Let me start off by saying, I absolutely loved my mother. I felt loved by my mother. And I didn’t understand her struggle until I faced my own. I’ve spent weeks thinking about how to write this, how do I approach it, what if I say the wrong thing? So instead… I’ve said nothing. But I’ve come to the realization that the way we change the conversation, is by starting to have the conversation.
If you’ve grown up with a parent who suffered/suffers from AUD, I am sure some of this will sound familiar. That part fascinates me, through mentoring in the Alcohol Experiment for This Naked Mind, I have seen countless people with similar experiences, yet everyone thought they were completely alone.
One blog will not bridge the gap between a child trying to understand why their parent chooses to drink so much or the parents inability/difficulty to communicate the intense struggle they are facing. It is simply a way to start the conversation and maybe offer insight and understanding into the fact that yes it is your parents “choice” to drink but when choice changes into dependency, it is no longer black and white or as simple as we would like to think.
I can also say growing up I repeatedly stated “that will never be me” (the ego likes to think it is control) and I started to see familiar patterns that made me nervous… until I was walking in those footsteps as well. More on that another day. But if you are seeing patterns that make you question what path you are walking, listen to your intuition and really dig into who you may be becoming vs who you want to become. The concept of “choice” is a line that becomes blurred after years of sipping on an addictive substance.
When I rewind back to public school and high school days - I remember finding hidden wine glasses or bottles (behind the couch, in her purse, etc). What I saw then was that my mom “had a problem” and she was trying to hide it. What I see now is that my mom was struggling, full of shame, and she had blown past choice into addiction but she hoped no one knew. When you reach the place where you are hiding drinks/bottles, your perception of reality is typically altered and sometimes you genuinely think you are getting away with it. But you wake up with 3 a.m anxiety plaguing you… “did someone notice”… “I think maybe I got away with it”… “I’ll stop tomorrow, this was the last time” (a statement you repeat to yourself daily, and as you break that promise you lose belief and confidence in yourself daily. Your self worth plummets). It was not something she was proud of. It was not because she loved wine more than her kids or husband. It wasn’t even necessarily something she “wanted” to do. But her neural pathways ran deep and at that point in time, the only resource available was AA. Yes AA has helped thousands of people, and I’m not here to discuss that, but the concept of going into a room and introducing yourself as “an alcoholic” in front of people you may or may not know how (you most likely do because we were from a small town) is absolutely terrifying. The stigma associated with having a drinking problem is a large part of why people continue to suffer in silence. You are led to believe the individual “has a problem.” OR - hear me out - maybe the individual drank an addictive substance, and thus got addicted. Alcohol did what it was meant to do, but that person is now facing judgment, a lack of understanding, and they “have a problem.” I watched an interview with Elizabeth Vargas (successful news anchor, wife and mother) and Diane Sawyer and Elizabeth said “I would die for my kids, but I couldn’t stop drinking for my kids.” I am not even sure how many times I re-watched that statement. That is how powerful alcohol is. (I highly recommend watching the interview available on Youtube)
Each individuals brain responds differently to alcohol. And ultimately alcohol is an addictive substance, therefore anyone can get addicted. Yes there are people at higher risk, but using alcohol over a prolonged period of time puts anyone at risk. To someone who has never experienced any dependency issues, they say “why can’t they just have 1 or 2?” Again, this is a conversation for another day, but briefly: there are neural pathways, there are neuortransmitters, there is dopamine, dynorphin, there is an entire system at work and each individuals system works differently. For example, when I have a drink, my brain is immediately thinking about more (probably the same way my moms was), whereas the person next to me is completely content sipping on that one drink. It is not a choice for my brain to respond that way, it is what happens. So instead of “having 1 or 2” and having an absolute mental war about “needing more” (I would lose the mental war by the way, wake up with anxiety, 0 self worth and repeat the cycle) I choose to have none. And I could not care less about what people think, believe me, I can guarantee they would not like the other version they meet.
I remember begging my mom to quit. Trying to come from a loving place and then getting upset and trying to tell her about everything she was going to miss out on. I would say she wouldn’t be at my wedding, she would not meet her grandchildren. I said the things that I thought would make her change. Little did I know, that isn’t how it works. I didn’t understand that you get trapped in this cycle that is so incredibly hard to break. At this point in time I can’t even say how I would approach it differently because that isn’t an option, nor is it beneficial to wish I would have said or done things differently. I suppose the point I’m trying to make is that yes we all chose to have that first, 2nd, 30th drink. But at no point did we have those drinks anticipating that we would get stuck in a cycle we could not break free from. I know it is not easy and it is such a delicate subject. I would never tell anyone how they should handle it, but perhaps instead of saying the things they will miss out on/things that will be taken away, we approach it by saying the things we want them to be included in. I want to help you because I want you to see me get married, I want you to play with your grandkids. Johann Hari states “the opposite of addiction is connection” and maybe if we pour love and compassion into people struggling, they can pour love and compassion into themselves too. It does not happen overnight, it is not a linear journey, none of it is easy. It is not easy for the one struggling, or for the ones watching and living it too. Loved ones become collateral damage in someones war within. I know I spoke to my mom from a loving place but also a place of frustration and a complete lack of understanding. Until you experience it for yourself (which I wouldn’t wish on anyone) it is hard to comprehend how people stay stuck in this cycle while they lose touch with themselves and their loved ones.
It is my hope that programs like The Alcohol Experiment (This Naked Mind) and all of the other incredible platforms on social media will open up the conversation surrounding AUD/addiction/recovery/alcohol free (whatever term resonates with you.) That is my hope for the individuals struggling and for the ones who are struggling from the sidelines. There is an alcohol free movement happening and I am grateful to be on this side so I can be a part of it.
Like I said, we change the conversation by having the conversation.