Beginnings of Misconceptions

 Drawing of group of women asking which one is the alcoholic about the misconception of what an alcoholic looks likeI watched My Name Was Bette: The Life and Death of an Alcoholic on Amazon Prime the other day. I realized that there is a specific misconception about being an alcoholic. The misconception is a combination of what an alcoholic looks like and what he or she does. For me, when I picture an alcoholic, it’s a disheveled old man who is always in a state of intoxication. 

What I envision as an alcoholic is most likely due to those I have known over the years. There was an older man who used to live down the road from me not that long ago. He was gaunt, and his appearance was always scraggly and unkempt. 

I saw him one morning while I was walking my dog. He had urinated on himself and had no idea. The simplest of tasks were well outside his capabilities. I pitied him, and yet, I would still drink my way through several bottles of wine a night. 

I convinced myself that I was different than him. But was I?

Misconception about Those Alcoholics

We have to keep saying to ourselves that those people are different than us. We need alcoholics to be so unlike us. If an alcoholic can look and act like anyone, they could be us! Then where does that leave us? We can’t assign the title of alcoholic and therefore look down on those people unless we can quickly and easily identify who they are. Because they certainly cannot be one of us. 

In reality, those people who are unable or unwilling due to their addiction to get the help they need could be any one of us. And that is a scary thought. That there is the potential that we are looking at ourselves in a not so very distant future. When we think of what an alcoholic looks like, we envision someone entirely different from us. We have to. 

Keeping those people at a distance provides a false sense of security. It is also where the misconception about being an alcoholic and what an alcoholic looks like begins. When we put things that we are ourselves afraid of at arm’s length and label that as a ‘thing’ or ‘those people’, we are safe from being that thing. And that is what happens when we deny that alcoholism could happen to us. And within that denial is where the problem truly begins.

You Don’t Have A Problem 

Or some iteration of that statement is what I repeatedly heard as I told my friends that I have a problem with alcohol. At first, I was intrigued (annoyed) by that statement, and then later, I would question that statement. What is it that I saw within myself that I concluded that I am an alcoholic that my friends did not see? 

I came to realize that it wasn’t the right question. The question should be, what are my friends afraid of that they are willing to begin to deny me my truth? The answer is simple. They are scared that they are like me. Alcoholic hiding in plain sight. A person that looks, acts, and functions just as they do.  How many of those people are afraid that they too may decide or realize that perhaps alcohol is not their friend, as I did. It isn’t that they denied my truth. Although they were doing that too, don’t get me wrong, but more than that, they denied that they could ever be like that. 

And that is one of the major problems of the misconception of being an alcoholic. Not only are people likely to deny the truth of others, but they also do that to protect themselves. Not a thought of helping the person who just laid their soul bare, but thought of protecting themselves from having to admit that they too may have a problem, and they may be (said with a whisper) an alcoholic also. Oh, the horror!

Here’s a newsflash: Just Because I have a problem doesn’t mean that you do too.

Rock Bottom is a Lie

There is no such thing as rock bottom. An alcoholic doesn’t need to hit rock bottom to realize that they need to change. No one needs to hit any bottom to know they need to make their life better. I hadn’t hit rock bottom when I figured out something very wrong with me and my relationship with drinking. 

And what does rock bottom mean anyway? It is a very individual situation to hit ‘bottom.’ Maybe for me, I had hit rock bottom. My rock bottom just looked different. I hadn’t thought about that until now, but that is a very distinct possibility. Because rock bottom looks different for different people, it could be that when someone decides to change, that is their rock bottom. 

One could argue that realizing that you have an issue with alcohol is rock bottom somehow, especially in our very alcohol centric society. So many people have looked at me with sadness or something akin to that emotion when I tell them that I don’t drink or that I can’t drink. It is almost like they are sad that I can’t or don’t participate in something so central to our society like I am an outsider suddenly. Which I am now simply because I don’t drink. I am no longer in the catered-to-drinking demographic.  

Being Honest

I do think that there is one thing that every one of us can do. And that is honest. Be honest with ourselves first, to discover what our truth is, and then be honest with others about that truth. That is how we can best help ourselves and help others who need our support in digging deeper.

I recently relayed to my therapist how I handled the conversation with a family member when asked why I decided to stop drinking. I said point-blank, “I am an alcoholic. I can never drink again.” BAM! Done. It can be a conversation ender, as the initial pause from the other person grows ever longer.

I mean really, what do you say to that? Congratulations? Good for you? Why not say those things? It is a good thing. I mean, congrats to me for realizing that I need to change my relationship with alcohol. And good for me for making the changes in my life that are best for me. And good for anyone else who has decided to take that journey. Whatever your journey, remember, you rock!

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