When preparing to promote my book, I was nervous about the speaking engagements that go along with being a published author. "I hope I don't introduce myself by saying 'Hi, I'm Debbie and I'm an alcoholic," I joked to my publisher. After all, I've done most of my group speaking at recovery meetings.
I'm not ashamed of being an alcoholic anymore than I'd be ashamed of being a diabetic. My personality, combined with the powerful affect alcohol has on my brain, made me what I am - a drunk. A sober drunk for that past 28 years, but an alcoholic for life. There's no cure, but I found a recovery program that works for me, a program that saved and transformed my life.
When I tell people that I'm an alcoholic they sometimes say, "You don't look like one." Trust me, I do. At the risk of sounding like an insidious alien invader, let me tell you that we're everywhere. Mothers, fathers, doctors, lawyers, mechanics, plumbers, teachers, priests. Alcoholism doesn't value education, income or class distinctions. It embraces and tortures on an equal opportunity basis.
I began drinking in my late teens, and from that first light buzz from sloe gin and 7-Up I knew I'd found The Solution. Alcohol eased my constricting self-consciousness and made me feel normal. It was a magic potion that brought me new friends, nights of partying at local bars, and a blessed distraction from my chronic dissatisfaction with being me. Had you seen me then - stumbling, laughing like a demented hyena or blubbering through a crying jag - you wouldn't have said I didn't "look like one."
Friends and loved ones often beg a drunk: "Why don't you just stop?" If it were that easy there'd be no rehabs, no Dr. Drew, no addicts. Once you cross that line there's no U-turn back to sanity.
There's a world of difference between wanting to stop and being able to stop. Try not scratching a maddening itch. Try holding back a powerful sneeze. Multiply that by a billion. That's close to what it feels like to try to just not drink. Addiction is like having an uncontrollable compulsion to repeatedly hit yourself in the head with a hammer; it looks ridiculous, it hurts like crazy and you know someday it'll kill you, but you just can't stop.
If an alcoholic is lucky, blessed, or both, they'll eventually become so miserable that they'll do whatever it takes to achieve sobriety. It's called willingness. I was lucky - and blessed - enough to become that miserable at a young age, before I'd piled up too much wreckage. And I was blessed enough to have one person who loved me enough to make me acknowledge that I was an alcoholic and reach out for help.
Some people consider alcoholism a moral weakness, a choice made by people lacking willpower. As if anyone would choose the crawl-out-of-your-skin cravings, the blackouts, the humiliating social and legal consequences, the broken relationships, the self-loathing.
Sobriety is hard. It's also liberating, joyful, and entirely attainable for anyone who is willing to go to any length to achieve it. If you know someone struggling with alcoholism, try to remember that behind the bottle isn't a bad person who needs to be better - there's a sick person who needs to get well.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Deb Pascoe is a Marquette resident, mother of three and full-time editorial assistant in The Mining Journal newsroom. Her bi-weekly columns focus on her observations on life and family. She can be reached by phone at 228-2500, ext. 240, or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. "Life With a View," a collection of her Mining Journal columns, is available at area bookstores. Read her blog online at www.singlesobermom.blogspot.com.