You know those questions you ask the people you’re close to? The ones you already know the answer to?
- Do I own too many shoes?
- How obvious is it that I hate my job?
- Do these jeggings make my thighs look like Redwoods?
Mine was “Do you think I drink too much?” It was usually phrased as “Maybe I should take a closer look at my drinking?” but the meaning was clear. Note: this was usually said with a giant cocktail in hand.
It became a habit of mine. I’d settle in at a bar with a good friend to discuss our personal current events. Dating, work, family. Inevitably, the conversation would come back to my drinking. It was always on my mind. Do I drink too much? Why does everyone drink slower than me? Is it obvious that I’m already thinking about the next one? Why do I feel so guilty about my drinking?
And my friends would have a variety of responses. For the most part, they fell into two categories:
“No, I don’t think you drink too much. Worry too much? Yes. But drink too much? No.”
“I give you a lot of credit for asking this difficult question. How about another round?”
The reasons for the first category of response most likely varied quite a bit. The friends who didn’t think I drank too much (A) really didn’t think I drank too much, (B) didn’t truly know how much, how often, and why I drank, (C) were too uncomfortable with the concept of alcohol abuse or alcoholism to consider that one of their friends might have this problem, or (D) felt that we drank about the same (or that they drank more than me) and therefore I could not have a drinking problem because if I did it might mean that they did too.
A lot of people reading this might have reacted in this way. I’m very aware that launching this blog and trying to promote it on Facebook and Twitter might not be fully understood by a lot of people and might even be off-putting to some. In doing so, I’ve revealed a fair amount of personal information to a range of folks who frequent these virtual spaces – work colleagues, high school and college friends, family members, old drinking buddies. And I’ve certainly risked their judgment since alcohol remains a touchy subject.
Friends who answered with the second category of response were a little more thoughtful about my question. They appreciated the fact that there are issues that come up in life that are difficult and perhaps easier to ignore. I think these friends really did give me credit for asking “the hard questions” and I took great solace in this…at least for a while. (I have to imagine that one of the reasons for the record number of hits on my blog the day I posted To Be or Not To Be is at least partially because I addressed the question of whether or not I am an alcoholic in no uncertain terms.)
Rarely, a good friend might answer in a totally different way and take the risk of saying, “if you are concerned about your drinking, maybe you should do something about it.” These were the conversations that stuck in my head the most. They challenged me to do something I hadn’t done yet. Move past the talking, the questions, the theories. And take some action. Ultimately, it was the people who challenged my (often tipsy) musings about my drinking who motivated and supported me to stop and just see what happened.
I guess you could say that after a certain amount of time – and that amount of time is different for everyone – it becomes more important to do something about what you know is true than to continue collecting data to the contrary.
The tough questions, I believe, arise from the depths of denial and the essence of the soul cries for recognition and help to push the blanket of denial and dysfunction aside. Over my years of drinking, the mantle got heavier and heavier. For me, I wanted someone wiser and stronger to tell me what to do, to give me answers that would resonate. Any comments or advise that friends offered, though, were muffled in the layers of blindness and unable to reach me, despite my cries for help. Ultimately, it was through my despair that I admitted my powerlessness.
The most challenging thing in the beginning of sobriety was taking personal responsibility for myself. With time and a lighter heart, though, taking care and owning my actions have been liberating. I am *gasp* happier and so much more at peace.
I am thrilled that you are bravely sharing your journey with us and asking tough questions. Keep it up!
Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment, Kate. I, too, wished I had someone older and wiser to point me in the right direction (I even tended to seek out those older and supposedly wiser but found the former did not determine the latter). Personal responsibility has so much to do with making the choices that are right for us. No matter how composed, well spoken, or regaled others might be, I think we usually know what’s best for ourselves!
[...] I still wasn’t sold on the idea of my being an alcoholic and the words fell flat. This was partly because my life had never become unmanageable. I was managing quite well, in fact, titrating the next day’s pace and caffeine intake according to the previous night’s alcohol consumption. Wine usually meant a snail’s pace and 3 big cups of coffee; cocktails predicted the pace of molasses moving uphill in January and an n+1 coffee formula, n being the number of drinks. I’d taken many an alcohol-related questionnaire and always came up short on the definition of my condition. And relative to those around me, it just wasn’t clear where I stood. [...]