When I decided to check into a 28 day treatment facility for alcoholism almost four years ago, I was quiet about it—only letting my closest family and a couple of friends know. There were several reasons I wanted to keep it on the down low, and they had nothing to do with embarrassment. I wasn’t ashamed because it was actually the first right thing I had done in a long time. No, it was because I didn’t want to hear what people had to say. I didn’t want people to talk me out of it. I didn’t want their opinions. Sadly enough there were people who would have done just that.
I thought most of my friends would be shocked to learn I was in rehab—like they would think it wasn’t necessary or I was overreacting. Much to my amazement, my closest friends weren’t surprised at all. I called them one by one throughout my stay to let them know why I’d been missing in action. Not one person expressed disbelief. A couple of them even told me they assumed (and hoped) I was in rehab when they hadn’t heard from me. One friend confided later that after we hung up he cried and thanked God. But these are all people who loved me and knew I had a problem.
There was an entirely different group of “friends” who didn’t make the phone call cut. The ones who probably didn’t notice my 28-day absence at all. Unless they were trying to reach me to go out drinking or noticed I hadn’t been at my most frequented watering holes. These people weren’t actually friends at all. It turns out we had very little in common other than the way we drank. Once I got home from rehab I quickly came to terms with the fact they had no interest in me if I wasn’t going to drink like them.
I was warned in rehab that I was going to have to change old “playmates and playgrounds” if I was serious about my sobriety. Of course I thought I was the exception to this suggestion. I was actually naïve enough to think I’d be welcomed back with open arms and a glass of soda water at my favorite bars. I was amazed at how unsupportive the old playmates were. I felt like I was constantly having to defend myself, my alcoholism and my sobriety. That’s when I came to the conclusion that their behavior wasn’t about me. If I was admitting I was an alcoholic and staying sober what did that say about them? I imagine it was a bit of a reality check and they probably used me as a barometer to measure their own drinking.
People would often say things like, “You’re not really an alcoholic,” and follow it up with “you just drank too much” or “you just need to learn to control it better. I’d also get “You’re not like a real alcoholic,” or “Don’t you think it was just grief from your brother’s death?” These were just a few that I heard a lot and it always left me a little confused as to why they questioned my alcoholism. First of all, yes, I am really an alcoholic. I am also a real alcoholic as opposed to, I guess a fake alcoholic. And no, my brother’s death didn’t make me an alcoholic. I was an alcoholic long before he died. His death only loaned me another excuse to drink, which I surely would have found without him dying.
I initially thought stigma was the reason people disregarded my diagnosis as an alcoholic. However it didn’t take long to figure out that it had less to do with stigma and more to do with their own self-reflection. No one cared that I was an alcoholic, but they did care what that meant for their own relationship with alcohol. I imagine it made some of them question whether they were alcoholics. Once you go down that road, drinking becomes a little less fun.
It would probably never cross someone’s mind to argue with a friend who had recently received a cancer or diabetes diagnosis from a doctor. But you tell someone you’re an alcoholic and they often question it without hesitation. This is because selfishly they don’t want someone they see as a reflection of themselves to be something they don’t want to be. No one wants to be an alcoholic but ignoring doesn’t make it go away—just like cancer or diabetes.
I’m not calling anyone an alcoholic. Those who don’t want to come to terms with the fact someone who looks like them, acts like them and drank like them is an alcoholic, that’s their business. I’m just saying no one with a healthy relationship with alcohol has ever tried to convince me I’m not an alcoholic.
Here’s a rule of thumb I’ve learned in recovery: If I think I am, I probably am. If I think I’m being a bitch, I probably am. If I think I’m being a slut, I probably am. So, if you think you’re an alcoholic, you probably are. And if you want to disprove any behavior, action or disease in another person so you don’t have to confront the truth in yourself, well…there’s your answer.