Once upon a time, a young girl went to a party. And because she hadn’t been to a proper party before, the sort with boys and alcohol and no parents, she felt a bit nervous. So she took along a new friend, who made her feel more confident, and she had a good time. You’re popular because you’re with me, her friend explained, and she swore that she’d never go out alone in case that were true.
And the years went by, and she grew up, or at least older. She fell in love and got married, and her friend was right there with her at the wedding, bubbling congratulations and joy. And later that evening, curled up on the couch with her new husband discussing the day, she couldn’t resist letting her friend join in. Through thick and thin, bad exams and good job promotions, she turned to her friend for comfort and support, to help celebrate and share the pleasure. When she had children, and could no longer go out in the evenings, her friend came to her house instead.
But as time went on, her friend changed. Or perhaps it had always been this way, and it was only when her life changed and she could no longer accommodate such a constant companion that it became clear. Who knows. But one way or another, the friendship turned sour. The friend who had once crooned compliments into her ear now whispered poison; look at you. You’re fat. You’re lazy. You’re boring and suburban and dull. Where did my fun-loving girlfriend go? You used to be cool when you were younger. Now what’s happened to you? It’s because you married him, it’s because you had children, it’s because you and I don’t go out any more.
She was terrified that her husband would notice how her friend was treating her. Because if he noticed, he’d demand that she gave up the friendship, and she was too scared. She – fat, lazy, suburban she, she who was wasting her education and snapping at her children and doing nothing particularly well – to lose the one true friend she had, the one friend who was there, every evening, to soothe her cares away? And if that friend demanded too much sometimes, kept her up late so she staggered red-eyed and headache-ridden into work the next day, well, that was just how it was. It was worth it, not to lose the love and support she gained.
So she tried harder. She tried harder to make the friendship work. She tried limiting how often they saw one another, she tried only getting together with her friend in certain locations. And because she didn’t want her husband getting jealous, she started seeing her friend in secret. Just another thing to feel guilty about. Another reason not to ask for help.
I knew it! crowed her friend. You need me more than you need them. You can’t do without me, baby. Nobody else would have you now, you know that. And she believed it, because who else was left to tell her otherwise?
But And by now, she knew that she needed help. But who could she tell? She didn’t want to tell her husband that she had been seeing her friend so often, for so long, behind his back. Her parents would be disappointed. Her other friends either wouldn’t believe how nasty the friendship had become, or urged her to just cut down on contact. Nobody else would understand how stupid she’d been to get herself in this situation, and nobody else had a friendship like this. It was all her fault, and she couldn’t ask for help because she should be able to fix this on her own. If she tried harder.
Besides, she was in love.
There isn’t an end to this story. There is no climax and resolution, appended by a pleasing happily-ever-after anecdote. I stopped drinking, and I started listening to the stories of others and talking to them about mine, and that has – so far – broken the spell. I can’t say that I’ll never drink again (I am, like a lot of others, very sobered by One Crafty Mother’s recent relapse) but I can tell you that I will never again mistake it for love. And by far the most powerful tool I have is the storytelling.
Abuse thrives on silence and on shame. And it doesn’t matter whether you take the phrase ‘alcohol abuse’ to mean that you are abusing alcohol, or that alcohol is abusing you – the script is the same and so is the cure. The cure – or the treatment, in a disease model – is to talk, and to listen, and to embrace the ideas that you are not alone and you are not unique. Just because somebody else is ‘worse than you’ doesn’t mean you’re okay, nor does it mean that you won’t find yourself in those situations down the track. But also, just because you think your behaviour is different, or worse, than others, doesn’t make that true either. The chances are good that everything you have done, every step you’ve taken on this journey, mirrors the steps of others. If alcoholism is the disease of terminal uniqueness, the best medicine is community.
Almost a thousand people read this blog yesterday. Not all of those people will be sober or wanting to be, but some of you are. Will you share your story in the comments? It helped me, when I was trying to work up the courage to break it off, to read about all the people who were like me, who had done just that, and who were living their lives free from alcohol abuse and happier than they’d ever been.
My name is Allie. I’m 36. I’m an alcoholic. I’m three months sober. Pleased to meet you.