Whirlwinds And Wound Healers


 

Selfie.

“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.)

Things I should have listened to, Volume 87.

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.

Me.

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.

No, *you’re* overreacting.

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.

27 responses to “Whirlwinds And Wound Healers

  1. LOVE!!!!
    I love this, because it’s so so true.
    I even think that I had an effect on people I didn’t know or meet…if I came to a store drunk, I would have an effect on those clerks.
    Who knows how that made them feel that day.
    Now that I am open about my recovery, and volunteering for a wonderful organization here in Minnesota that helps in the field of opioid addiction, (http://steverummlerhopefoundation.org), I am making a positive where before I was making a negative!
    xo
    Wendy

    • hi Wendy – sorry about the late response!
      I agree about the effect we had on strangers too – me drunk on the subway or whatnot. Of course! So thank you for that.
      And thank you for the link – how marvellous! Thank you for your service – this is amazing!!

      Paul

    • For sure. I was in the dark for all those years, not knowing how I acted, before, during and after the drinking, could affect people in such strong ways. These days it’s good to know that we can all affect others in a positive way! Thank you for being here!

  2. Different perspective and a much needed one! Thank you for shining the light on this subject. Great post!

  3. My ex-husband,the love of my young life-chose alcohol over me. He died years later at the age of 51 from liver failure.
    Never had the life we envisioned.

    • I am so sorry to hear this, Gabi. This is heartbreaking. And if I could say, I would suggest that alcohol chose him and was unable to break that grip. I love(d) my oldest to bits, but it still couldn’t break the chain I had to alcohol and that it had on me. That was the crusher for me.
      I am also sorry to hear that he passed from his alcoholism. This is a killer.
      blessings to you and thank you for being here.

    • thank you for the read and comments! It’s astounding how much of an impact we can make on others – positive or otherwise!

    • Oh yes – for sure that chapter is important. Not a fan of the employer chapter, but it does have some great information too (as an employer I do deal with guys with borderline addiction issues, so I have to practice some of those things). Thanks for this!

  4. Wow.
    Jeez. Hits right in that spot in my chest… Like a hard fist, knocking the air out of my lungs. Ugh.
    I’ve always been the one people shared to, even when in active alcholism. I chalked it up to my profession (bartending). This post has prompted me to look at this, and I’ve realized that although I was always the one shared to, now I am shared with. I’m able, and willing, to participate in life – and to share pain and joys with those who choose me to talk with.
    After many years of “not hurting anyone” and after being told by loved ones the same – through a thorough inventory, I learned that by isolating, and not speaking with family (so as to not hurt them) was in reality, hurting them. And I have yet to meet someone who didn’t have a loved one to worry about them.
    We are a lucky breed of creatures. To have people who care so much about us that they will go to any lengths to get US better. And we often don’t see the good in their actions until we are able to soberly look back at our lives…

    • I love everything in this, Kristin. And you are right about the idea that even isolating does hurt others. We can see this when we ignore someone – such a painful thing to do to someone (I think of the punishment of old days – the old “shunning” – how terrible is that, to not feel like you exist?) And so in the inventory, we see the patterns. I was an isolator too, but in other ways. I spoke to family, but I was emotionally distant. Never present. And that hurt so many.

      And I love what you say about seeing things as they are once we get sober and straighten up. I know I have living amends for the rest of my life that I have to do, and I am okay with that 🙂

      Thanks for being here.

  5. Thank you, as a mum I read every word I can that will help me understand. I don’t think I ever will unless I walk in his shoes but blogs like yours helps me get a bit closer. Thank you for your honesty

    • I am so glad that this was able to illuminate things a bit more. Yes, it’s very difficult to fully understand unless you are there, but I know some wonderful parents and others who really get it, and have been blessed enough to not have been afflicted with it. The one thing to remember is that it’s not your fault, and that they aren’t willingly “choosing” the drug over the love of their family. We are often too far into our addiction to see things for how they truly are. I hope your son comes to recovery. Thank you and blessings.

  6. Outstanding post, sir. Really spot on. I’m sorry to hear your friend’s husband is struggling. I hope it’s not a mutual friend of ours. We are responsible for the anxiety we cause others–even if our drinking takes us to a cave in the farthest reaches of the Canadian wilderness. We are responsible for the worry we induce in others. The message is always strong here in the bottle, but I think this one rang really true and loud. It’s a hard thing to grasp. The “I’m only hurting myself” model of drinking was my M.O.–absolutely. This is a great message.

    • Thanks Mark – you are right about taking responsibility. We often say that we didn’t know what we were doing when drunk – for sure that in blackout and things like we truly don’t recall anything and that we had little control. But one thing I learned in the program is that I still have to own up to those things. I can’t deflect and blame it on the booze. So in taking that responsibility, it allows for the amends and the change in behaviour. At least that is how I see it.

      Big hug to ya, Mark!

  7. Just over half way through my time in the treatment centre my wife requested that I be let home for Father’s Day. It was agreed. I left on the Sat lunchtime and headed home. The kids were conveniently “out” – not the homecoming I’d expected. We sat in our old kitchen at the now long forgotten breakfast bar and she calmly spent two hours telling me the lowlights of exactly how it had been living with me.
    We struck a deal I still hold in the forefront of my mind 13 years later. If I ever decide I will drink again if I start that act of ordering a beer at a bar or whatever I phone her there and then. I will apologise that my drinking has taken priority in my life again but that will be it. No contact ever again – I’ll be homeless, soon penniless from that moment onwards.
    This isn’t as some think when I tell them this great barrier to me drinking again – If I decide to drink the whole British Army isn’t going to stop me. No this is a promise to minimise the level of pain I inflict on the family again. Even then it’ll still be massive for them. “Where’s Dad? Is he still alive today?” will be the concern of my kids on a daily basis from there on until eventually I stop the pain myself in some way.

    • I hear all of this, Graham.
      I was laughing at the British Army comment, then nodded my head in silence about the “Where’s Dad?” question. I don’t want that to happen to you, or me or anyone I know. Our kids deserve better, but more importantly, WE deserve better. We have some good sobriety going – why mess with it? I know that I too would be out of their lives too. If I go back out, it’s not a beer or two, then back into the program. If I go, it’s all out. There is no other way, is there? Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic. My brain and disease wants me dead.
      But we’re here and we’re good, Graham. I am so glad that you are here and that you share so much of yourself with us all.

      Cheers

  8. Thank you for the post Paul. My husband recently started drinking again and I have now seen with sober eyes the destruction and chaos it causes. I have a long road ahead of me but I am more sure than even that sobriety is the only way my family will survive. I think he is willing stop and hope to God he does. Seeing someone you love descend into oblivion is harrowing. I thank God every day that I’m sober and am able to make amends to my children and that I am now able to be the mother they deserve.

    • I am sorry to hear about your husband going back at it – I know you mentioned it before, but it’s still hard to hear. I honestly can’t imagine having to have put up with me, and sometimes I wonder if I would have the strength to go through it if God forbid one of my kids becomes an alcoholic. But I would learn to and tackle it in the same way I did my own alcoholism, through faith, action and grace.
      You’re doing a wonderful service to your family and all of us. Thank you for sharing what you do and thank you for being here.
      Blessings – praying your husband comes to the light.

  9. This was such a great read. I, too, was convinced for so long that because I was living such an isolated existence that I was only hurting myself. I thought that because my life revolved around my self, and my own selfish ways, that others must have been living in their own lives in the same way – totally consumed by their own lives and actions. This is not, I know now, the way that most people live life – and it is definitely not how I want to live mine. It is a lonely existence.

    “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.”

    This speaks to me in so many ways – one of the biggest, if not the absolute joy of my sobriety has been able to embrace, reconnect with and find again the connections that I lost while drinking, including with myself. Rediscovering my soul, my desires, my laughter, my LIFE – has been the greatest gift of my life. Thank you for this wonderful post.

  10. What a wonderful post. I love that whenever I come back to the web I can find something on your site that just resonates so much with me. I hurt so many people along the way. The selfish bubble of addiction really clouds the judgement and I found myself like the man in the room “Im only hurting myself” but as the fog is clearing, I see that I couldn’t have been farther from the truth. Family, my husband, parents, kids, friends, etc. I threw it all under the bus to try to hide my issues. Feels so good to be reclaiming my life and building the relationships Id ruined.

    Congrats on the 6 years and as always, love the podcasts.

  11. The groovy expressions we used; like anyone believed us. In the heat of addiction we are so self-centered, never taking a moment to reflect on repercussions. You’re right, the real issue was facing us in the mirror each morning. Interesting, how we hide the real us for so long covering addiction, and then in sobriety we have to find out who we really are. I’m working on this. Reconnecting with old friends is temperamental, but good for the soul. We figure the rest out as we go. Always a pleasure being here, Paul. Thank you!

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