I am the adult child of an alcoholic who was the adult child of an alcoholic on my father’s side. I am also the adult child of a compulsive gambler and chronic liar who was the adult child of an alcoholic on my mother’s side. My sister is in active addiction and has been since grade school (she’s almost 50).
I am not making one word of this up.
So my DNA was set before I was even born. I was destined to be an alcoholic.
But am I? I’ll let you be the judge.
I am a child of the 1960's and 70's who never drank or did anything stronger than pot when she was in high school. I knew what my odds of getting addicted were, so I didn't go near anything that might ruin the "perfect child" persona I was cultivating. My friends drank and dabbled in drugs but it was tame by today's standards. Whatever the reason, I escaped high school unscathed.
I met my husband at the tender age of 22 and returned to college at the same time. It was the 80's and my drinking career began at that time along with about a million other people. Being the overachiever that I am, I quickly developed a propensity for out-drinking most people, including men. I drank most every night under the guise of being "social." It was awesome.
As the years passed by and kids took the place of barstools, my drinking subsided somewhat and I maintained the perfect image I had worked so hard to build. The kids grew and thrived and life went along until I found myself with teenagers and an aging mother whose health was declining in my very home. It was too much. I lost my grasp on perfection and my life came crashing down around me.
I maintained a façade while downing one or two bottles of wine every night, and sometimes hitting the liquor cabinet if I found myself still upright at 2:00 am. I began to isolate and turn down invitations unless they were occasions where I knew I could drink with abandon. As time went on, however, even those invitations didn't allow me the freedom to drink in the quantities I needed and so I started staying home every night, drinking my life away while watching episodes of "Intervention" and telling myself, "At least I'm not that bad."
There were no DUIs. No lost jobs. No kids failing school and getting into trouble. No divorce. To the outside I looked FINE. I was still maintaining on the outside but internally I was dying. Slowly but surely I was losing my grasp on my life and if it hadn't been for my husband stepping in and telling me I needed help, I'm not sure where I'd be right now.
But even after giving up my nightly drinking and learning to live sober, I struggled with labeling myself. Every fiber of my being recoiled at the word "alcoholic" (and still does if I'm honest) but something as tame as "problem drinker" didn't seem to be enough. I finally settled on the fact that it didn't matter what I called myself, I am not a person that's able to consume alcohol without getting drunk and therefore, I do not drink.
I've often told this story on my blog and have had many people email me and ask, "But how do I know if I have a problem? How do I know whether or not I'm an alcoholic?" My short answer is always, "You don't". My longer answer involves several opportunities for insight that might help. Note that anything that refers to wine in the upcoming list can be any alcoholic beverage.
- Do you find yourself making excuses not to go somewhere because they aren't serving alcohol or you know you'll have to 'behave'?
- If you do decide to venture out, do you immediately scan the room when you arrive to determine if there's enough wine?
- Do you then marvel at your math skills when you start multiplying and dividing to determine if there will be 'enough' for you?
- Do you find yourself alone and drinking many nights away from your family?
- Is your budget strained because of what you're spending on alcohol?
- Do you finish unfinished drinks at the table or find yourself thinking, "I wonder if she's going to finish that?" or "OMG would she just drink that damn glass of wine so I can order another one?"
- Do you find yourself trying to moderate or slow down by counting drinks, drinking water in between drinks, not drinking until a specific time or on certain days of the week or anything else that might assert some control over your drinking?
- Do you find yourself counting down until that magic hour when you're 'allowed' to have that first drink?
- Or, do you find yourself making excuses to drink earlier and earlier in the day?
- Has every day become a holiday in your life? Or a bad day?
- Is your every waking thought somehow tied to or consumed by drinking? How, when, where, how much, how often, what will happen, what did happen, will it happen again?
- Do you find yourself wondering more and more often if you have a problem?
- Do you wake up in the wee hours of the morning with a racing heart, in a cold sweat, unable to get back to sleep?
- Are your hangovers getting worse while your tolerance is dwindling?
- Why are the words tolerance and hangover in your daily vocabulary?
The reality is that if they're even asking me the question, hell if they're even reading my blog, they already know there's a problem. The degree and severity may vary but rest assured…they know. They just don't want to slap that ugly "A" on their chest and commence to walking around town. (Pssst…that's why the second word is anonymous.)
Honestly, I get it. I feel the same way. So now I don't care what you call me. I don't wear labels and the fact that I don't drink does not define me. All that's important is that I'm living my life sober and present and alive.
And by the way, if you read down that list again and you have any doubts about whether or not it applies to you, remember that normal people don't do ANY of these things. Just sayin'.