My current guest, Debbi had been married for thirteen years when she accepted she was an alcoholic and it was time to get sober. For her, getting sober meant understanding that the emotional stress from her troubled marriage was contributing to her addiction and getting sober also meant getting divorced. Anyone who has faced their own addiction or that of a loved one knows that getting sober is hard work and that hard work doesn’t stop once you’re sober. It continues. Here’s Debbi:
You watch sports on the weekends and all the commercials are about alcohol. You get into the holiday season and alcohol is romanticized a lot, and that’s the way I romanticized alcohol. For years I didn’t think I was an alcoholic because an alcoholic was a person who sat with a brown paper bag on Friday night on the street and was just passing out.
I had port in my wine bottle and in my fine china, so therefore I wasn’t an alcoholic. That was my viewpoint for quite a few years. Come to find out, there is some difference between those two images, but the marketing of alcohol and romanticizing, especially during the holiday season is quite upsetting to me because my experience.
I was raised in a very happy household, and I have a sister who is eleven months younger than I am. If she drinks two glasses of wine a year, I would be surprised, but we were both less than a year apart, raised in the same household, and I became an alcoholic and she is like the total opposite. She’s a teetotaller by choice because she’s the kind of person who takes a sip of wine and if she doesn’t like it, it can sit there on the table.
I can’t understand that. It’s like, “How can you let alcohol just sit there in front of you?” But she can. It’s just the way she’s wired and the way I’m wired.
As someone with long-term sobriety, if you want to be able to have a sober life, you’ve got to come to the realization that just because you stopped drinking doesn’t mean that the world stopped drinking.
In the beginning, I’d say for my first six months, I would avoid wedding receptions. I would go to the wedding but I couldn’t handle the reception. If I went to a dinner party, I would leave early before the drinking after dessert started, so I was really guarded at those type of events. At work functions, I would make sure I always had a diet coke at hand. So there are things that you learn.
Surrounding yourself with people who have more sobriety than you can teach you about how to deal with life and life’s turns. Today, I have to be honest with you, it doesn’t bother me at all to be around alcohol because it doesn’t appeal to me.
The one thing about alcoholism is they say it’s a thinking disease. You have a physical craving that you can get over, but it really just is about changing your life and changing the way you think.
I’m an active member of the AA Program because I do need those reminders of what happens when you drink, and I do sponsor many women. I see the wreckage of alcohol, just like my life was a wreckage when I came into them. I work with women who are going through their version of their wreckage and that’s the reminder that all of that’s waiting there for me if I decide I want that.
As you get more sobriety in you and realize that the choice is mine to make, and today I choose not to drink, then being around alcohol doesn’t bother me. However, I don’t put myself purposefully in some situations. I don’t go to bars to listen to music in the evening, I just don’t do that. If I’m at a party and I know there’s going to be drinking, it doesn’t mean I wouldn’t go to the party, but I can guarantee that I won’t be there at 2 a.m. in the morning. Once it gets past my bedtime, I’m ready to go home and go to bed.
It’s when people get a certain amount of drinks, it’s not like I count, but you can tell, it’s like their personalities change. Then I know it’s just time for me to go home. I just don’t enjoy being around people after they have a few to where their personality starts changing because of alcohol. That’s when it’s time for me to leave, and I’m okay with that.
The closest experience I’ve had that I can relate to Debbi is smoking. I started smoking as a teenager through my late twenties. Then when my ex and I became engaged we both agreed we’d quit. I did. Set a date and haven’t smoked since then, not one puff. That was in August 1988 or 1989. It’s so long ago now I don’t really remember how it felt at the time. I did become super-sensitive to smoke so it became uncomfortable for me to be around it and I had very little desire to smoke. Now I don’t understand why I ever smoked.
Unlike Debbi though I had help from the anti-smoking movement. It meant that I could choose to sit in areas where people weren’t allowed to smoke, I wasn’t subject to tobacco advertising on TV or romanticized images in the movies. And the change in public opinion about smoking certainly supported me.
With two teen-aged children I’ve becoming increasingly aware in recent years of the contradictory messages our society puts out about alcohol. One of the more interesting ones was a conversation quite recently about what alcoholism looks like. Similar to what Debbi said, the classical image is the homeless person or street person who is shabbily dressed and perhaps begging for money. I think this is harmful because it creates a false assumption that so long as you’re not in that situation alcoholism can’t happen to you.
When I shared with my kids friends of mine who are now sober alcoholics (and are open about their history) they were surprised. They were surprised to learn that alcoholics can function at a very high level, hold well-paid responsible jobs.
I know that they’ve both been in situations with alcohol and they’ve made good choices so far. And I give them credit for not succumbing to peer pressure. I know they will eventually drink and when they do, I hope I’ve modeled responsible drinking for them.