I don’t drink, because I am an alcoholic.
I’m not ashamed to say that, but it’s not something I freely share. Because it is, oddly, not a reason that people will accept. You’re not an alcoholic, they’ll tell me. You’re such a happy drunk. To them, I don’t meet the criteria, and I can understand that. People that know me and have seen me drink have only seen the surface. People that don’t know me can’t imagine that I’d be that type of individual.
When I say that I’m an alcoholic, many people seem to want or demand proof. Without it, they insist I don’t have a problem. It’s like battling my inner voice and coming to terms with it all over again.
Because it’s the proof that shames me.
It was more obvious when I was younger, I think, but easier to discount as the mistakes of someone new to drinking. I was angry back then, and more volatile.
Looking back, I should have stopped drinking the first time I tried to fist fight my boyfriend. It was early winter, and we were at a party. I told myself that if he cared about me, he would find me if I disappeared. I went for a walk in the dark without telling anyone, making zig-zagged footprints in the thin dusting of snow on the road, my awareness flickering on and off like a lightbulb that’s about to go out. I returned to the party in a rage, and I came at him swinging.
That’s where my memory ends. But even now I think about how bewildered he must have been, to see me crying and throwing punches at him after disappearing for a few minutes. He probably thought I had left the room to mingle with our other friends. My anger understandably made no sense to him, and that only made me angrier.
This type of situation happened almost every time I drank enough to black out.
Seven years later, and my boyfriend is now my husband. I don’t try to punch him when I drink anymore. When we’re drinking with our families, I become giggly and happy and more open. I sing, and I dance. I am unashamed of my happiness and joy, and I show it— the shy girl that I am when I'm sober disappears.
But only my husband gets to see what it’s like when we come home. I get mean and belligerent. I manipulate to get what I want, saying and doing things that hurt him. I remember none of it, except sometimes there are brief flickers of panic. The fear that I said something that went too far, and that this time it’s going to be his breaking point.
I spend the entire night sick, and in the morning I say it’s because I have acid reflux. I’m hungover the rest of the day, trying to make amends for the things I don't remember, feeling ashamed and guilty and too tired to accomplish anything on my to-do list of ‘want-to’ and ‘need-to.’ Feeling miserable that yet another weekend wasted by getting wasted.
Often, this proof still isn’t enough— or people feel that ‘alcoholic’ is too strong a word. It evokes imagery of someone that has an addiction so fierce that they shake without it, have lost their jobs and destroyed their relationships because of it, and have gotten caught while driving under the influence. I don’t meet those criteria, but that doesn’t mean that if I were to continue with my previous patterns that I never would.
It is harmful to tell someone who is telling you otherwise that they don’t have a problem if they haven’t hit rock bottom yet.
They aren’t looking for permission to drink. They aren’t seeking validation about the type of drunk they are. They’re already fighting a voice in their head that’s bargaining— if you limit yourself to one drink, then you’ll be a normal drinker— even though that has likely proven to be false many times before. One drink leads to two which leads to too many. Sometimes alcoholics can stop at one drink, but mostly they don’t.
Neither are they making statements about your own drinking habits, even if they ask you not to drink around them. It’s because they can’t handle the temptation of being around it. But when someone assumes that an alcoholic wants them to stop drinking, too, or that the alcoholic is judging the other person, it can cause even more guilt. A request for support in this thing that was hard to admit suddenly shifts to managing the emotions of the other person, and comforting them instead.
When someone tells you they are an alcoholic, accept it. Listen to them and thank them for sharing with you. Ask them how you can support them, and they’ll tell you what they need. Understand that it’s not about you.
But if you do feel defensive when someone tells you they are no longer drinking, it may be time to reexamine your relationship with alcohol. You can take a self-test, provided by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.
This post is not sponsored. These are resources that helped me understand and accept my alcoholism, as well as how to support other people in my life that struggle with addiction.
- Recovery Elevator (Podcast, Blog)
- Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget (Book)
- Under the Influence: A Guide to the Myths and Realities of Alcoholism (Book)
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (Organization)
- National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (Organization)