Community Magazine

You Don’t Look Like an Alcoholic

By Amanda Bruce @RecoveryisCake

drugabuse-shutterstock293848514-woman_in_front_of_alcohol_glass-feature_image-alcohol_abuseI live in the middle of the woods.

As I sit here, I hear the peepers peeping, and their chorus is somehow meditative.  I feel cushioned by the pond on one side of our house; I picture the way the backyard slopes down towards the shed and for some reason, it comforts me.

Some days, I’m not quite sure how I ended up here, at 37, owning a house.  Let me be clear: I am not gloating.  I should not have ended up here.

Why?  I’m an alcoholic. 8 years into recovery, but nonetheless, an alcoholic.  My body can’t handle booze.

I’m also an overly-perfectionistic mother who naively wants to change the world, a therapist, a writer, and a runner.

And I’m here to talk about why our society still can’t goddamn fuse those things together.

******

When I picture people talking about me, (you know, because I’m so thrilling that people would, I hope you pick up on the sarcasm here), I imagine they talk in whispers.  “Did you hear about her?” they say.   “She’s an alcoholic.  And she’s out about it.”  I become paranoid that other moms won’t trust me with their children, or that I won’t get invited out to parties because they think I can’t be around alcohol (on most days, I can).

But that’s fear.  I’m sure there are some people out there thinking that, and that’s ok.  That’s none of my business.  At least, that’s what they tell me to tell myself.

Look, things have changed, but you can’t tell me there still isn’t stigma regarding addicts and alcoholics.  If there wasn’t, there’d be more funding for treatment centers.  There wouldn’t be family members telling me to shut my mouth (rather, my keyboard) about my problem (“Why do you need to tell the whole world??” was verbatim out of my aunt’s mouth).  There wouldn’t be friends private messaging me about their own family member’s alcohol issues.  Lastly, there wouldn’t be that picture we all have in our head of….

THE ALCOHOLIC.

You know what I mean.  You have an image in your head.  First off, it’s probably a guy, because it’s just unladylike if a gal can’t hold her liquor.  He’s most likely homeless, and carrying a brown bag.  Or, he’s that useless relative you know who doesn’t shower and is basically a pariah of society.

Let’s refocus:

Me.   I’m that pariah.  Anti-bullying committee participant, 9 mile running, obsessed with productivity, white girl me.

And there’s probably 5 or 10 others like me in our community, who feel like they have to parade around with that mask of competence because they fear that stereotype.

And I think that’s bullshit.

Humans are capable of writing amazing works of fiction AND destroying themselves with gambling.  They are both intrepid CEO’s AND victims of domestic abuse.  They are so many, many things.  That is the human experience- complexity.  And yet, we still reserve our utmost disgust for the underlings of society – the alcoholic and the addict.  Once we know that about them, we turn up our nose.  We shake our heads and don’t talk about them.  We neglect to remember that they embody many different life forms.  Even the body of a relatively attractive, 37 year old white Mom from an affluent suburb.

When I was in the first or second year of my sobriety, someone reached out to me because they were trying to stop drinking.  “I’ll be honest,” they said.  “I would never have thought you were an alcoholic.”  My obsessed-with-image self at that time secretly gloated; good, I thought.  I still look classy.  I still look like a “normie”.  I didn’t lose teeth and I didn’t lose my job and I still have my shit together.  7 years later, I laugh, because, what does an alcoholic look like?

(Not to mention I’m more than happy to admit today that I have none of my shit together.  Or rather, it’s together, but I have less of the answers than I ever did, and that’s ok.)

Alcoholism and addiction and anxiety and depression and schizophrenia shouldn’t be things we have to hide and secretly consult others about behind closed doors for fear of others’ judgment.  They’re just brain health issues.  Yes, alcoholism is not a morality issue, there is actually something different in the brain of an alcoholic.  Same goes for anxiety, and the rest of ’em.  I’m simply bored to tears and disappointed with our society’s very outdated perspective on alcoholics.

Imagine a community that lovingly confronted one of its members about their destructive behavior.  Imagine a community that held mental health support groups just because.  These are things that are not impossible; these are things that will come to fruition hundreds of years from now.  Stigma is simply useless.  It’s a social more we’ve been taught to bear; imagine if we spent that energy towards understanding, education and treatment.  Understanding that alcoholics don’t “look” any different.  OK, their brain might be a little wonky, but they might just be that business owner you admire  on the other side of town. They might just look…normal.

********

The rain has now picked up.  It patters quietly on the rooftop.  The peepers are still going at it.  My dog pants steadily in his sleep on the loveseat across from me.

It is quiet, and I like it that way today.

I like it very much.

(Image provided by Google images)


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