Thursday, June 2, 2011
These are women who haven't lost anything; they still have their jobs, their families, their health. They haven't been arrested; indeed many of them are surrounded by family and friends who don't think they have a drinking problem at all.
But they know something isn't right, and they are beginning to suspect their drinking is at the root of it all.
Many of them say they have tried a recovery meeting or two, and they feel like they don't belong as they listen to others' tales of woe. I'm not that bad, they think. And they are right. They aren't that bad. Yet.
One woman put it beautifully when she said she feels caught in purgatory; she knows she doesn't drink socially, like most of her friends, but she doesn't feel 'bad enough' to attend recovery meetings. She said she felt like she doesn't fit in anywhere.
Emotional addiction comes with its own discomfort, but these symptoms can be easy to miss, because they feel like all the reasons most people drink - to relax, to unwind, as a reward for a hard day, to be more social.
When I was emotionally addicted - before I had to drink - my days started to revolve around thoughts of a drink. I would wake up in the morning feeling achy and hungover, most days, and a few cups of coffee or a brisk morning walk would clear my head and set my resolve: not tonight. I'm not going to drink tonight.
By three or four o'clock, though, the tape in my head had changed: just one. Only one drink tonight.
I hated the witching hour - the hours between 5pm and 8pm - when dinner, dishes, bathtimes and bedtimes collided with cranky kids and a tired husband. For working Moms just coming home from their job these hours are a whirlwind of activity laced with guilt that these crazy hours are the only times they see their husband, or their children, during the week.
By six o'clock a drink felt like my God-given right, dammit, for making it through another long day. I was careful while the kids were awake, but as soon as they were tucked into their beds I would head downstairs for just one more that inevitably turned into more than one.
I would wake up the next morning, achy and contrite, and the cycle would begin again.
Sometimes something would happen - an alcohol fueled fight with my husband, or an embarrassing call to a friend, and I would resolve not to drink for a while. I would usually succeed for a few days, but when the witching hours arrived my subconscious was still preoccupied with the not-drinking. Here's me not drinking, I'd think with a mixture of pride and longing. I was irritable, edgy and short with the kids. Eventually a drink seemed like a good idea, if only to get my fun-loving, relaxed self back.
I started keeping a mental list in my head of all the reasons I couldn't be heading for a drinking problem (I never, ever said the "A word" - alcoholic - even to myself). I had thriving children, a good job, many friends. I didn't blackout (back then I didn't know the definition of a "grey-out", when memories get fuzzy or full of gaps), and I didn't drive drunk (driving after having a few didn't count, in my book, because everyone does that, right?). I stopped with no problem at all during my pregnancies. I was athletic, social and active.
I missed a big signpost: people who aren't developing a drinking problem don't walk around with lists in their heads about why they can't possibly have a drinking problem.
I lived in this purgatory for years. When I'm honest with myself I can see signs of a problem as far back as my twenties, when I would rally co-workers for a drink after work as often as possible. I never, ever attended events that didn't involve alcohol. I was usually the first person to arrive and the last to leave.
I'm talking about all this because I know, now, that emotional addiction will - always - lead to phsycial addiction eventually. It may take years, like it did for me, but the elevator only goes one way: down.
There is good news, though. Because of the internet, more and more women are exploring their drinking from the safe distance of the other side of their computer monitor. They are joining chat rooms, reading blogs, forming communities where they don't have to fear running into someone at the grocery store the next day.
Women are starting to get honest with themselves before the physical addiction kicks in, when they are in that purgatory where they know in their gut that their drinking is a problem, but they aren't about to go to a recovery meeting. Not yet.
Getting sober when you're emotionally addicted to alcohol is hard. It is a lot like dieting; how many of us wait until we're visibly overweight to lose those extra pounds? How many of us wait until our health is at risk before we buckle down and do something about it? How many of us lose those extra ten pounds, over and over, without really committing to a lifetime of healthy eating and exercise?
It's like that for people who are emotionally addicted to alcohol. We stop for brief periods of time, convince ourselves we don't have a problem, and scratch our heads in bewilderment when months - or weeks - later we're right back where we started, or worse.
It is nearly impossible to make any meaningful changes in your drinking, in your life, alone. So don't be alone; go find the people who understand. We're everywhere, if you're looking in the right place.
Some people believe getting sober online isn't 'real' sobriety, and that recovery meetings are the only way to maintain meaningful sobriety. I believe, too, that to succeed long term you will need a network of support and understanding in your 'real' life, because virtual friends can only take you so far. But if getting honest through the relative anonymity of the computer screen helps you take those first few brave - and terrifying - steps towards recovery, I'm all for it.
At Crying Out Now there is a blogroll of sober bloggers, or bloggers trying to get sober. Go check them out. Look for your story in their stories. Join the Booze Free Brigade - now over 840 members strong - and reach out to people; don't sit silently reading. Go tell your story - type out your thoughts and fears and be surrounded by empathy and understanding.
I try not to live in regret, but I will always, always wish that I had the courage to explore my drinking when I was in purgatory. I knew the resources were out there, but I was too scared to look.
Don't wait until physical addiction kicks in, because you won't see it coming, and although purgatory is bad, physical addiction is hell.
So please, go look.