My personal story of overcoming 23 years as an alcoholic is both unique and universal. It’s unique because the struggle is my own, but it’s universal because millions of others face a similar struggle with addiction. They need a pathway out, and they won’t find it without help.
I can attest to the enormity of the struggle, and also to the role society’s misconceptions play in making the road to recovery more difficult. Speaking for other addicts — many who also suffer from mental illness, which exacerbates the problem — I can avow: An addict is a person with a problem, not a problem person.
Addiction is misunderstood, and it leaves those suffering from the condition stigmatized. Society makes the assumption that an addict has a personal problem, not a medical one. This leaves nearly 23 million Americans struggling with this disorder on their own, and that’s an enormous human toll to pay for not getting our facts straight.
It’s time to bring this issue into the open. Addiction is an illness made worse by our fear to talk about it. Admittedly, people don’t like to — or don’t know how to — confront someone with an addiction. And addicts themselves, shielding themselves from their pain through their drug or alcohol-induced stupor, are unable to seek help on their own.
I want my own story to be instructive and shed light on what addicts must overcome to claw their way out of a deep, dark hole. That’s both literally and figuratively where I had landed. I was a hard-rock miner in northern Ontario when I finally hit rock-bottom. I’d grown up with parents who were emotionally missing and a poor self-image. I was a wimpy kid who stuttered and was told by everyone that I wouldn’t amount to anything. As a teenager, I learned to find comfort from my own self-loathing in a bottle.
I spent years as a functional alcoholic: I could hold it together well enough through the workday, but would hit the bottle hard each night. The physical labour of working in a mine was probably what kept my body going, but I was essentially digging myself a grave. Even after ruining my marriage, draining my bank account, and lying to everyone who cared about me, I was rooted in the clutches of my addiction.
My moment of truth came one day when my body rebelled. I couldn’t hold down my liquor. I realized I had three choices: 1) continue drinking and end up dead or institutionalized; 2) commit suicide; or 3) find a way to stop drinking. Fortunately, my union, the United Steelworkers, had an Employee Assistance Program and the staff guided me into the treatment I needed.
It was the hardest thing I’ve ever been through — I had to mine more unyielding emotions than I’d ever encountered in the rock underground. Going to my first AA meeting, I was beaten down, angry, and physically and emotionally bankrupt. But after going through rehab and continuing with AA, I finally found my footing, a way out of my darkness.
Since accomplishing my own sobriety, my hope is to show others that it’s possible. I make it my intention not to see through people, but to see people through.
If anyone you care about is struggling, it’s so important to let them know you care and are there for them. These conversations aren’t easy, but if you need to determine if you or a loved one has an alcohol addiction, the 20-questions assessment from Johns Hopkins University is a strong indication of a drinking problem. Another starting point can be asking the person you care about these four CAGE questions:
– Are you Concerned about your drinking?
– Do you get Angry when someone brings up the subject?
– Do you feel Guilty the next morning?
– Have you ever had an Eye-opener in the morning to get you going?
It can be difficult to bring up the subject when you’re emotionally involved. Using someone who has experience as a buffer can help families or companies deal with someone struggling with addiction.
Addiction needs to be faced head-on. We no longer can afford to pay the human and societal price of turning our backs on those suffering with the disorder.