Recently, a friend confided to me that she might have a drinking problem. It made sense for her to tell me because I’ve been sober from drugs and alcohol for 21 years (and very public about it) and I may be able to help.
But as she told me what was going on, I found myself resisting the idea of her being an alcoholic. I wanted to argue.
I realized … I really don’t want this for her.
You’d think I’d be glad to have another pal out in the world who’s all about the sober living, the 12 steps, daily affirmations, blah, etc., but I honestly wasn’t. Because I don’t want her to life to be hard – and sometimes sober living just … sucks ass.
If I let it.
Which sometimes I totally do.
Acceptance is difficult, even after this long. Some days it seems like the whole world revolves around a never-ending countdown to happy hour. And while it’s perfectly acceptable to tell your co-workers how drunk you got last weekend, sometimes the worst thing you can do is tell them that you NEVER get drunk.
A couple weeks ago, a newly-hired dispatcher in my center found out I had written a book about dispatch, so she eagerly jumped on Amazon to read about Answering 911, started checking out the reviews, and realized with a startle that I am a recovering cocaine addict.
I watched her struggle to be politically correct about it. She’s also a paramedic, so she’s seen plenty of active addicts in their worst moments: overdosed, drug-seeking, drains on society who don’t give a crap about anything but their next score.
So, now she gets to wrestle with the idea that she works next to one of them — an addict who claims to be clean and sober. After those initial moments of adjustment, she was totally gracious and kind. She told me she was excited to read my book. She was awesome. Really.
But I was still uncomfortable. It hasn’t always gone that well.
(“The author was a crack addict,” I read in a review on Goodreads once. “There isn’t much worse you can say about a book after that.” Dude.)
It’s nobody’s fault. If I’m being honest, I still have shame about being an addict. It was a terrible time. I did, said and, well, smoked a few things I am not very proud of, and … ugh. It’s all very Lifetime Movie of the Week starring Jennifer Love Hewitt.
“So, why did you include that in the book?” I have been asked.
Because secrecy and silence just help shame grow.*
And because there is plenty about being in recovery that I am really proud of. My family knows I am there for them now. As do my friends. In the last 21 years, I’ve raised a daughter, earned a degree, maintained a loving marriage, written two books, saved a couple of lives and delivered a couple of babies (over the phone), and it’s all there in my history because I got sober and stayed sober. And some days, that is no walk in the park, people.
But that brings me back to my friend. Because she knows I’m sober, she asked me to help her. If I had never told her, or anyone, I would never have that honor. And I need that to stay sober … even if I sometimes resist it.
About seven years ago, my boss at the city police department I used to dispatch for shot himself in the head. He and I had spoken a hundred times over morning coffee about our kids, our cars, the weather … everything but the fact that I was in recovery or that he was actively drinking too much and terribly depressed. The point is not that I alone could have prevented him from killing himself. But how does anyone ever heal if he or she can never be vulnerable? I wish he had been vulnerable with me or I with him. The next time I’m faced with that situation, I will risk it.
That’s why it’s in the book.
Because it sucks less to just put it out there. Even if it makes people squirm. And I know it does. Don’t worry. We can talk about something funny next time. Like maybe my husband. Or our cats. Or some of the bizarre things my husband says to our cats.
Peace and love.