I Would Not Like To Discuss Your Alcohol Problem, Thank You

At least not if you're drunk.

May 21, 2012 at 2:00pm | Leave a comment

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A toast! To not talking to me about your drinking problem.

Despite the fact that Say Media sent me a bottle of champagne for xoJane's one-year anniversary, most people in my life are aware of the fact that I'm sober. (Like, all the time, not just right now.) They're aware of my sobriety the same way that they're aware of basically every other detail of my life right down to my extreme enjoyment of nipple stimulation.

There are lots of legitimate reasons to keep addiction issues to yourself. People are increasingly aware that alcoholism is a disease, not a moral failing, and that it is suffered by pretty young girls and smelly old bums alike. But it wasn't that long ago that alcoholism was considered incurable, and the only "treatment" was to be shoved in an institution somewhere, especially if you were a woman.

AA is only 75 years old. While the stigma has faded immensely, there are still lots of people who would use your honesty against you, a huge concern for those with children or in conservative industries. Maybe you just don't want you co-workers looking at you in staff meetings and imagining you yelling "Wooooo" while you puke in your hair or whatever.

So I get that it's a private issue for a lot of people, but I'm an attention-hungry over-sharer from way back. I have never been able to keep my damn mouth shut about anything else, so why would I start with my alcoholism? I had like 3 days clean under my belt before everyone knew about my decision to stop passing out on the train and waking up in Coney Island a few times a week.

In a way, it helped keep me sober -- like if you announce your diet to the whole office, you can't very well cram Oreos in your mouth at your desk the next day.

Now I'm lucky enough to work in a place where nobody cares that I'm a recovering addict, a place where they in fact graciously accomodate my therapy and meeting schedule perhaps because they know that I will be infinitely more productive if not snorting cocaine in the communal restroom.

Because my employers are so accepting of my mental health needs, I refrain from using alcoholism the way I used to use menstruation as an excuse to leave easily flustered male teachers' classes in junior high, like "I need to leave early today or I might relapse." I am not, however, above the occassional, "I'd really love to come to your bar birthday party, but I'm just not feeling up to being around all that alcohol."

The point is that being an out alcoholic, for me, has been a good choice. In fact, the only real drawback is that sometimes I feel like I'm wearing a sign that says, "Please, confide in me about your alcohol problem."

It's not that I don't want to be of service to other alcoholics. It's just that I don't really want to be of service to other alcoholics while they're still...alcoholicing.

The situation I'm referring to happens most often at a bar, when everyone but me has had a few drinks and is feeling sort of bleary-eyed, and loose, and prone to cornering me and sighing whiskey breath in my face while informing me that they probably sort of think they might have a drinking problem.

The first few times it happened, I spent hours in concerned counselor mode, listening to their slurred, repetitive stories, explaining how and why I got sober, offering my assistance and cell phone number, and hugs, so many lurching hugs that almost topple us both to the ground.

Then, the next day, when I would tenatively broach the subject with a gentle smile and a "How you feelin', tiger?", they'd have little to no recollection of the whole thing. Or, if they hadn't forgotten it, they'd downplay it, cause we all have those crazy nights when we have a few too many and break down to an aquaintance about the misery and unmanageability alcohol is wreaking in our lives. COLLEGE!

These days, I cut them off and suggest we talk about it in the morning, if they still feel the same way.

Similarly, it's hard for me to respond to the long, confessional emails I sometimes receive at odd hours of the night from people who are currently fighting the same battle I have fought. "I want to stop drinking but I don't think I can live a life without alcohol ..." they begin, and continue in the all-to-familiar vein of those bar conversations I'm done with.

I'm glad that my reading about my experiences has been meaningful to you, but in general sending midnight emails to strangers is not the behavior of people who are really ready to get sober. People who are ready to get sober take action. People who are not there yet send out flares of distress in hopes that someone else will somehow be able to save them.

I don't blame you for being not-ready. I was not-ready for a long time after I knew definitively that I had a drinking problem. As a not-ready alcoholic, I would sporadically pop into meetings, careful not to make eye contact or speak to anyone, then go home and write long, suicidal journal entries about how badly I needed to quit drinking, often while drinking. Then, one day, I was ready.

How I got from not ready to ready is my main evidence for existence of a higher power -- as far as I can tell it was an act of God or the universe, and the best I could do is pray for it, and try to have the willingness to work for it. If we've learned anything at all about addiction here together, I hope it's this: Nobody can get anybody else sober. To try is to grab onto a drowning person and hope they don't pull you under.

I help many others in my chosen program of recovery. And, of course, if a reader or aquaintance or co-worker or rando off the street comes to me in a moment of sober clarity and asks for my help, I'll be glad to explain how I was able to get and stay sober. But that's pretty much all I can do. The rest is up to you.

Either way, let's talk about it in the morning.