Archive | June, 2015

Misunderstanding Being Misunderstood–Part 2

24 Jun

Thanks for all the great feedback on my last post, and thank you for sharing your additional questions about alcoholism. As I said previously, I don’t pretend to have all the answers, I can only share what I have learned from my personal experience and my journey into sobriety and recovery so far. You’re always welcome to contact me at martha.carucci@gmail.com.

The most basic question I received was how did I know I had a problem? The simple answer is that I knew that I was powerless over alcohol and that my life had become unmanageable. Conveniently, this is Step 1. Drinking had gone from enjoyment to need. Bandaid to crutch. Occasionally to almost daily. White (wine) to black(outs). I drank to celebrate every occasion and to give myself liquid courage when I needed it. I drank when I was sad so I could wallow further in my depression. I drank when I was angry to try to make the anger go away. I drank when I was happy to take it to a higher level of joy. I drank when I was anxious, scared, lonely, proud, embarrassed…..you get the idea. Once I started, the concept of moderation flew out the window. My “off” switch was broken. I drank before I went out to an event, on my way there, and when I got home. I thought I would just have a glass of wine while I made dinner and it inevitably turned into a bottle or more. I knew it had taken over my life.

Another good question: how and when did I know I needed to stop drinking? I’ve shared before how ashamed I was when my daughter asked me why I didn’t remember something we talked about on a particular evening. And I remember how badly I felt when I was in bed, too hungover to do normal things with my kids. Then there was watching my hands shake until I got some wine in me at lunch in NYC. I think all of these things bubbled up inside and culminated in me coming clean to a friend who lost her husband to alcoholism. Even after I got sober, there were days when I had terrible cravings and told her I wanted a drink and she responded “go ahead, have a drink. The last time I touched my husband’s hand it was cold.” I don’t mean to be totally morbid here, but this disease is no joke. I need my kids and the people I care about to know and understand that alcohol kills. It destroys your body and carves out a path of destruction throughout your entire life.

More than one person has asked what they should do if they know someone who they think may be an alcoholic or have a drinking problem. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but no matter how much you want to help someone, you can’t until they want it and are willing to help themselves. Getting sober is something no one can do for us, but also something that we cannot do alone. I have friends who knew I had a drinking problem long before I admitted it and either said they felt guilty about not doing anything to help or said that they knew if they tried to talk to me about it, our relationship would change and I might just try to hide my drinking from them. Until I was ready, no one could have done anything. Can you sit down with a family member or friend and tell them you are concerned? Absolutely. And that may be just what they need to push them to go get help.

Several people wanted to know if they are having a party, happy hour or event where there will be alcohol, is it better not to say anything to me because it would probably be hard for me to be there or if they should invite me anyway. Great question and I could see how people may not know what to do when they are trying to be sensitive. For me, I would definitely prefer to be invited and be given the chance to make the choice myself whether I attend or not. I have good days and bad days, just like everyone else, but on a bad day, being around alcohol may just be too tempting. On good days, I’m happy to go and be with friends. I may not be able to stay too long however, so please don’t take that personally.

Another thing that shouldn’t be taken personally is if I attend some events and not others. Again, it depends on how I’m feeling that particular day/night. And, what’s really important to understand here is that alcoholics are supposed to avoid triggers—-people, places and things that remind them of their drinking. It may not be too hard to handle one of those, but a perfect storm with a combo of all three can be both overwhelming and dangerous.

What do I do when I get a really bad craving and think that I just can’t do it any more? Well, other than think of my friend telling me about her husband’s cold hand, I adhere to some other good advice that was given to me—think the drink through. Think it all the way through. Not just how good that drink may taste, but what happens after that first sip? After that first drink? There would be many more. And how would I feel about throwing away three years of sobriety? How guilty would I feel? Would I be able to look my kids in the face? All these things help me when I think about picking up a drink.

I have to remember that while I am learning all this as I go, my family and many of my friends are as well. If it’s your first time dealing with someone who has a problem with addiction, you may have lots of questions. Very early on in my sobriety, I wrote a piece called “How To….” about how to be friends with an alcoholic. Interestingly enough, on this journey, I’m learning how to be a good friend to this alcoholic as well.

“He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; he who does not ask a question remains a fool forever.” – Chinese proverb

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Misunderstanding Being Misunderstood

15 Jun

There used to be a time when the weekends brought about a deep exhale and a break from the chaos of the week. The exhale used to come with imbibing large quantities of alcohol. For most people, weekends kicked off on Friday afternoon/evening. For me, I was usually well lit by then. Weekends are now chock full of sports and kid activities. This particular week AND weekend were rough.

I went to my youngest son’s end-of-season soccer party the other night. It was held at the coach’s house and I didn’t know most of the other parents of the kids on the team. I was already having a tough day when I walked out to the patio and saw everyone drinking cold Coronas with limes. Ugh. I was so tempted to do a 180 and high tail it out of there. But I didn’t. I decided I needed to suck it up for my kid’s sake and stay.

The hostess offered me some sparkling water, knowing I don’t drink, and I gladly accepted. Having something in my hand immediately upon getting to a party is usually helpful. She saw me fidgeting and could tell how uncomfortable I was and said she would understand if I needed to go. Isn’t this supposed to be easier now that I have three years of sobriety under my belt?? I guess the fact that I could sit down surrounded by people I didn’t know, with no liquid courage in me to get to know them, while they were drinking cold beers, shows that I have come a long way. There’s no way I would have been able to endure that situation a year ago.

I started talking to the couple sitting next to me and we went through the usual round of DC-area pleasantries—-where you were from, what you did for work, where you went to school, etc. I shared that I used to be a lobbyist and they asked if I would ever want to go back. I told them no, because I didn’t want to put myself back into a career that involved social functions morning, noon and night. I added that I was considering going back to work, I just wasn’t sure doing what. Then I went on further and opened myself up for the conversation that ensued. I told them that I am currently a writer, that I have a blog and that I am hopefully publishing a book. On what they asked. A perfectly reasonable question, and one for which I’m going to have to work on having a better answer. I stumbled a little bit, but managed to convey to them that my blog was about my personal journey into recovery and sobriety. That I want to raise awareness about alcoholism among women just like me and that it’s a huge problem in our society that is rarely talked about.

I waited nervously to see what their response was going to be. They seemed quite interested and followed up with numerous questions. While I felt like I was in the hot seat, I was well aware of the fact that I put myself there. If I’m going to wear my Sobrietease hat out in public, talk about my blog, and wear a necklace with recovery symbol, I have to be able to be held accountable and not babble like an idiot or be at a loss for words when asked about these things. In fact, a woman at a golf tournament recently asked me about my necklace. You would have thought I was speaking Swahili back to her. I literally made no sense and told her that I forgot what the symbol stood for. Well done, jackass.

Others around us at the party were half-listening but I could tell that when they realized what the subject matter was, they didn’t want to join in the conversation. The couple wished me well with my writing and said they would check out my blog. I hope they have.

On Saturday night, my husband and I went to a 50th birthday party for a very dear friend. It was a lovely party and I had been looking forward to it. As soon as we walked in, however, that social anxiety I used to keep at bay with my liquid courage grabbed a hold of me and nearly choked me. Once again, I quickly got some sparkling water from the bar to have something in my hand. Everyone was drinking. The smell of red wine wafted through the air and right into my nose, almost poking at me with every inhale. I tried to talk to a few people but was very uncomfortable. I didn’t know if I would be able to stay long but wanted to be there to celebrate with my friend. When I started to feel some “stinking thinking” coming on, I immediately texted my sponsor. She asked if I could get out of there if I was struggling. I told her I could, but I was trying to be a big girl and stay. She told me to keep her posted and I went back to the party.

I saw a familiar face—a mother of one of the girls on my daughter’s lacrosse team and felt a huge sigh of relief. She knows I don’t drink and I would be comfortable talking to her for a bit. Someone else I was talking to wasn’t drinking either, trying to stay in good shape for an early morning commitment. And here’s where the misunderstanding that so many people have about alcoholism steps in. People who aren’t drinking for the night, for whatever reason—-they may be the designated driver or have to be up early (and not hungover) for something—try to rationalize why I can or cannot drink. There’s the camp of people who say “I’m not drinking tonight and I don’t see what the big deal is. This isn’t so hard. Why is it so hard for you not to drink?” Then there’s the other camp: “It’s been three years. I don’t understand why you cant just control it and have one or two drinks then stop.” How I wish that any of that were true. Well, actually, some of it is true. I’m sure it isn’t so hard for you not to drink on a given night. But for me, it is. It’s actually very hard when every which way I turn I see and smell alcohol and watch it being consumed happily.

As for the questions of why can’t I just have one or two drinks then stop, if I had the answer to that, I’d be beyond rich. The millions of alcoholics who ask that same question wish they had the answer to that as well. We are alcoholics. We cannot just “have one or two drinks”. Maybe some days, we can. But on most days, one or two leads to nine or ten. Once we put alcohol into our systems, the disease is triggered. The switch is turned on, and as I have said before, my “off” switch is broken. Alcoholism has been described as both an obsession of the mind and a physical addiction. That first sip feeds the physical addiction and the obsession of the mind immediately follows. Alcoholics are powerless over alcohol.

When I am at a party, I miss what alcohol used to do for me. Caroline Knapp describes it perfectly in her book “Drinking: A Love Story”:

“That may be one of liquor’s most profound and universal appeals to the alcoholic: The way it generates a sense of connection to others, the way it numbs social anxiety and dilutes feelings of isolation, gives you a sense of access to the world. You’re trapped in your own skin and thoughts; you drink; you are released, just like that One drink, and the bridge—so elusive in the cold, nerve-jangled sensitivity of sobriety—-appears, waiting only to be crossed.”

Trapped in my own skin. That is a perfect description. The stigma of alcoholism isn’t going away any time soon. Many people don’t see it as a disease but rather a weakness of character- that I can’t stop because I have no self-restraint or limited self-control. I wish I could explain it as eloquently as Knapp does:
“Alcoholism seemed more to me like a moral issue than a physical one. This is one of our culture’s most basic assumptions about the disease and one of its most destructive: we figure that drinking too much is a sign of weakness and lack of self-restraint; that it’s bad; that it can be overcome by will.”

For those who ask me if I will ever go back to drinking, and I know people who have, even after 18 years of sobriety, I will once again quote Knapp:

‘Science may also explain why relapse rates are so high: those neurological reward circuits have extremely long and powerful memories, and once the simple message— alcohol equals pleasure—gets imprinted into the drinker’s brain, it may stay there indefinitely, perhaps even a lifetime. Environmental cues, the sight of a wineglass, the smell of gin, a walk past a favorite bar—can trigger the wish to drink in a heartbeat, and they often do.”

“Once you’ve crossed the line into alcoholism, the percentages are not in your favor:
there appears to be no safe way to drink again, no way to return to a normal, social, controlled drinker.”

Hopefully that helps address some of the misunderstanding. I don’t blame people for not getting it. Why should you be expected to know these things if you aren’t an alcoholic?. I hope that part of what I can do with this blog is help put aside some of the misconceived notions and educate people who want to understand this disease better. I’d love to hear from you—-what questions do you have about alcoholism? What would you like to ask an alcoholic? I can address them in my next piece. I don’t have all the answers by any stretch of the imagination but I can share my own experiences.

Misunderstanding must be nakedly exposed before true understanding can begin to flourishs.”
― Philip Yancey, The Bible Jesus Read

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