There is a stigma that engulfs alcoholics, with good reason.
We get drunk, get behind the wheel, and slam into busses full of nuns who were transporting puppies to needy children… Worse, because we’re hammered and loose, we usually survive accidents like that. In fact, put that way one can understand a little anger, no?
For those of us, the majority, who manage to avoid the fatal crash (one can hardly call it an ‘accident’), we have general idiotic behavior. There’s the gang bangers, thieves, liars, manipulators… There’s a veritable trainload of debauchery tied to the abuse of mood and mind-altering substances. All of which tears at the fabric of society and runs through families like a tornado.
There is a growing movement in the recovering community aimed at giving us recovering folk coverage as “victims”. They disguise this by using the word ‘stigma’. The question is often posed, “What kind of stigma have you faced as a recovering alcoholic?” Going by the Google dictionary, “1. a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person”
To me, the question is preposterous on its face. To react positively to that question, or even to treat it as a legitimate question, rivals petulant university children whining about ‘safe spaces’ while completely missing the fact that bigots used to reserve the back of the bus as a ‘safe space’.
Allow me to explain, please. As a recovering drunk, “I do not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it”. I also don’t try to escape what I did, attempt to hide from what I did, or try to water down the wreckage I left in my wake…. I may not be that person now but I’m only a drunk away from raising that slubberdegullion from the dead. In other words, that loser is still in there, all I need do is add alcohol (or any form of drug) to wake him up.
Now here’s where this gets fun, because once I accept that I am a victim, I am bound to being a victim forever – and once you’re a victim, they’ve got you. You’ll always need “them” to look out for your protection. Now this may be a little difficult to grasp at first because I’m not a politician and I really don’t have the golden keyboard through which to articulate this – but I’ll try.
I learned early on, and thankfully was paying attention, that someone else’s opinion of me is none of my business. This is pure freedom but there’s a price for that freedom. I must constantly evaluate who I am so that I may be of maximum value to my fellows. Otherwise, I’m simply an @$$hole who runs on self-will… or, in other terms, I’m dry as a popcorn fart – or a dry drunk. In other words, I’m no good if I simply stop drinking – I have to fix the person I drank to escape being.
If you’re with me so far, once I’ve fixed that guy, the stigma can no longer be applied to me. See, if we look at that “stigma” as if it were a label; In order for someone to label me, I have to be willing to wear the label.
Now, here’s where we get to play with matches. Say someone were to blurt out, “All recovering alcoholics are losers because they can’t hold their liquor”. This would be a part of that “stigma”. I’ve worked pretty hard on being a better me. I’ve changed a lot of things that were broken in me. I’ve righted every wrong I’ve ever done (it is part of the process of “working the steps” to make amends for all of our misdeeds). I’ve worked on being of maximum use to my fellows and on being a good-natured person. I’ve gone from being a lousy pizza delivery guy to a successful business owner. I know, for a fact, that I am not a loser – in any sense of the word and therefore I don’t wear that stigma and I can conclude that anyone who says all ex-drunks are losers, is clearly stupid. I feel pity for their ignorance.
In other words, I am free. At long last. I am only susceptible to wearing a label when I pin it on my lapel. Just a thought to chew on.
I have a friend that was told he was an alcoholic by a counselor. In his case, he was able to moderate his drinking, but remains at risk. He accepted neither the moniker or its premise. Others I have known have not been as “fortunate,” and the alcoholism retains its grip on them, or has done them in. I also know young people who have been caught in the grip of other substances. Some have worked through it. Others remain stuck in it. I think it varies some with biology, and circumstance, and self-awareness. In all cases these are people for whom I feel compassion and wish them strength. Also with you. What you’ve done is so commendable.
Thank you for the kind words, though my success had a lot to do with putting one foot in front of the other to save my butt… Your assessment is excellent. Those who can moderate never cease to amaze me (though some of that may be latent jealousy). I know one of those fortunate few myself and for whatever the reason, I am not one. One thing I can say with certainty, it wasn’t for a lack of trying. Your friend embodied what this post is all about. Thank you for sharing your experience.
This is a very good post on a topic that needs to be talked about. There is a way to speak about recovery with dignity, strength, and no low blows and I feel that you’ve done a good job. You told it just the way it is … no holding back and speaking truths is always a good way to get your message across. Well done on covering all angles.
I really like reading you talk about your recovery. It reminds me that no one can be written off.. or is exempt for forgiveness. I think about the family that lost everything on I94 between Chicago and Milwaukee.. and they chose to truly forgive. That sends a message that everyone is worthy of forgiveness, that no “sin” is unforgiveable.
The hardest person to forgive is one’s self.
I read your comment last night but I refrained from commenting on it because I wanted to kick it around in my head… I am not the hardest person I had to forgive. Not even close. See, when I made the proper effort to make my amends that made forgiving myself easier. If I’m not humble enough to admit when I’m wrong, then I don’t deserve to be forgiven. I deserve to languish.
I see your point, and definitely don’t want to be argumentative, I’ve just seen a lot of people mess that up so I felt it was worth the clarification.
Wise words chap.. honest ones too.. they can be the toughest to write but the most rewarding 🙂
I would like to start with a congratulations and I commend you! I have watched and supported someone who has battled with alcoholism. That said I do not understand though where you refer to yourself, or rather an alcoholic, as a victim. I have never viewed an alcoholic or any addict as a victim. I also don’t know that I have ever entered into a conversation with anyone who has either. I see it as a choice. When the consequences suffered are a direct result of a conscious choice made, knowing it is not the correct choice, why then is the “offender” a victim? Maybe this is why I also cannot grasp the concept of alcoholism as being a disease or sickness. This is such a widespread “fact”, yet I do not see it. I chose to drink my coffee and I chose to smoke yet another cigarette. In high volume of either is not necessarily a correct choice but as an addict of both caffeine and nicotine I do not see myself as a victim. Am I merely a victim of being uneducated in the core of alcoholism? Is it more closely related to depression or any other chemical imbalance so often medicated in society? I hope the answer and greater understanding of this will grant me a deeper understanding of what I struggle through with the alcoholic in my life.
First, let me thank you for commenting so fully and articulately. Second, grant me a moment to let you know that it is 3:30 in the morning where I live and for some crazy reason I just checked on the blog after waking up momentarily. Answering this comment is so important to me, rather than roll back over and deal with it later, I woke up, put on some coffee and opened my laptop up so I can respond fully. So, thank you for this opportunity.
On to the comment. If you somehow got, out of this post, that I see myself as a victim because I’m an alcoholic, you read it expecting me to play the Victim Card. In no way do I think of myself as a victim (and I thought I made that quite clear even after re-reading the post).
HOWEVER, where this does get a little tricky is in comparing nicotine, caffeine and alcohol. They may seem a lot alike but they most certainly are not. First, quit smoking, what do you get? Jitters and irritable and a better appetite (I should know, I quit that too). Next, quit caffeine, what do you get? A headache, and irritable. I won’t quit coffee, alas, it’s the only thing I have left! Chuckle. Okay, what do you get when you quit alcohol? Night sweats, panic attacks, nausea, vomiting, shakes so bad you can’t drink from a glass without a straw, and eventually, if withdrawals are intense and not caught by a medical professional, death. There are only two drugs on this planet that withdrawals can cause death. One is alcohol.
Next up is the disease of alcoholism… You would be hard pressed to find a better description of an Alcoholic than reading The Doctor’s Opinion in AA’s Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. That said, I’ll give brevity a go. First, there is no doubt that an alcoholic’s mind processes alcohol differently than a brain of a normal person. It’s like an allergy, where a phenomena of craving is touched off once alcohol enters the system. Simply put, it cannot be shut off and it gets progressively worse until the alcoholic dies. In other words, the brain and the entire organism that is a human being changes to become dependent on alcohol once it enters the system. This does not happen immediately, but it does happen. See, most people, when they start to feel a little tipsy, they stop drinking. They don’t like the way that feels. For someone like me, the first time I felt that was the first time I’d ever felt whole. I was truly ALIVE for the first time. Naturally, feeling this meant to consume more, not to stop. You can imagine how quickly I spiraled out of control. Put simply, my body processes alcohol differently from normal people. I have what is often viewed as an allergy and therefore, because that allergy gets progressively worse, you have the disease concept of alcoholism. This is the tricky nature of being a normal person trying to understand me, or someone like me… You can’t, because you’re simply not wired like I am. Once alcohol passes my lips, that phenomena of craving takes over and I am quite literally helpless. I cannot stop taking another and another and another until I’ve given everything good in my life up. I nearly drank myself to death in six years. My liver was so screwed up, doctors gave me eight years before I died of cirrhosis. I was 21 at the time, and I drank for another year. Seven left.
So, the answer to your question, “am I merely a victim of being uneducated in the core of alcoholism?” is, “Yes”. It is an imbalance in the brain, not “related” to one. The tricky part is that the act of drinking a beer is a behavior, but that’s not what we’re talking about. The behavior part, putting the bottle to my lips, is a choice. What happens after, once my brain fires up upon recognizing that beautiful molecule that is alcohol, is not. Once my brain takes over, I am powerless. There’s literally nothing I can do to control myself but sober up and abstain entirely. If you have any other questions about the disease concept after reading The Doctor’s Opinion (Google it, it’s out there for free), I would offer this online article that completely explains the disease concept: http://www.addictionpro.com/article/disease-concept-addiction-revisited
Finally, to conclude, thank you for giving me cause to flex my brain a little bit this morning. I am truly grateful for your comment and questions. Explaining my disease fires up my melon a lot like drinking did… only in a positive way. Interesting, that.
As I await my morning coffee I find myself smiling. (This normally does not happen before coffee!) I am so grateful you took the time to read and respond. I see now that I was reading your post more emotionally then factually. Dealing with alcoholism is very new in my life and I have not yet mastered approaching it without a flood of emotions. The small amount of information I have been given or found has not even come close to opening my eyes the way you have. I am so grateful to have found your post and for your willingness to teach me things I did not understand. I have placed a bookmark in today’s novel and will read article you have suggested in place. From the bottom of my heart, thank you!
It is absolutely my pleasure. I also have a post scheduled to publish that goes even deeper in depth about the “disease concept” from a personal point of view, more in layman’s terms than clinical information. 4:00 pm EST (US Eastern)… about 2-1/2 hours from now. You inspired a post out of me, so thank you as well.
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