This post was originally published on September 2, 2014.
I am not one to be argumentative for the sake of being argumentative but a recent post in The Guardian by Bridie Jabour, about her disdain for her Twitter feed being cluttered with light-hearted yet self-deprecating jokes from her friends about being “alcoholics,” rubbed me the wrong way. Jabour’s complaint is that these tweets are not cries for help but musings of sophomoric young adults bragging about their active social lives—and apparently this is offensive because no one should talk about alcoholism like it’s something to be proud of. Ironically, as a real alcoholic, I find Jabour to be the offensive one.
I’m Kind of Offended You’re Offended
At first, I assumed Jabour was a young woman in recovery—which would make her frustration understandable. I got sober in my 20s and remember how angry and self-protective I was about any lack of sensitivity towards my struggle. It is extremely alienating to quit drinking—leaving behind an entire lifestyle is challenging, especially when you aren’t even leaving your neighborhood. It took me years to settle into my sobriety enough that other people’s uninformed opinions about alcoholism no longer bothered me. But aside from her apparent sensitivity to flippancy around alcoholism, there is nothing in Jabour’s piece that leads me to believe she is even sober. In fact, she makes reference to being an enthusiastic participant of our booze-soaked culture—which makes me resent her perspective even more.
Although Jabour makes no reference to where her harsh judgment on the glorification of alcoholism might be coming from, I will give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she has a parent or loved one who struggles with the disease—making the trivialization of it too close for comfort. But as someone who is an alcoholic in recovery, I have a hard time giving her the leeway to label alcoholism as something people should have no pride in and that her friends (most likely in the 20s) should know better. But if they aren’t actual alcoholics, how should they know that?
Causing Unnecessary Shame
Yes, alcoholism is a serious illness—over 2.5 million people suffer alcohol-related deaths every year—but it doesn’t mean that the topic needs to be morose or shameful. I am very proud to be an alcoholic in recovery because it has taken a lot of time, effort and strength for me to be that and stay that. Dealing with my alcoholism and facing my character defects has afforded me an opportunity to grow immensely as a person. Most of the time I feel very equipped to handle anything that life throws at me, maybe even more so than some of my non-alcoholic friends—simply because they haven’t been exposed to the kind of despair that leads to profound internal change. Of course, I would rather be “normal” and not have gone though what I went through, but I certainly don’t have any shame around being an alcoholic and it’s offensive that anyone would imply that I should.
Regarding coming-of-age millennials who think it’s admirable to drink too much and then wake up in a field with no underpants, I am not sure their #alcoholism is as much of a joke as they may think it is. Sure, lots of people do stupid things when they are young and drunk and then go on to live as functional, moderate or even non-drinking adults—but it’s been my experience that the people who really brag about how much they drink are the ones who end up sitting next to me in my 12-step meetings. And those are the lucky ones; the others end up sitting in a hospital bed, sitting in jail or sitting dead.
They Know Not What They Say, so Lighten up
So as unsolicited support to Jabour and those out there who think people shouldn’t make light of alcoholism, don’t worry—your friends who have actual drinking problems with get the help they need when they need it, or they won’t and will suffer the consequences, but I think we can relax on bashing the innocent people who are joking about it. They don’t know better and they shouldn’t—no one really understands the real ugliness of tried and true alcoholism before their time or if it’s not their problem.