On this journey to de-stigmatize addiction, I have become more open about my mom’s drinking. It isn’t the first thing I say, or even the tenth, but I am not keeping it a secret if anyone asks. I am not covering for my mom. I am not trying to fix things to protect her. I am just “living my truth” for lack of a less cheesy phrase.
While doing this, I have become amused with people’s reactions and I have found a few common themes. My mom is an alcoholic and my dad is a…frequent drinker. Regardless of the setting, how I share with this person, or where I share with this person, at least one of these three assumptions are usually made:
1.) Their addiction defines them.
2.) I am exaggerating.
3.) I am looking for pity.
Where do these assumptions come from? Well that’s hard to nail down. Movies…television shows…books…personal experiences…society’s view on addiction. Take your pick. It is almost ALWAYS one of these three responses though. Here are a few examples.
1.) Their addiction defines them
I always have one friend that acts shocked when I share that my mom did some volunteer work (that wasn’t mandated by the court) or that my dad went and played golf with my husband. Anything good that they do or accomplish, is mind blowing. Their next question is always “They must be doing better then right?” and I am like…well no? My mom does lots of nice things for people all the time. She is a wonderful lady. She is just terribly addicted to alcohol.
Her addiction definitely influences most aspects of her life and everyone around her but she is more than her addiction. She is a mother, a friend, a grandmother, an employee, a daughter, a cousin, a lover, a fighter, a volunteer, and a pain in my ass. She tries so hard to get sober but she fails…a lot. That doesn’t mean she cannot accomplish anything else. She is more than that.
My dad who never will admit he drinks too much is a hard worker. He has supported his family his entire life. He loves people and loves to make people laugh but his health is being affected by his drinking as is many of his personal relationships. This doesn’t mean I don’t love him or I can’t have a good day with him. It means he needs to drink less.
2.) I am exaggerating.
Recently, a coworker and I have become close. I had a stressful weekend with my mother and when my coworker asked about my weekend, I shared that it was tough because my mother was an alcoholic. They immediately jumped to number 2 on the list. They started grilling me about how often she drank, when she drank, what she drank, her arrest record, etc. It was as if they didn’t believe I knew the definition of alcoholism. I thought I was on trial. As if this wasn’t insulting enough, they then googled her to see if they could find this said “arrest record”. I was really hurt. It was as if me saying my mom was an alcoholic wasn’t enough for them. After answering their questions (and passing their test), they then became empathetic.
Where does that stem from? Why don’t we ever believe people? What kind of proof do we need to provide in order for someone to accept what we are saying is honest? This is a very common theme, especially when I am talking to men about my parent’s drinking. I don’t mean to be sexist but I am just speaking from my own experience. Anytime I have shared with a guy that my mom has a drinking problem, they immediately want to downplay it or prove that I am mistaken. Its exasperating.
I am lucky, well actually this is unlucky, that my mom does have quite a resume for alcoholism. She has been arrested, she has lost jobs because of her drinking, she binge drinks, she hides her drinking, and it has been going on for years. She knows its a problem. She goes to AA and goes to therapy. She just…isn’t doing great regardless. Because of these things, people usually end up believing me. What if she hadn’t been arrested though? What if she hadn’t lost any jobs? What if she was just unbelievably lucky and scooted past authorities and coworkers? Would these guys have dismissed my mother’s alcoholism and assumed I was stretching the truth? I can’t say. It does seem that I really have to convince them of this first before we can move on to empathy. Newsflash, I have been dealing with this my whole life. I know what it is and I know what defines it. Trust me, she meets the criteria.
3.) I am looking for pity.
This is my least favorite. People assuming I want them to feel bad for me makes my blood boil. Sometimes I share because I am tired of keeping it a secret or I think it might help them understand what I am going through. There’s a million different reasons I may share with someone but not a single one of those reasons is pity.
I don’t need pats on my arm saying “You poor dear”, “How do you do it?”, and “I just hate that for you”. I know that it sucks and I may be looking for understanding but not pity. I hate the look of it. I hate how condescending it is. Don’t look at me with pity. I am a fully functioning non-alcoholic with a great life ahead of me. There is no need to pity me. Pity is not empathetic. I am stronger than whatever struggle I am sharing with you. You can admire me or just listen and say you are there for me. But don’t you “Bless your heart” me (if you are from the south, you understand that phrase). If you think what you are about to say may come across as pity, just hold your tongue.
Maybe these assumptions people have made are only happening to me but I find that hard to believe. I will say that there are always exceptions. I have had some people respond so kindly, so welcoming, and so inspiring that my faith in the world was restored almost instantly. Regardless of people’s responses, I will continue to “live my truth” because the more we talk about this, the less stigmatized it will be.
I would love to hear what your experiences have been. Have you had the same reaction multiple times when you have shared with others about your loved one? What were they? What is the best thing someone said to you when you shared with them? What was the worst? I have really enjoyed the feedback from readers over the past few weeks. The emails and messages have been really encouraging!
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