Demonizing the Wino in Me

A friend and I had an interesting conversation yesterday evening about how people drink.  She’s not a drinker because both of her parents are/were alcoholics (her father has passed away but mom continues to drink).  We started pondering all the reasons people drink and how and why it affects so many people in so many different ways.

She stated that she doesn’t mind being around tipsy or even drunk people who are happy but that people who are mean or sloppy are no fun at all.  She asked me about my experience with alcohol and did I identify as an alcoholic or did I just decide to quit drinking.

Let’s see…do you have a month for me to explain?  Nevermind…here’s the link to my blog.

Just kidding.

I shared some more of my story with her and my feelings about why I quit and that sometimes I call myself an alcoholic and sometimes I bristle when I hear the word.  No matter because the facts are that I will not drink because I value my peace of mind more and that, if I drink, one is NEVER enough and I will always end up shit-faced.

If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck…

Quack.

She asked if it was always this way for me and I said yes but…and here’s where it may get controversial…I had a crap ton of fun before everything went sideways.  And when I say a crap ton…I do mean a crap ton.

In my youth (my 20’s) the hubs and I drank like fish.  We traveled and partied and had parties and went to formal functions and a whole host of other activities and all of it included alcohol.  I didn’t ALWAYS get drunk (most of the time but not always) but we had a really really good time.  Most people who drink have a period like this in their lives but they grow up and passed it.  They know that life is about more than where the next drink is coming from and whether or not there will be enough.  They can have a glass of wine once every two or three weeks and then not think about it for months.

Me?  Not so much.

Here’s the thing though, I refuse to deny that I had a good time.  I refuse to believe that just because I can’t drink that no one on the planet should drink.  I won’t demonize alcohol just because it bit me in the ass.  Honestly?  I should have known better.  It’s not like I didn’t have enough data.  I did – I just chose to ignore it and fall face first into a bottle of wine.

The farther I am into recovery, the more I realize that the blame lays directly and completely on my shoulders.  I was fully aware of the risks, I was “of age”, it was legal and taxed, and no one held a gun to my head and told me to drink.  It was the same with smoking.  I knew the risks and I did it anyway.  My bad.

If I blame that bottle of Chardonnay, then I turn over my power to the bottle.  Alcohol only has power if we give it power.  When I put down that wine glass and entered recovery, I chose to take back my power.  I’m not letting go of it ever again.

Don’t get me wrong.  We have issues in this country (and the world for that matter) that are alcohol related and need to be addressed.  According to the National Institute of Health on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism,  in 2012, 87.6 percent of people age 18 or older reported using alcohol and of those, 24.6 percent engaged in binge drinking in the past month and 7.1% reported that they drank heavily in the past month.

Even more frightening,  the study states that approximately 17 million adults over the age of 18 had some form of an alcohol use disorder in 2012.  This included an estimated 855,000 youths between the ages of 12-17.  Almost 88,000 people die from alcohol related causes annually in the U.S. which puts it up there as the third leading cause of preventable deaths.  DUI’s?  They accounted for over 10,000 deaths in 2012 which was 31% of all driving fatalities.

In spite of MADD and other organizations designed to educate the public on the dangers of alcohol, alcoholism and over indulgence, a study by Gallup performed in 2010 found that 67% of adults over the age of 18 reported using alcohol and 58% of 17 years and younger used alcohol.

The numbers are going UP not down.

I think that instead of blaming it on the bottle, or the bar, or the brewery, we should be educating on the effects of alcohol.  Educating on genetics and how alcoholism runs in families.  Removing the stigma of mental illness and addressing a host of other conditions that exist and have people looking to the bottle to help the take away the pain.  In other words, let’s uncover and treat the causes of our alcohol issues in this country rather that transferring the blame and then treating the symptom or result.

Of course I can only speak to my own experience but I have six kids, four of whom are of legal drinking age and the other two are only two years away.  I fear for their alcohol use.  I’m afraid I’ve passed down the gene.  I worry.

But what bothers me the most is the lack of truthful information that would help them make informed decisions.   AA remains shrouded in mystery and, many time unfairly looked upon, “rehab” remains a dirty word or something celebrities do to get out of trouble, mental illness and alcoholism are spoken of in hushed voices with the proverbial “tsk-tsk” clucking of tongues.  My kids still picture an “alcoholic” the way I used to, that of a skid row homeless person who had lost everything and was lying in a gutter.  No matter how many times I call myself an alcoholic, they persist in thinking I’m some kind of “exception”.  Let me assure you, I’m not.

In fact, if the sober blogging community is any indication, I’m in excellent company.

Namaste

 

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11 thoughts on “Demonizing the Wino in Me

  1. I wholeheartedly agree that we need better education and awareness. I think about these things all the time. Mental illness and addiction run deep in my family. I’m terrified when I think of my children sampling the goods. My fear is that we don’t teach about interacting with alcohol in a responsible way. The message is ‘don’t drink.’ That’s all fine and dandy until they go to their first keg party. A friend and I were having this conversation the other day. We pondered the situation and tossed around various solutions but walked away having made no headway. I love your blog. You’re such an entertaining writer, and reading about your experiences always makes me think.

    1. Thank you for the lovely compliment!

      I agree there are no really good answers. The whole “drink responsibly” is a great campaign but it doesn’t go far enough. I know some progress has been made (judging from what my kids tell me) but so much more needs to be done.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment –
      Sherry

  2. Fantastic post. I wasn’t the image most have of an alcoholic when I went to rehab and nearly everyone there was as far from a celebrity as you can get.
    Like you I did have fun when drinking but in the end it was dictating my life and I was lost to it.
    So I’m happy to be an alcoholic now cos it gives me a chance to rethink my life without drink

    1. It’s so funny to say “out loud” but I’m glad to be an alcoholic too. If I wasn’t, never would have gotten to know me this well. I’m so much healthier now than I’ve ever been.

      The problem is that it all goes wrong from the beginning. It’s happening while we’re having fun and we just don’t realize it. My vision of an alcoholic was so clear that my early drinking behavior never even raised an alarm in my head until it was too late (okay – that’s not entirely true…but it wasn’t very loud). I think if the world were to understand that people don’t have to be down to their last red blood cell to be an alcholic, it might go a long way.

      Then again, maybe that’s just the eternal optimist in me.

      Thanks Graham,
      Sherry

  3. You are in excellent company, if I do say so myself 🙂

    Education is key, but I think we need to go further. To stop the glamourization of alcohol in media and advertising. To eliminate commercials aimed at young drinkers. To begin to treat alcohol like tobacco. It is a poison with distinct and real health risks.

    I also really enjoyed drinking for years. We drank in European cafes, in nice restaurant, at university in the pubs. Socially, although I was always inclined to be a little excessive.

    But how that became me drinking wine out of a tumbler at home in my sweat pants, lonely and sad, I just can’t say. I can’t pinpoint where it all started to go wrong.

    I will say more open dialogue on mental illness and addiction, as “normal” issues faced by educated, successful people, may have helped me seek help sooner. Instead, I was comparing myself to everyone’s facebook life and failing miserably. No matter how much I accomplished, how thin I was, how chiselled I got my abs. I was never going to achieve the artificial perfection I aspired to.

    Sigh.

    1. I could not agree more. Stop the glamourization and targeted advertsing to youngsters. I love all those “drink responsibility” campaigns but I think they can go further. Not EVERY single good time must involve alcohol.

      And as for the open dialogue on mental illness? Yeah…that.

      Thanks for stopping by –
      Sherry

  4. I could have written that verbatim, including the kid part. However, even though I worry about my kids (30 and 31) so far the gene hasn’t raised it’s ugly head. They barely touch the stuff, though they’re busy raising little ones. I can only pray and set an example now!
    Sharon

  5. This is fantastic, Sherry. We live in a society that glamorizes numbing in all its forms. Everyone who drinks, whether they’re an alcoholic or not, drinks for a buzz. Being buzzed is being in an altered state. Everyone who drinks should be honest with themselves about the cost of being in an altered state. I can’t let society teach my kids that numbing is normal or something they’re entitled to do. Do you ever feel like people in recovery are actually healthier than the general population? There’s something to be said for focusing on mental wellness.

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