Another forward and disclaimer, that might sound mighty familiar: I’ve shared – and overshared – a lot of personal information on this blog over the last decade. This might be one of the most personal posts I’ve decided to publish to date. It’s hard to open and admit to the world, friends, coworkers, and complete strangers alike, that you are flawed. But in the spirit of sharing so that others may find comfort and solace knowing that they aren’t alone in their struggles, I’m hitting the “publish” button. Please don’t misinterpret this post as a soapbox statement against alcohol. I will always love the taste of a hoppy IPA or a smooth red wine. I realize that so many people have a healthy relationship with alcohol, and I truly believe it does have its place in our society. This is simply my story. Thanks for reading, and as always, thanks for your support.
We tend to blame a lot of things on “society”. It’s society’s fault women feel the need to maintain unrealistic body types. It’s society’s fault we tend to overspend and over consume, “keeping up with the Joneses” style. It’s society’s fault we encourage boys to play with trucks and girls to play with dolls.
With these examples, I don’t necessarily disagree that society as a whole has cultivated less than ideal “norms”. When it comes to the overwhelming trend in our culture to not show weaknesses – perceived or real – I don’t completely blame society. No, I believe the constant desire to hide our flaws from others is a form of survival, engrained deep within our psyche.
I have four pet rabbits. All four live inside, and they are the biggest pain in the fluffy cottontail that you could ever begin to imagine. I’ve lost two lamps, 5 phone charges, a laptop, and a good portion of our carpet to these hooligans. Nonetheless, I love my bunnies as much as others love their cats or dogs: they are my fur babies. Now rabbits, as you can imagine, are prey animals. They are almost as far down the food chain as animals come. As such, when they are in pain, sick, or even dying…they never show it. One of my rabbits nearly lost his life last week to a case of gastrointestinal stasis, and the only reason I knew I had to get him to an emergency vet as soon as possible was because he turned down a strawberry. That was it. That was the only sign of impending death that he showed.
In the animal world, weakness makes you vulnerable.
Weakness will get you left behind.
Weakness will get you killed.
I’m no Dr. Phil, but I imagine there has to be some sort of correlation between human beings disdain for admitting we are weak, to our innate desire to survive. We are, after all, mammals.
When you picture an alcoholic, do you picture a drunk stumbling around in a back alley? An angry mother or father constantly screaming and slurring their words? A person who has lost everything, their family, their career, their health, to alcohol? I always did. In my mind, an alcoholic was a person who had gone to extremes. An alcoholic was a person who could not go a day, nevermind a few hours, without a drink in their hand. An alcoholic was an unhappy person in an unfortunate situation that we felt pity for, but perhaps couldn’t understand.
After a little trial and error this year, I’ve learned that I’m not an alcoholic…like that.
The reality is, addiction and alcoholism doesn’t always look like that. In fact, according to the Surgeon General, 1 in 7 Americans suffer from substance abuse issues. One. In. Seven. That’s a lot of normal, everyday looking people who are secretly battling with substance abuse.
On January 1st I made the decision to quit drinking, for the time being. I recognized that I was on a downward spiral of drinking way too much, and for all the wrong reasons, so I stopped. I went 110 days without a drop of alcohol. Was it hard? Yes, but honestly it wasn’t that hard. It was hard to be the sober one when my friends were drinking, or if Geoff was enjoying a cold beer with dinner after a long run. It was hard to not reach for a glass of wine when the kids had finally gone to bed after an entire day of fighting with each other. But it wasn’t so hard that the thought of drinking consumed me. To be honest, most days, I didn’t think much about it at all.
Since day 110, another 60 days have passed. I’ve had a handful of drinks here and there. A beer with friends after a run. A glass of wine with dinner at a restaurant. And interestingly enough, it has been in these times of (mostly) moderation that I’ve finally seen what has been there all along: the realization that I have never had a healthy relationship with alcohol, and I most likely will never have a healthy relationship with alcohol.
Because for whatever reason, one drink is never enough. Even when I only have one drink, there is that feeling deep down that it’s not enough. I want more. I want to incessantly chase that happy little buzz, that physical disconnect from the real world. If one feels good, two is going to feel even better, right? And why stop there?
The fault comes in the fact that I rarely do stop there.
Truth be told, I’ve felt this way with other things in life: Caffeine. Pre-Workouts. Prescription pain killers (always only when prescribed, but the scary feeling of wanting more was always there). Hell, even food. Why though? After the long break, I thought I had it all figured out. I thought I was using alcohol to push aside other things in life I didn’t want to or didn’t have the means to deal with. But now, even when my coping skills are on point, even when I’m happy as a clam, and I’m only having a single social drink, that feeling remains.
Maybe I am genetically predispositioned to addictions, extremes, and lack of impulse control. (Might explain my love for ultras.) Perhaps there is some sort of deficiency in natural “happy” opioids/hormones/etc. circulating in my system (which would also explain the running-it’s a fantastic way to quickly create and surge those naturally occuring feel good substances through your body). Maybe it was a series of experiences and environments in my more formidable years. Maybe it’s something more, something that I still haven’t uncovered on this 36 year journey around the sun.
Likely, it’s a combination of all of the above.
But the bottom line remains, something isn’t normal, something isn’t allowing me to have that “stopping” point, or that ability to have a healthy relationship with alcohol. And finally realizing -and admitting it – is scary.
But here I am.
Like rabbits, we never want to show the world our weaknesses and faults. In the era of social media, we have the ability to create the perfect facade to hide behind. Filters are applied to more than just forehead wrinkles or cellulite, we filter much of our own reality until we create the story we want others to read. Unlike rabbits, however, we are no longer hiding our weaknesses for fear of becoming prey. But rather for fear of judgment. For fear of losing a friend, sponsor, follower, or employer. For fear that people would rather read the filtered story, rather than be bothered with the unedited B-reel that tells the real, not so fun to look at, stories.
Maybe, for fear that we’ll be left behind.
Ironically, in a world where we are so incredibly connected, the false narratives can actually make us feel incredibly alone. So for that reason (and others) I share this post today. Reality check: nearly 21 million Americans struggle with substance addictions. That’s more than the number of people who have all cancers combined. 18 million Americans struggle with alcohol abuse. One. In. Seven. Admitting that you can’t do something that other “normal” people can do is hard. But admitting it will often make you realize that you aren’t alone. And if we are ever going to normalize the fact that no one is perfect, that we all have very real struggles and fears, we have to share these sorts of things. So…
My name is Heather. Am I an alcoholic? No, I still don’t think so. I do, however, have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. What does that mean long term? I still don’t know. But for now, I think I’m simply better (happier, and healthier) sober. I’m equal parts terrified, proud, and empowered to have finally, and fully, recognized it.
If you or a loved one are struggling with substance abuse, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administrationfollow website to help find resources in your area.
p.s. the bunny is happy and healthy, and survived his ordeal.