“I’m not hurting anyone but myself.”
This is a common declaration from active alcoholics when confronted about our drinking and our poor behaviour. You’ll find that nestled amongst other groovy expressions like “I know, but—” and “I’m fine” in the well-worn Handbook of Delusional Lines for Drunks we often kept in the library of our sloshed minds. It was a regular refrain for me to slur out when a part of me could see that I was cutting myself down at the knees yet once again. It wasn’t my problem if others had issues with me, was it? Too bad, too sad. It had nothing to do with my drinking. As far as I was concerned, I was living in a steel bubble and all the bullets I fired ricocheted back at me. I wore Kahlua Kevlar to absorb the shots, while taking shots at the bar.
What I didn’t see was that for every selfish and self-centred act I pulled from my hat, I was creating a rippling affect around me. I didn’t know it because I was too busy being the centre of the universe (pay grade: terrible, by the way) to see the damage I was inflicting on others. I just thought they had problems of their own making. I would kid myself into thinking that I had no effect on others, because my self-esteem was lower than a snake’s belly, and how could poor ol’ me paint another person’s world? It was clearly denial and deflection at its finest.
I mention this because I have been talking to someone lately who has been struggling with their husband, who has relapsed after some time in recovery. I have been thinking about them, and all the other mothers and wives who have called or emailed me over the years who are at a loss as to what happened to their precious children and wonderful partners. (Notice I didn’t mention fathers or husbands. For some reason I never hear from them. It seems that the women are more open to seeking counsel and community than men.)
I have fielded teary phone calls from mothers who have had to put restraining orders out on their sons because of their behaviour. I have been messaged by wives who are angry and heartbroken over their husbands’ alcohol and drug use and don’t know what to do. I have seen the carnage, even if it’s only a sliver of what these people are going through.
I think back to my own story, and how I affected everyone in my family, my circle of friends and colleagues at work. I was blind to it all because my alcoholism kept my eyes focused on one thing—escape via the bottle. Everything else was dust blowing around. I blamed my problems on others and kept my rage and anger tight and focused on those who I felt added to my woes. I never faced the mirror and looked at the real problem.
The damage we do in the whirlwind of our alcoholism and addiction cannot be measured in dollars. And while we do incur these kinds of costs, the greater harm is done inside and to others. Broken trust, countless tears shed, anger and frustration, emotional hostage taking, dullness of mind, gaslighting, neglect…these are just some of the things we bring unto others. It’s a smörgåsbord of pain and suffering we inflict on others.
Remember, we are only hurting ourselves, right?
I remember listening to man at a meeting who frequently mentioned that he had no amends to make because he never harmed anyone. I found it curious that he said that. I could only imagine that in his 20 years of drinking, he stayed in his apartment, talked to his cat about his problems, drank rye and never ran afoul of anyone. For 20 years he would have had no contact with family, had no friends and was a shut-in. That is the only way I can see not harming anyone while in the midst of active alcoholism. Because in the end, we do a boat load of damage out there. At least I did. But listening to hundreds if not thousands of stories over the years, I know I was not alone in the destruction business. We wreck homes, relationships, businesses, partnerships, bodies (ours, primarily) and our own potential. We steamroll over the people and things we love. We destroy ambition and serene family life. We crush little hearts, big smiles and soft souls. We swoop down like Smaug and just lay waste to the terrain of our lives. Scorched and salted earth.
What I failed to see in my time drinking is that I robbed people of the real me. I robbed myself of people’s affection and wanting to help. I removed myself from my own life and walked around as a shell of who I could be. Who I was meant to be. And this hurt the ones who loved me the most. I hurt the ones I loved the most. This is what we do as active alcoholics. We accuse and blame the very people who want to see us rise up. I see and hear this anguish in the messages and phone calls from frightened mothers and wives. I remember meeting one of these mothers at a funeral—an apt place to talk about the dangers of alcoholism. She was worried that she would be burying her own son in that same funeral home.
Everyone I have opened up to about my alcoholism and recovery knows someone who is an alcoholic or addict. I haven’t run into one person yet who hasn’t been affected or knows someone who has been affected. This is one benefit of being open about my recovery—I get messages from people all over who have something to share. I hear from adult children about their parents picking up again, or from people who lost a cousin or sibling from the disease. I hear about the success stories too, about friends who celebrated 10 years sobriety or about their partner finally getting clean. There are some wonderful, heartwarming tales to be shared as well.
In the end, that is what this is about—sharing the success of recovery. It has always been important to me to hear from the other side of recovery, by those who were affected and how they have healed on their own or with help. The sad eventuality is that while may alcoholics get sober, family members are still feeling the affects and aren’t seen as “ill” and yet they suffer. I feel part of my living amends is to help those who are still hurting, and that includes family members. I cannot mentor them in regards to healing their own wounds, but I can give them insight into how their ill family member may be feeling and that helps them understand a bit more. And hey, sometimes they just want to be listened to. And I’m okay with that.
Remember, we affect everyone around us. We might as well make it a positive effect. For a change.