This past Christmas one of my sisters-in-law presented me and each of my six siblings with a wonderful gift. Unbeknownst to any of us, she had been visiting with my Dad and taped his entire life as he could remember it and then transcribed into a book for each of us. I live about 2,000 miles from my parents and as we all get older, there is more sentimentality inherent in certain things; this book being one of them.
None of us kids knew much about Dad’s childhood except the fact that he was very poor, that his mother was confined to a wheelchair when he was eight years old, and that his father was out of work more than he was in. I knew the reason for that. He was an alcoholic and died of the disease. That fact was not in my Dad’s story. His story was how he admired his Dad and that he had a bad leg (i.e. couldn’t hold a job) and that “he drank some bad moonshine along the way which added to his ailments”.
If genetics has anything to do with being an alcoholic, then I inherited this from my fraternal grandfather. There is no one else. My mother had told me that when they (my parents) were first married, the bar would call for someone to pick up my grandfather because he couldn’t make it home. I never knew him because he died at the age of 42. He died an alcoholic who either couldn’t admit it, wouldn’t admit it, or maybe he didn’t even realize there was help for him out there. The question I ask today is, “Did anyone believe he was an alcoholic or did he just have a “little” problem?”
The fact that my dad seemed to dismiss the fact that his father was an alcoholic really made me angry. Since I am the only alcoholic in a very big family, it almost seemed that he was denying my addiction as well. If I could admit I was an alcoholic, why couldn’t he? Is he embarrassed? Does he feel guilty for the genetic disposition? Does he want to think of me as a more “perfect” daughter? Why, when we know what we are, can’t other people see it, believe it, and acknowledge it?
Of course, I realized as I was reading through Step One that it is only important that I can admit my alcoholism; that I am powerless over it and my life was unmanageable. And I’m not really mad at my Dad because he saw in his own father what he wanted to see. He may be hiding how he felt as a child or a young man and has chosen to remember only what he feels are the good things. It is not for me to decide how he should or should not feel but I guess the thought of his denial of his father’s disease made me wonder how many folks out there could get well, can admit it to themselves, but are questioned enough by others that they choose to keep drinking.
After all I put my family through and made the decision to go to Alcoholics Anonymous my husband asked me if I was sure I was an alcoholic. I was dumbfounded. I honestly couldn’t believe he was asking me such a question. But he did. Fortunately, I had the right answer and never turned back. How many of you have ever doubted your disease because others have convinced you otherwise? How many of you don’t have the support you truly want and need because family and friends just don’t get it? If you are not the alcoholic and you are reading this because you are AlAnon or CODA, how long did it take you to understand the nature of alcoholism and realize that you couldn’t fix your loved one.
Perhaps no matter what we do in our drunkenness, not everyone sees us as alcoholics because we don’t look like one. There is still that vision of the bum under the bridge with the bottle in a brown bag. Many of our own in the fellowship had that vision before they surrendered. It helps us deny ourselves just a bit longer. A friend shared at a meeting that she met a woman who was a “life coach”. The woman asked my friend if she would like to go out for a drink. After several requests and as many “no’s”, my friend told her she was an alcoholic. This life coach still didn’t get it. “Can’t you have just one glass of wine”? “Why not?” “What will happen if you do?” And this was a person who one would think might be a bit familiar with addictions even if she did not deal with them every day.
I think we have all questioned someone else’s alcoholism. I know I have. When I hear shares in a meeting and someone says they only drank on a weekend; or one woman said she only had one beer but she had to have one everyday, I have to admit that if that were me, I’m not sure I would be writing this article right now. But to understand the disease is to know that when your life revolves around that one beer and you cannot deny yourself even one day; or you focus only on the weekends and it isn’t a good one unless you get drunk, you are probably an alcoholic.
It is said that if you have to question if you are or are not an alcoholic, you are. This isn’t about you or me. We know what we are. It is about others who might be fighting for their lives but remain in denial because everyone else around them is also. Alcoholics who have not yet hit bottom can and are easily persuaded that they are not alcoholics. They just like to drink. There are also many of us in recovery, some for decades that deny their disease after many years. I’m sure there might be someone close by to agree with them that one glass of wine after all these years won’t hurt. Parents deny that their children are alcoholics, addicts, have eating disorders, etc. What would make a child seek help if their parents are hiding their heads in the sand?
Denial of any addiction on the part of everyone involved is a dangerous affair. Denial is unhealthy. It holds people hostage. Denial is not for addicts only. My dad is not an alcoholic. It seems that perhaps he denied his father’s disease. Perhaps he couldn’t have done anything at all and I certainly do not think he was responsible for his father’s choices. But I hope and pray that as much as I know he loves me and I love him, he loves me for what I am. I am an alcoholic.
Namaste’. May you walk your journey in peace and harmony.