The Stigma: Part III
My uncle by marriage was an alcoholic. I recall as a kid visiting my Aunt’s house where he’d be stretched out on the sofa. We looked at him from the distance as if he was an alien, and I don’t ever remember exchanging dialogue with him. We spurned him because he was a heavy drinker, a loser, to be hated rather than healed. We blamed him for making my Aunt’s life hell when his was probably worse than anyone’s.
I honestly believe that millions of people are suffering silently and the stigma against alcoholism (and addiction) seems to prolong the need for anonymity. Media coverage identifies all who drink or do drugs as criminals. When loss of life occurs, and it very easily and tragically happens, we are. Most of the time we’re just pathetic.
We look at the homeless as alcoholic losers. Hell, if they can panhandle, they can get a job at Taco Bell and earn their living. The problem is they can’t. Alcoholism is immobilizing. I am on the verge of not being functional myself. All I can think about is my next drink, how I can manage it, where I can go, and how long I can wait for it. I am a master at sneaking nips, hiding the evidence, maintaining some semblance of normalcy. I do it by staying away from people, from co-workers, from public places, from social situations. I am practiced at this life and feeding the monster.
Alcoholism is all consuming because it is the only relief we believe we have from our personal hells, real or imagined.
Since the accident, I have told several friends I trust about my drinking. This has been the biggest initial challenge for me, the loner. I am adept at covering up because of the social stigma. One is also an alcoholic who was booked on a DUI and has been a great help understanding what I can expect, not that it makes it any less frightening. Another is a co-worker who has really opened up and been sympathetic to my plight in a non-judgmental way. Another an editor for a major magazine. Yet another a Christian who lives his Love like no other I’ve met. He continues to worry and pray for me.
The last was my best friend in Switzerland. Her response was odd and I’m not certain I feel comfortable having told her. There are those who will be uncomfortable with this pick your confidantes wisely.
My next confession will be to a lawyer. Forgive me, Doctor of Juris Prudence, for I have sinned. It has been a long time since I’ve faced up to this. It’s none of your business how long; just help me out of this mess.
DUI’s sit on a driving record for seven years. It will ruin chances for jobs, credit, insurance, living accommodations. Penalties include jail time, high fines and court costs, and license revocation. Depending upon the BAL within two hours of the time of arrest, sentencing can also include probation, ankle monitors, and two years of daily breathalyzer tests from a machine installed in your car. Education classes are usually scheduled and if you’re without transportation but required to go, you’re screwed. Everything costs money and lots of it. The commercials that say “I lost my job, I lost my wife” don’t begin to explain the enormity of the fuck up. I’m here now to do that.
If you think you’ll be treated with any respect, either by law enforcement or state personnel, think again. You’ve put not only your own life on the line but that of others who, in the terrible haze and blackouts, don’t even exist in your line of vision. I’ve hated the drunks who killed mother and children in Denver at the holidays a year ago. Interestingly enough, after I was released from detox I checked the news to be certain I hadn’t become one of them. According to the police report, the only thing I knocked over was a tree. But the possibility that I could have destroyed much more than I did haunts me and propels me to sobriety. I’m enough of a statistic already.
There will be no meaningful conversation with my family, no tearful Hollywood confession that ends with a weeping prodigal daughter in the arms of her mother and brothers, no relighting of the family fire. I’ve already tried. Mother would make it about her and fall into an emotional semi-catatonic state wringing her hands and asking “why, God?” Oldest brother, retired military, would probably have a hard time (we have just recently reconnected and I don’t want to shake that ground because I actually like him); middle brother, who has his own share of problems, would have an intellectual conversation to try and rationalize it; and youngest brother, PhD over-achiever, would send me one of Dr. Phil’s books. I would then be left on my own as I have been so many times, trailing behind my brothers’ successes like the little Pied Pooper that I am. My family would compare me with my drunken Uncle, no doubt.
There is no reason to invite more shame and pain.