Do you know anyone who has not been affected by alcoholism?

Me either.

For such a widespread disease there’s so much many of us don’t understand. Too often there’s a stigma attached to the word ‘alcoholic’. We don’t do that if someone has diabetes or Parkinson’s or cancer or any number of diseases but we tend to feel differently if we’re talking about alcoholism.

Here are a few facts of this disease:

  • 1 in 13 adults in the U.S. are either alcoholics or abuse alcohol. That’s nearly 14 million people. Several million more are at risk for excessive drinking that could lead to alcohol abuse.
  • More than 50% of people report that one or more of their relatives have a drinking problem.
  • 1 in 4 children in the U.S. under the age of 18 are exposed to alcohol dependence in their families.
  • Although alcoholism can be treated, a cure is not yet available.

 

One of Many Faces of Addiction

Rachel is a Recovery Advocate, active in local grassroots programs promoting the Hope of Recovery. She is involved with hosting education and awareness programs in her home state of Maryland and an active board member for a non-profit foundation that provides scholarships for young people to attend rehab centers and aftercare facilities. Rachel often speaks to others in residential treatment who are early in their journey of recovery.

She’s comfortable with her role. She thoroughly understands what people in recovery go through because twelve years ago Rachel was going through her own journey of recovery. Her story is only one among the millions of stories of people who battle alcoholism every single day.

“I came from a close family, well-off enough for family vacations and a nice house and things beyond the necessities. We enjoyed a really beautiful, shiny life.”

“There were cocktail parties and social drinking which was just the normal way my parents entertained their friends. But after my mother developed serious health issues, her drinking became more prevalent. She was attentive and always had time for me, but she was just never really physically well which caused her to drink excessively.”

Were you aware that the majority of people with alcoholism are better educated and financially better off than the majority of the population in this country?

I wasn’t either.

“My mother eventually went to rehab and I remember feeling happy she was getting help. Afterward, when she went to the AA meetings I went along too and just colored or played with other kids who were there with their parents. It wasn’t any big deal. It was just a part of my life.”

As a young girl, Rachel had a major role in caring for her mother who continued to have health issues. Her dad realized the responsibility his daughter had assumed and one day suggested she might enjoy going to boarding school. He said, “You take care of your mom so much. I think it’s time for you to focus on yourself.”

Rachel left home happily looking forward to a new school, new friends, and a new adventure. It didn’t take long for her to discover that the cool girls were also the party girls and they welcomed her into their clique.

She was drinking by the age of 13.

“Drinking was fun. We were doing what lots of kids our age were doing. But even then, I realized that my drinking and drug use were different than that of my peers. I didn’t stop, though. I didn’t want to stop.”

“In my first year of college, I continued to party; but after transferring schools in my second year, I tried to make a fresh start. To get serious about my schoolwork. No more partying or drinking. It lasted until the day a friend appeared with a fake i.d. and we went to a bar. I fell right back to my old ways.”

“When I was in my early twenties, my mom died unexpectedly. It was devastating and I had no coping skills and no idea how to begin to deal with her loss. But I had my dad and I had booze so I got through it.”

“Then I met my future husband. Handsome. Charming. Successful. Fun. And a total Party Guy. We hit it off immediately and were married two years later.”

“What followed were years of what I call the ‘Drinking Dance’. Starts and stops for both of us. I began hiding my compulsion, rotating liquor stores, putting booze in a coffee cup, hiding liquor wherever I could find a spot. You know those things you’ve heard about when an alcoholic wants to keep a secret? I did every one of them.”

“I realized my drinking was out of control and went to my first AA meeting on the night of our 9th wedding anniversary. Even with the meetings I continued to drink, quitting one day and starting again the next yet. This went on for about two weeks. Then one night I began drinking at home and left for a bar where I continued to drink. I arrived at my AA meeting absolutely drunk.”

“A friend who was there managed to pull me aside before I embarrassed myself further. Somehow he convinced me the only way out of the hellhole I was in was residential treatment. Somehow what he said and how he said it got through to me.”

“You know something? I wish I could remember the words he used. I’ve asked and he doesn’t remember either. But whatever they were and however he said whatever he did, it got through to me.”

“When I arrived home, I told my husband I needed residential treatment. Immediately. I had to leave that night. I wasn’t willing to wait until morning. Phone calls were made. My in-laws stepped in to care for our two kids. We figured out how to pay for treatment. It was a snarl of logistics but I was determined to go.”

“I left for The Caron Foundation, a residential treatment center in Pennsylvania, later that night.”

What Rachel did not know at the time was it was also the night her husband had planned to leave her, ending their nine-year marriage.

You Don’t Just Harm Yourself

People who have lived with alcoholics understand the range of emotion that’s a common part of their lives. Anger. Forgiveness. Frustration. Resolution. The loss of trust. Constant uncertainty. Wondering if the see-saw is going to end up or down.

Always hopeful that maybe this time the promise is kept. The disappointment when it’s not.

Can you imagine experiencing a mixture of those feelings on any given day?

Rachel’s husband expressed it this way:

“I’d been standing on that diving board for so long and when I finally decided to jump, she drained the pool with her rehab idea. I was ready to be free of the chaos. And with that announcement, she took away my option of freedom. I’ll admit it. I was pretty angry.”

With people who chronically struggle or move from one self-inflicted catastrophe to the next, here’s something to remember:

One day they’re either going to get it. Or they won’t.

They’re either going to figure out a way to improve their life by making better decisions or they’re going to continue having episode after episode of events they’re sorry for but somehow never manage to change.

It’s completely in their control, which is frustrating for the family and friends who watch it happen time after time, hopeful for a better outcome.

Somewhere . . . at some meeting . . . during a quiet moment . . . maybe hearing someone’s story . . . maybe just putting all the pieces together . . . Rachel realized this:

“If I do the things I’m supposed to do . . . what I need to do . . . if I follow the rules . . . I’ll succeed.”

“And if I don’t, I won’t.”

 

Starting a New Journey

Finally. Rachel got it.

“After 40 days at the residential center, I moved in with my dad and continued Intensive Outpatient treatment which included group counseling three days a week along with attending 90 meetings in 90 days. I was determined to follow the directions because I felt I’d gone through everything for a reason. Maybe the reason wasn’t crystal clear at the time but I knew I’d do everything in my power to discover it.”

“My husband was tentative with believing I’d finally turned the corner once and for all. Divorce was still on the table. I understood and gave him the space we both needed to come to that place of healing in our relationship.”

“During the time with my dad, I discovered books and letters my mom had saved when she was going through her own recovery. Reading her books, experiencing her battle, understanding why she’d saved all those notes from friends felt as is she had been walking beside me and now was with me in my strength.”

On her 90th day sober, Rachel and her husband changed their minds about divorce. They fell in love all over again.

“I think about the remarkable change in one year. The terrible state I had been in . . . the state we both were in on our 9th anniversary. Our marriage was teetering on the edge. And yet we managed to put the pieces back together.”

“We celebrated our 10th anniversary acting like a couple of newlyweds. Like I said, it was a remarkable year of change. Today, we are incredibly happy together, raising our two kids, sharing our story, celebrating sobriety, and reaching out to people going through their own journey of recovery.”

“Maybe that’s the reason I had to go through everything I went through. Maybe it’s to let people know there is a way out. Maybe it’s to teach my kids and their friends the risks of taking that first drink.”

“It’s my story and I’ll continue to tell it. Maybe my words will be the ones that start someone else on their own remarkable year of change. If it happened for me, it can happen for them too.”

Do you know someone who abuses alcohol on a regular basis, going beyond that moderate drinking level of two or fewer drinks a day (women should have less than one)?

Did you know that binge drinking involves consuming only five or more drinks in a single session if you are male and four or more drinks in a single session if you are female?

Have you experienced your own story of triumph over alcoholism?

I look forward to reading your thoughts below.