We’ve all seen it somewhere, in an advert for organizations like ‘Frank’ or in a magazine; the picture of a middle-aged man sat on a park bench drinking from a paper bag. It does happen, but this shouldn’t be the world is taught to see the disease of alcoholism.
I’m a 25 year old woman and I got into recovery when I was just 20. I’m not an old man, I’ve never slept on a park bench and I’ve certainly never drank out of a paper bag.
Not all alcoholics are homeless; I have met people from a whole range of age groups in AA and many of them were ‘functioning alcoholics’, in other words, they led totally normal lives while drinking. I’ve met women who held down a full time job, held down a successful marriage and managed multiple children. But I’ve also met men and women who didn’t make it into recovery until they were in their sixties, who didn’t manage to have any kind of a life at all during their drinking, who sometimes ended up on the streets. The point is, we all have our own story, and we’re all different.
I myself started drinking heavily at a very young age and by the time I reached 19 I was drinking in the mornings. Despite all odds, I made it through my education and into university. Although I had to drop out twice and encountered many problems along the way, I graduated last summer. I don’t think I could have finished if I hadn’t found sobriety during my degree but the fact that I made it through at all erases me from the stereotype of a ‘regular’ alcoholic.
I actually did more with my life while I was drinking than I am able to do now, sober. I have always had a job, ever since I was 12 when I started chamber maiding part-time. I’ve been in multiple relationships and my best friend and I have known one another since we were 14.
So what is an alcoholic?
The truth of it is, there is no real definition, but there are some tell-tale signs which may help you if you think you might have a problem with alcohol.
First of all: The obsession with drink. If you have no control over your drinking and if you just don’t know when to stop (or you’re unable to) then your habit is not healthy. What made it obvious to me in the beginning that I had a problem was that- even without a drink in my hand, no matter where I was- I was always thinking about the next one.
Secondly, insanity. Insanity is defined as making the same mistakes over and over again, expecting different results. If you have a problem with drinking, you’ve probably gotten yourself into trouble a few times. As alcoholics we are in denial. We will do something stupid and then expect something different to happen the next time, or we will insist that it will never happen again and go on drinking the same, insane amounts.
Thirdly, and believe it or not, alcohol does not make an alcoholic happy. In fact, most of the time we are drinking to hide from our feelings. Every day is a mental battle and we think alcohol will solve that, but it never does. Because of the negative effect alcohol had on me, and because of the way I behaved as a result, I carried a huge cloud of stink and guilt around with me and I would only drink more in hope it would disappear, beginning the whole vicious cycle all over again.
In addition, if you are using alcohol to either enhance or suppress your emotions like I did, then you should probably try and find a healthier way of doing it; alcohol is not the answer to anyone’s problems.
Lastly, we all know that everyone occasionally does silly things when they’ve had too much to drink, but if that sort of behaviour leaks into your everyday life- even when you’re not drunk, then you might want to consider that you’re not drinking a healthy amount.
Of course, you can apply some of those points to a normal person without a drinking problem, but for me they were hints and signs when I already knew- deep down- that I had a problem.
A lot of denial goes into alcoholism and I myself suffered from it for a very long time. At the end of the day we have to admit things to ourselves (step one in AA) before we can find any real recovery.