strong showed more of the “Hollywood” version of the disease, public relapse and just being a complete mess in front of thousands of people, but Flight was a movie I think most of us in recovery could relate to. While movies like this might be somewhat difficult to watch for someone newly sober, I actually appreciate the way it causes me to revisit negative memories, rediscover that anxious twist in my stomach that I so often forget. At this point, I need a constant reminder of why I am where I am, and what could happen should I throw it all away. I like to ask myself those “what if?” questions I mentioned earlier, but the truth is I already know the answer. What if I go back into the drinking world again? I know exactly what if. It would be disasterous, quite possibly even fatal. I would be miserable. I would once again sever all respectable ties with the people in my life. I would have weekly panic attacks. I would be unreliable, untrustable, and absolutely unbearable.

I love speakers who share their stories on the general basis of, “What we used to be like, what happened, and what we are like now.” Some people get sick of hearing each “drunkalogue” week after week, but I need it. I need the horror stories, I need to be reminded of where I came from, and where I could fall back to on any day I let my guard down. Which is why even movies, if well made, are good for me in that area. It’s been about two weeks since watching “Flight”, yet I have thought about it every day since then. It’s funny, I never thought a day would come when I could directly relate to a Denzel Washington character! But I did, every step of the way. Being a maintenance alcoholic. Pulling together a good face when it matters, convincing everyone you’re fine, saying all the right words and coming off as being completely on top of things while your life falls to pieces underneath you. Right up to when he cracks. He says near the end of the movie, “It was like I reached my lifelong limit of lies. I could not tell one more lie.” A revelation I believe most anyone in recovery can relate to. A point in his life where he knew that the truth may hurt him, but his lies would surely kill him. So he had one choice. Own it. Be honest. Stop living in denial, stop pretending he’s in control, stop worrying about what the label would do to him or his career. Refuse to be anonymous. And regardless of the consequences, it saved his life. And as he says later: “For the first time in my life, I’m free.”

flight-denzel

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One Response to “I Am Not Anonymous.”

  1. Terri December 2, 2013 at 7:23 pm #

    Bravo Laura! I’m going to share this with all three of my kids and a few other people I know. I hope you keep on writing – you really have a voice.

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