Even though I believe so strongly that in order to combat the stigma of alcoholism we need to chip away at it through the power of truth, story and example, clicking "publish" on that one was the hardest thing I've done on this blog.
I'm not immune to thoughts of insecurity as it pertains to the stigma. I made the choice to be open about my addiction and recovery, and I did it knowing that if I was going to be honest, it had to be all the way, even if I relapsed one day.
Far easier to have the ideological thought in my head than to face the reality. I knew that I didn't have to be public about it until I was ready, and I wanted to use this as an excuse to perhaps never write about it. I admit I didn't want to, that I fought it, and it took the prompting of people who know me well to open my heart and mind up to the idea that I could write about it someday. I just thought that someday was going to be further off. I woke up yesterday morning and knew it was the day, for reasons I don't have to understand.
The comments you leave supporting me help countless others who are reading, and seeing firsthand that it IS possible to get help and encouragement if you're honest first to yourself (this can be the hardest part) and then to others. It's the community that supports me on days I don't think I'm going to make it. It's the community that welcomed me back from my fall, and if I didn't have that community to go back to, clear my slate and my conscience with the truth, I don't know that I would have made it.
The stigma is still out there, strong as ever. After a hard post like that, I have to put my chin up and go out and do my normal activities and try not to wonder who has read it, whether or not they are judging me. Recovery starts from the inside out; if I let other people's opinions of me control how I feel about myself, it will lead me right back to the darkness.
Then yesterday, the news story of the man who was duct taped by fellow plane passengers to his chair because he was drunk and disorderly (click on the link to read one of the stories) broke with this viral picture:
He was, apparently, drinking the duty free alcohol he bought after passing through security, the seat back pocket in front of him full of nips. After four hours, he because violent, disorderly and threatening. The picture above is the result.
Passengers declined to comment about the incident after disembarking, and so no charges will be made against the man (who is named in several news articles).
The thing is? I identify with this man. The only difference between him and me is circumstance. When I was active, this could have happened to me (I actually had the thought that getting your booze in the duty free shop was pretty clever... other alcoholics in recovery (and out of it) will have had this thought, too, when they read the story). This is what an untreated alcoholic look like. Most untreated alcoholics suffer silently in their homes or on bar stools, and when something "juicy" like this happens, and the hurtful comments start, all the silent sufferers go a little more quiet.
I don't know where to begin, really. What would I have done if I were on that plane? If I had witnessed this? I don't know. Mob mentality is a scary thing. I do wonder about the people who were supposed to be in charge, what the rules are, etc. But I wasn't there and I'll never know.
Reading this story in several news sources, something scares me more than the way this man was treated. The comments about "drunks", "booze hounds" and "getting what he deserved". There was even one police authority who was quoted in a reputable news source as calling the man a "typical drunk".
Alcoholism is a disease, and its primary symptoms are behavioral. I'm not saying we excuse the behavior - there have to be consequences - but I long for the day when the mob mentality doesn't collectively rub its gleeful hands together and lump all drunks into one big horrible stereotype. It's no better than any other form of bullying or racism.
I see a sick man who needs a lot of help in this picture. I see the system built to protect unruly passengers from themselves and each other failing. I see people putting him down to feel better about themselves.
It all makes me sad, and it's why hitting publish is hard.
There is so much hope, though. Hope through your comments, through the supportive community evolving at Crying Out Now and the Booze Free Brigade. Through the brave stories women are telling on The Bubble Hour. These are all shining examples of people busting through the shame to help themselves heal, and to show others that the stereotype is wrong, that alcoholism can strike anyone.
Through the power of story and identification, we can help people who have never been touched by alcoholism - directly or indirectly - understand this disease, humanize it, put real people behind it.
This is why I'll always hit "publish". This is why your comments are so important. You are on the front line of helping people get past the stigma and shame and get help.