As I was squeezing lemons into my water this morning in the office kitchen, a co-worker laughed and asked, “are you making sangria?”
I then screamed “NO I AM NOT BECAUSE I AM A RAGING ALCOHOLIC HOW DARE YOU – YOU – YOU IGNORAMUS” and ran out of the kitchen with the sting of lemon burning that little cut on my thumb.
Of course I didn’t really say that, because you just can’t. I said, “hahahaha, that’d get me in real trouble, wouldn’t it?” (recalling the days of drinking vodka out of a water bottle all day at work) and he says, “Oh I’d fall asleep at my desk, but that wouldn’t be anything new” and we both HAHAHAHAHAHAHAH’ed and JUST KILL ME.
I find small talk dreadful. I am filled with anxiety when I even think about a social situation where I might have to talk with people about everyday small things. Give me big, life changing things to talk about and I’ll be fine. Start crying and tell me everything and I shine. Small talk? NOT SO MUCH.
It’s nobody’s responsibility to cater to me because I’m an alcoholic. It’s nobody’s responsibility to cater to me because I have anxiety. It’s nobody’s responsibility to cater to me because I’m a white woman. But it’s also not my responsibility to cater to these middle aged white men who have gone through life unchecked.
The sting of the lemon.
Just as it’s not my responsibility to explain to this man that it’s maybe not appropriate to joke about drinking all the time (which is a common theme in my office), it’s nobody’s job to cater to me for being an alcoholic. THAT SAID, each and every day I walk through life as a recovering alcoholic. Hopefully this is the case the rest of my life, but I can only do one day at a time. It works for me. Some days as a recovering person are far more challenging than others, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Some people know that I’m an alcoholic but most don’t – so the comments and interactions are interesting, to say the least. It’s up to me who I disclose it to. Then again, some people are intuitive. I know when I meet another alcoholic before they even tell me. We just know. It’s not like I have a big sign that says, “I AM A RAGING ALCOHOLIC WARNING WARNING”, but we know. There’s a certain head nod of greeting those of us who have been to hell and back acknowledge in each other without ever having to say a word.
But most people don’t know. That man in the kitchen this morning? He didn’t know. HE REALLY DIDN’T KNOW. And that is only because he’s gone through his life not having to know, and that’s not necessarily his fault.
At times I engage, but mostly I don’t. If I feel it can help, I absolutely do. I’d say at least once a day either online or on the street I have some discussion with someone about alcoholism or addiction. About hope. About recovery. I share to help the still suffering, without end. That’s how this works. But if I feel like it’s a vindictive response on my part after an innocent comment, I’ve learned (after 15 years sober) to keep my mouth shut. No good can come of humiliating someone who had no idea who they were talking to.
I guess I’m writing this to just share once again that we never ever know what’s really going on with a person. With their loved ones. In their hearts.
There’s an artist – Courtney Privett – and she has put together these pieces that are quiet extraordinary. They are seemingly a simple drawing and word bubbles – from different people’s perspectives – what they hear from the outside world and/or what goes on inside their own head. With the key line of “she persisted”, she’s gone on to do pieces on mental illnesses, disabilities, infertility, intersectionality, and so many other great perspectives that many of us don’t face each day and could do with a bit more empathy when we do. MORE EMPATHY IS WHAT THIS WORLD NEEDS SO DESPERATELY.
As a walking, talking, functioning alcoholic with no real physical traces of the damage done, I feel like I am in one of those pieces. All the things people say to me. Around me. About me. As a woman and as an alcoholic, we have come far. We still have a ways to travel. What do people say to an alcoholic when they don’t know she’s an alcoholic? What do they say when they do know?
BUT YOU DON’T LOOK LIKE AN ALCOHOLIC.
People say sorry to me a lot. They don’t really need to. Don’t be sorry for me, be happy for me that I’m here. That I’ve gone through it and come out the other side. That I continue to go through it and come out the other side.
I think it’s nerves. I really do. So I’m quick to let it roll off. Today. 15 years ago I was twitchy. I MEAN, TWITCHY. I’ve calmed.
15 years ago you would’ve seen me at my worst. Drunken, bruised, bloodied and battered on on outside – not to even speak about the inside. Unkempt, unhygienic, unworthy of your possibly even good intentions. I was a mess. But as I always remind people, nobody is harder on addicts and alcoholics than themselves. No matter what anybody said to me, I said a million times worse in my head. You would have pitied me or ignored me trying to act as though I didn’t exist.
But there were people who didn’t ignore me. Who didn’t give up on me. Who were there when I was ready.
Gratitude is my great healer. Granting folks grace is my passing it on.
I’m working so hard on meeting people where they are and trying my best to not wish they were if a different spot. Ask my family how that’s going…..it’s hard. We want people to be where we are and while that’s the most comfortable place for most of us to reside, I’m willing to bet getting outside that space is what’s going to move us forward.
I had dinner with my lovely sister-in-law last night and she asked me, “What do I say to someone who just comes out and tells me they’re sober?” And my response is that if you are coming from a place of support and love, there is no definitive wrong or right answer here. The fact of the matter is, when someone tells you they’re in recovery, it’s more about that person than it is about you. We need to speak our truth and have you hear it. But what you do or say about it, well that’s on you. For me, a simple, “that’s great” or “good for you” and more recently, “what a great gift to your family” do just perfectly.
When we understand that alcoholics and addicts are walking amongst us, we serve each other better. You never ever know what is going on with a person. You certainly cannot tell by their outside appearance. Empathy and compassion are our best weapons against division right now, and always. Be careful who you claim to hate. Who you say are your enemies. It may just be that one day someone you love is in that camp. Or maybe even you. Never say never. Chances are you have someone in your life who is an addict or alcoholic…chances are it’s you. And if you are convinced that you don’t have anybody in your life that is, consider me in your life. I’m here. A real life drunk walking through one day at a time sober.