Sometimes I’m amazed at how dense I can be. Getting sober has been a great exercise in humility and has opened my eyes to just how much of an idiot I was when I was drinking. But the good news is that for some things, I can say that I wasn’t the real idiot, but rather the alcoholism was. I can’t use it as a cop-out or to totally absolve myself from the guilt by any means, but it does provide a small cushion. Disease or not, my drinking affected other people.
I brought this topic up in a meeting the other day and it sparked a really interesting discussion. Many women there had examples and stories off the tops of their heads, but others had to do a little memory-surfing and really think about how their drinking had affected those around them. Some of them said they remembered things they hadn’t thought of in years.
While we were living in our blurred state of being either buzzed or hammered most of the time, we thought that 1) we were absolutely brilliant, hilarious and gorgeous; 2) we were the life of the party and 3) everyone else around us was probably smashed too so they wouldn’t remember anything stupid we did. But the best delusion was this one: we thought that no one could tell we were drunk. Seriously, think about that. We were slurring, tripping, yelling, carrying-on, singing, pontificating, solving the world’s problems with our infinite wisdom, and possibly even falling down or throwing up on someone. But, no, absolutely no one would have known we had been drinking.
I am starting to see how beyond ridiculous it is for me to be surprised or even disappointed when I admit to someone who knows me that I am an alcoholic and their reaction doesn’t include the slightest bit of shock. There hasn’t really been anyone who has questioned it or said: “You? An alcoholic? No way.” The fact that I would even consider that as an option is quite comical. As if their response would be something like this: “I always thought it was completely normal for you to drink several bottles of wine on a random Tuesday night. I mean, who doesn’t celebrate Arbor Day like that?” Or, “What kind of ass puts a wall right there where someone can walk smack into it? Clearly a bad floor plan.”. Perhaps I was expecting something like: “You can’t be an alcoholic. I enjoyed telling you the same things over and over and over again and you not remembering them. It was obviously my fault for not telling you in a memorable way.”
Instead, it’s like a sigh of relief from the other side. Phew. You finally came to your senses. Thank goodness you are getting help. You were a nightmare to deal with when you were drinking. But why does it still surprise me when someone tells me that they knew I had a problem when I thought I did such a great job of hiding it or “acting normal”? I recently talked to a very close friend who told me that upon reading my blog entries, she felt guilty. She felt that she should have done or said something when I was drinking so heavily. She said she was very concerned but didn’t know what to do. I told her that even if she had said something to me then, it wouldn’t have mattered. I wasn’t going to change until I admitted to myself that I had a problem and was ready to face it. That works the other way around too. When one of my friends told me she knew I had a problem, I asked her why she never said anything to me. The answer she gave me was the same. Because it wouldn’t have mattered until I was the one who admitted it and was ready to do something about it.
I watched someone this past weekend who, after he got a few drinks in him, completely changed. It was like a totally new person surfaced with the alcohol. I didn’t like the new person. There was just a slight edge–cocky, arrogant and a little obnoxious. When I said to my friend that I found this completely unattractive, she pointed out to me that perhaps it was a little like looking in a mirror. How attractive could I have been when I drank and morphed into an entirely different person? Yes, I though that person was fun, gorgeous, brilliant, etc. But maybe others thought I turned into Mrs. Hyde, and chances are pretty good that they found me completely unattractive as well.
So I started looking back. I looked back at the ridiculous, idiotic and embarrassing things I did when I drank too much. Those actions didn’t only have consequences for me, even if it was just waking up with a miserable hangover. They affected other people as well. Other people whose enjoyable night out turned not so enjoyable when they had to hold me up, help me walk, and make sure I got home, the entire time having to endure my senseless babble. They affected other people who were let down the next morning or day when I had to cancel my plans with them because I felt like dirt and spent the day in my bed trying not to puke. And they affected friends, who years later told me that they felt guilty. Why should my stupidity and incessant drinking binges be allowed to make someone else feel guilty? Would I have made all those bad choices sober? I think not. But like I said, I can’t make the disease the scapegoat. I have to own my actions, process them, make amends where possible and forgive myself.
These friends may not understand that even if they had said or done something, I wouldn’t have gotten sober until I was ready to. But they need to understand this: when I was ready to, I did. And knowing that they were there for me then, and are here for me now, means more than I can say (or write).