I have had no trouble writing about the challenging times in my life. I have willingly and gladly left myself open and vulnerable to the masses week after week by openly sharing about my parenting struggles. I have operated under the belief that no shame can come from speaking my truth, a truth that I have no control over.
Parenting my son, and simply being a mother in general, is difficult. I regale people with personal anecdotes to help spread awareness for those like him and advocate for families like ours. Sharing these stories is necessary for our survival, it is empowering and inspiring in a way that keeping them secret is not.
However, I am simultaneously buried deeply under my own shame and stigma. I have only shared part of my truth with you, my friends.
The truth is his, my name is Laura, and I’m an alcoholic.
I think when people consider the term “alcoholic” or “addict,” they don’t picture their next-door neighbor. It most certainly does not conjure an image of the mom two doors down, the parent of two well-kept children, the one who usually has a smile on her face and the one you share a laugh with as you both walk back to your houses after the school bus has collected your kids.
I don’t think they can fathom that it can be the seemingly pleasant, although somewhat disheveled, woman they have grown to know and love. The one who gets her kid to therapy appointments on time, who never misses an event at their school, has a delicious meal on the table each evening, and who seems to have it mostly together — at least as together as any parent of young children can.
Alcoholic to them is some abstract term, a definition for the drunk living on the street who is intoxicated by 8 a.m. The one who can’t hold down a job, who smells like they haven’t showered in a week, and looks like it too. In this modern day, I would like to think that isn’t the truth. That by now, people would understand that alcoholism comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, colors and hues. That it does not discriminate between man or woman, rich or poor, brilliant or uneducated.
It hurts my heart to say it, but many people, many peers even, still think of an alcoholic or an addict as some random loser, no one that could possibly live in their neighborhood, and certainly no one that they could know or care to rub elbows with. People still seem to think that having this disease is a choice, something someone can control. That if we really wanted to stop drinking, we would just put our mind to it and do it.
Let me be the first to tell you, no one, NO ONE, wakes up one morning and says, “Hey, today, I would love to become controlled by alcohol and/or drugs!” No, it’s something we are born with, that was imprinted on our DNA while we were still in the womb. We have no more control over it than we do our eye or hair color.
What no one shares about getting sober is that it gets significantly harder before it gets easier. You put down the drink and everything you have wanted to numb, everything you have fought so hard not to deal with, is now uncovered, naked and raw, and you are no longer allowed to reach for your anesthetic. Learning to live that way, happily, is harder than I can describe in words.
Over the last two years, I have only begun to fight my way out of the deep cavern of alcoholism. I have clung to every bit of hope and strength I could grab onto and let it guide me out of the darkness and into the light of a world I have never known. A life I never thought possible. One that I never thought I deserved.
Can you imagine living in a world of shadows — being there in body, but not being truly present, ever? Knowing, deep down, that there was so much more to life, however, not knowing how to get there or if it was even possible to do so?
The shame and stigma of this diagnosis has held me prisoner for too long. It has kept me locked up in it’s dark, cold jail, behind the bars of secrecy. Many years ago, it stopped me from getting the help I needed sooner. Today, it stops me from using the power of my writing and my voice to advocate for women like me. The forgotten women who want to get better but are too frightened and ashamed to say “I need help.”
For me, the last step toward achieving a peaceful sobriety is wearing this title proudly and openly. Getting sober and maintaining sobriety is the hardest and the best thing I have ever done. I am so fucking proud of myself, so why shouldn’t I share that? I want to climb to the top of mount Everest and shout it to the world, “I AM SOBER — SEE ME LIVE MY BEST LIFE!!” I want to hang my sobriety majestically from a bedazzled sign around my neck. I want to march down the street, rally style, carrying my message of hope and change. I need the world to know that I am not ashamed of who I am. That I too am a survivor and that my fight is no less than anyone else’s.
I share this to give a voice to all the women who live in shame and secrecy. I share this to let women who might be struggling know that they are not alone, take the first step, get the help, the rest will eventually all fall into place. I promise.