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the many faces of alcoholism

I think I struggle with calling myself an alcoholic because the people I always called alcoholics just aren’t like me at all. When I imagined an alcoholic, I pictured someone who can’t function. Someone who allows their entire life to be destroyed because they want to keep drinking. I picture someone mean and angry, someone who drinks every chance they can and gets drunk everyday. That wasn’t me and I can’t honestly picture it ever being me. I am super responsible. I can’t stand to back out of a commitment. I go where I say I will go, I show up when I say I will be there…I am pretty dependable. Certainly my drinking got me into some trouble but never trouble like you see on shows like Intervention. I asked the question in my first blog post why I couldn’t drink responsibly like some people. One of the answers I got was because I am an alcoholic. Ok. Maybe I am. That’s why I am here….not drinking….because I am trying to figure that out. But what does it mean to be an alcoholic? I googled it and came up with one definition:

Alcoholism is a broad term for problems with alcohol, and is generally used to mean compulsive and uncontrolled consumption of alcoholic beverages, usually to the detriment of the drinker’s health, personal relationships, and social standing.

Hmmm…ok….so what does compulsive mean?

Compulsive behavior is behavior not because they want to behave that way, but because they feel they have to do so.

Ok, that makes sense. I can see that. I would say that definition makes it seem like its more purposeful, I would argue you just behave badly rather than feeling drawn to behave badly…but I am just playing with words. I wonder if the key idea in compulsive drinking is the intention to control your drinking but the reality never meets up with those intentions. The road to hell is paved with good intentions…

The more I try to fit the idea of alcoholism into some nice neat little box, the more difficult it becomes. Because it doesn’t really matter how other people define an alcoholic, it only matters what I think. SO…lately i have been thinking about the other people I know who drink. I have been classifying my drinking friends and the people I see in social situations. While I have been not drinking, I have been watching other people drink instead. And its interesting…watching other people drink. I tell you one thing, people drink a lot. Maybe I am just surrounded by people who like to drink…but it seems like everywhere I look people are drinking and they are drinking a lot.

I have been grouping them in my head…it’s fun. I know its wrong to take time out to classify the people I love into different types of drinkers…but frankly, I have had to occupy my overly active imagination with something besides a quest for mind altering substances.

SO here we go:

The Many Shapes and Sizes of the Heavy Drinker

(notice this post is not about casual drinkers, you casual drinkers beguile me…I wish I could be like you but somehow I think I can’t)

The Grown Up FRAT Boy

These drinkers have been downing ten or fifteen beers in an evening for twenty plus years. Its rarely obvious they are drunk. Usually, the only way you can tell for sure is that they always have a beer in their hand. They rarely drink anything besides beer and when they do, everyone wishes they hadn’t because these beer guzzlers are used to large quantities and can’t handle liquor like they can handle beer. The sure fire sign of the The Grown Up Frat Boy is the big round beer belly, that jiggles when they laugh…like a bowl full of jello. These guys (and sometimes gals but not as often) rarely cause problems when they drink for anyone besides their families and friends because they rarely drink away from home. Because they stick close to home, they don’t get DUI’s as often, cause bar fights, or get arrested for public intoxication.

The WINE SNOB Drinker

Fine dining and wine, go hand and hand. These folks like to go out, enjoy a long meal over several bottles of wine. I can’t even count the number of people I know who can fit into this category. The discussions that go into the perfect wine to accompany the perfect meal…the discussions over which wine was the best…the wine tastings..the wine bars and the flights of wine so that several varieties can be tasted over the course of the meal. My parents generation, they all seem to drink this way. And a group of four or six adults might share three bottles of wine over the course of a meal. I am not talking about people who have one glass of wine with dinner and then stop…I am talking wine drinking evenings. And then they all walk to the parking lot, laughing and talking and then they get in their cars and drive home. Maybe they pick up their kids from their parents house on the way or they get home and one of the adults drives the babysitter home. Its all very refined and rarely is the idea of being intoxicated an issue…rarely does anyone seem to have had too much. Sometimes the wine dinner will move to the local bar and become full drunken debauchery but mostly its very civilized wine drinking. Its not about getting drunk…its about drinking delicious wine with a wonderful meal with friends.  A wonderful meal where many people get drunk but it doesn’t count because its not about that. (is my sarcasm coming through loudly enough?)

The SUPER FUN Party People

Well, go to any bar, in any city, in any neighborhood, all over this big USA and you will find the SUPER FUN Party People. They are everywhere and boy are they having fun. They are drinking and dancing and really having a rocking great time. Ok, seriously…most people drinking in bars do look like they are having fun. They are dressed up and pretty and slightly intoxicated at the beginning of the evening and kind of cute. Its only later, when the super fun party people can turn into the super drunk obnoxious people. Thats when bad things happen to good people. We have all seen the super drunk party people at the end of the night, throwing up, or stumbling out of the bar, or hooking up with perfect strangers in dark hallways. I am not talking college kids here…I am talking people my age…actual grown ups, people with homes and children, and good jobs. A LOT of the people in bars handle their liquor just fine….two, maybe three drinks and that’s it. Or they handle it most nights with an occasional night of overindulging. But I am not interested in those people. I am interested in the ones who overindulge more often than they don’t. I am watching the ones who aren’t counting their drinks to make sure to space them so they don’t get drunk. I am talking about people who get dressed up, go to bars, with the intention of getting drunk and then they do it.

The MEAN DRUNK

These people have a few and then turn on you. They go from smiling to scary, crying, screaming, freaky messes in the matter of one…maybe two drinks. Its ugly what happens to these drunks. It scares people away. For the mean drunk, sometimes its a certain type of alcohol that makes them turn mean. But when it happens, its really awful. I hate to admit it but my father was this way. He was a smily happy drunk until all of the sudden, he wasn’t. You never knew when it was going to happen and so you tip toed around…being very careful not to set off the mean, scary drunk. I think every drunk person has the potential to become mean, but there are some people who almost always turn mean when they drink. I have the most difficult time with these drunks. because I hate conflict.
The INSTANT SLUT Drunk, Just add liquor
Ah…the INSTANT SLUT. She is so fun…we really don’t want her to do anything crazy like go and get sober, would we? How would any average looking man ever get lucky at 2AM on a Saturday night again? Ok, I have said that I fall into this category but not quite as badly as I am making it sound. I get very flirty, I get very touchy…but I do not go home with strangers in bars. But who I become, this sexpot, is completely different than the real me. COMPLETELY different. And that’s what makes this type of drunk interesting. The instant slut is not a slut in real life, she just becomes one when she drinks. Its almost like drinking alcohol turns her into a completely different person. (again with the sarcasm) Notice I keep calling this type a woman, but really, how often do we call men sluts? When men act like this, we call them men….drunk men, annoying men, but not drunk slutty men…it’s a double standard. Sorry ladies, but it is.
For you UMALICIOUS
The CLOSET Drunk
The secret drinker is particularly hard to describe because frankly, no one has any idea they are drinking. Maybe the folks who really know the person well. But even close friends and family may be in the dark about how much this person drinks. I knew someone like this and when she went to rehab I was completely shocked. It was true she often got drunk fast and would leave early or fall asleep at parties. We learned later that she got drunk before she came to the party…she was so nervous about the social situation that she felt like she had to drink heavily before she arrived to deal with it. One of the things I found on every “signs you might be an alcoholic” was the idea of drinking in seclusion. I think its a fundamental dark side to drinking…drinking alone. I definitely had a habit of drinking a glass or two of wine before social situations to relax me before I needed to be “ON”.  I think it wold be really hard to get sober if you are a closet drunk because sobriety involves so much interaction with the outside world…getting help means taking to other people and saying you need help. And that can be terrifying for the closet drinker.

The Functional Alcoholic: IN DENIAL

I have a specific person in mind when I describe this type of drinker. He drinks a lot. I saw him once in the parking lot at my daughter’s gym, chugging a cold one at 5PM on a Tuesday night. He laughed and wasn’t even slightly embarrassed that I caught him drinking in his car at 5PM on a Tuesday. He drinks a LOT and its very noticeable. But I notice him because I am watching. Once when I first quit drinking…it was still really fresh…it turned out he was going to be my daughter and I’s ride home from a sporting event. I could smell the beer on him. I was hyper sensitive. His driving wasn’t terrible, but he had clearly had a few. I watched his wife and wondered why it didn’t occur to her to drive the car. I wondered how many times I had driven my kids after several beers and it made my stomach churn. Anyway, everyone knows someone like this guy. He drinks…all the time…at every event. He is always the first person to suggest drinking and doesn’t seem to care if anyone else joins him. He is a cheerful, happy drunk…well liked and rarely obnoxious.

The FUNCTIONAL Alcoholic: ACCEPTANCE PHASE

There isn’t much difference between these two types of functional alcoholics, except the acceptance version knows its a problem. These folks know they drink too much, but just aren’t interested in stopping. Or perhaps they go through periods of not drinking just to prove to themselves they can. They have had lots of episodes of drinking remorse so the really functional ones rarely drink in public. They know what happens when they do…they drink too much…say or do embarrassing things and end up with drinking remorse. So they solve that problem by doing most of their drinking at home. They aren’t really hiding their drinking…they are hiding from the world so they can drink freely. This type of functional alcoholic, in my opinion, is even more functional than the ones in denial…because they have come to an understanding with their drinking. There has been a truce. I suspect this is where I would have ended up had I not stopped drinking. The drinking remorse was killing me mentally. But isolation just so you can safely drink….doesn’t sound much fun. I wonder if this type of drinking can go on forever or if it always progresses to the next type…

THE WINNER is…The ALCOHOL

I know a couple of people like this. Or maybe I used to know them. They don’t really exist anymore because the hunger for alcohol has consumed their lives. This is the type of person I imagined when I thought of the word alcoholic. Someone who drinks all the time, everyday, all day. Someone who can’t go to work all the time, always drinks until they get drunk, can’t function in normal everyday activities. Nothing about these folks is functional. Its really, really sad. Some of these folks work regular jobs and maintain that portion of their lives with integrity but as soon as work is over its drink, drink, drink til you pass out. This traditional vision of an alcoholic makes me really sad. Some people say alcoholism is a progressive disease and everyone gets to this point. I don’t believe that. I think people can live their entire lives as a functional alcoholic.


Have ideas for this list? Please add them in the comments.

XOXO

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16 thoughts on “the many faces of alcoholism

  1. umalicious on said:

    there are a lot of quiet functional people who you would never suspect that are alcoholic.

    • I think I a good name for these folks might be the “Closet Drunks”. When I really thought about it, I realized I do know someone like that.

  2. I so enjoyed reading your blog and could relate to so many of your stories. I gave up drinking in March of 2011 after embarrassing my daughter in front of her friends and another mother while I was drinking. I was actually blackout drunk which is even worse as I don’t remember everything. It wasn’t the first time I had been drunk in front of daughters and their friends and embarrassed them. It was a Friday night and I did drink the rest of the weekend, but went to AA on Monday and have been sober ever since. My daughter just turned 13 and our relationship is so much better now. My daughter is also a competitive gymnast. Were you at the Lady Luck Invite in January when you had your last drunk? My daughter competed there in 2011. I too saw a huge change in my social life too when I gave up drinking, but I am so much happier without the morning after guilt, shame and remorse .I wish you luck on your journey. I hope your sobriety last a lifetime, not just a year.
    Amy

    • Thanks Amy.We were at Lady Luck when the big night of shame happened. She ended up having a great meet the next day, which I consider divine intervention. Thanks for posting. Congratulations on your sobriety. I don’t know about my plans…I am comfortable with the year….beyond that, we will see.

  3. I’ve known every single one of these drunks and I personally relate to quite a few of them. I think we label things so that we know who/what to include and who/what to exclude and so that we know where we fit in (or don’t). I think it’s awesome that you’re exploring these questions and trying to find answers for yourself. Whether you ultimately choose to call yourself an alcoholic or a non-drinker or whatever, you’re doing the work to get below the surface and that’s what’s important. You always make me think!

    • umalicious on said:

      although i understand this kind of categorizing, i think it can be dangerous to use stereotype to hold oneself up against. you can’t see yourself in these groups, therefore you must not be an alcoholic. i can only speak for myself, but i do not fall into any stereotype, which is why i have often talked myself out of becoming sober. the mind plays tricks. when i really realized that i was powerless over alcohol, THAN i was ready to begin healing . i don’t have to be in the closet because i don’t really fall into that group either. i actually DO believe that alcoholics are like snowflakes. snowflakes are made of snow, which makes them the same. but no two look the same. humans are made of flesh and blood. but there aren’t 2 that are exactly the same in every way.

      lots of good fuel for pondering. and blogging. thanks for sharing.

      • It was mainly for fun…but I actually agree with you. Maybe I will change the title of my post. I see myself in more than one of these categories. I think my hope was that I would expand my definition of what an alcoholic is…beyond the one I call “And the winner is: The Alcohol.” I told myself for years that I just needed to be more careful when I drank and I kept finding myself drinking too much, doing and saying stupid things, embarrassing myself and my family. So this exercise was my way of proving to myself that there is more than one “definition” of an alcoholic. But I do agree with you, Umalicious! Good Point!

      • umalicious on said:

        i probably take myself too seriously, but you have me thinking about all kinds of things, which is really the point of all of this. i also feel comfy knowing that there are others who are thinking about sobriety, who are sober, who used to be sober (that was me for the past decade-7 years & fell right back down that tunnel. the slide was fast & hideous.) even those that are actually miserable being sober!
        and you know what? it’s really got nothing to do with “alcohol.” the bigger lifelong battle is really ADDICTION isn’t it? do you find it harder to stay away from the cigarettes? i have a few things that are hard to let go of. i keep trying to distract myself…..

    • Thanks Karen, I loved your blog post about your mom….btw…I couldn’t comment about it yesterday because I read it on my phone…but I will later. I could have written it myself about my dad.

  4. Getting sober, that’s serious business. Giving up cigarettes…man, its been horrible. I honestly never believed I could do it before now. I tried…so many times. But deep down I figured I would smoke myself into an uncomfortable old age and then die too young because of it. I was a closet smoker for years once I had kids. My smoking place, my little spot hidden outside in the yard, it was my favorite place. But when I spent a month without drinking…I observed myself. I never even struggled once in that first month to keep from drinking. Not ONE time. That’s when I knew I could quit smoking and that all my failed attempts in the past were just bullshit because when you want something, you do it. You just do it. Since then, there have been some tough days of sobriety in general. I have given up all mind altering substances…except sugar and exercise. I am planning to give up sugar tomorrow….although I am still trying to wrap my head around it. The 21st is my power day. Tomorrow is three months, no drinks, one month no pot or cigarettes. Sugar is becoming my new go to drug. I don’t want that to happen…so i am toying with dropping it too. But I am scared…I love baked goods so much. LOL.

    • umalicious on said:

      well try not to overwhelm yourself with having to give up everything. i’m overindulging in sugar right now. but i have to ride it out. i find drinking smoothies or eating fresh fruit is super helpful. so are herbal tea breaks throughout the day. dried fruit can be a big bonus too. these better foods help reduce the cooke/cake/candy/ice cream cravings.
      cigarettes seem difficult. i’ve always wanted to be a smoker but they always made me really sick. i grew up in a house of chainsmokers. i’m sure i have a bit of lung damage just from being with them in the house, car, everywhere.
      i think it’s important to pamper yourself. have you gotten a massage or a foot massage before?

      • Yes. You are correct. Maybe its silly. I have just been noticing myself going to the Easter baskets when I have a craving…very consistently and i don’t just want to replace the addictions. You know? But its probably asking too much of myself. I do wish I had more time to pamper myself. 3 kids. 4 Dogs. Cat. Job. It just feels like there isn’t enough time in the day. NIA is my pamper time….getting up early to run my dogs. I told my hubby I am leaving in June for a week to go to his family’s cabin in the mountains. I just really need some down time. Its been a tough few months and that week in the future…its keeping me going right now.

  5. Rhonda Geske on said:

    I really, really like this post. I appreciate what umalicious had to say about the dangers of stereotyping. I don’t fit into any category either but know for certain that while my life never turned to complete shit, if I took a drink today it would be a tragic and extremely fast downward spiral into hell. I don’t want that for myself, my husband, my kid, my siblings, my parents or my friends. Many things help me to live a sober life and I learned pretty quickly to weed out the things that triggered me or tempted me in anyway.
    I know plenty about the sugar cravings. Keep some red potatoes on hand and pop one in the microwave when you have that craving. The complex sugars in the potato help to curb the craving – definitely needs butter and salt.
    You’re doing great Renee! It’s a hard fucking challenge to live in a world where many, many friends and family drink..and probably drink much more than they should.

  6. Rhonda Geske on said:

    Maybe we should plan a sober girls trip to Tahoe???

    • I am going. I will message you the details. Love to have you join me. We can do what sober people do on vacation. By the way, what do sober people do on vacation?

      • Rhonda Geske on said:

        Oh boy, I’m sure it will be a much slower pace than you’re use to :) Actually we do all the same fun things on vacation minus the booze and hangovers.

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