This is part 3 of a series about addiction and the church. You can read part 1 here.
I didn’t want to tell.
Well, I did. Desperately. But I had in mind that the big reveal about Dana should occur from a banner on a plane, slowly circling over our small town, informing everyone for miles around: DANA HAS STOPPED DRINKING! BUT DON’T ASK HER ABOUT IT BECAUSE SHE IS SO FREAKED OUT.
And while that plane was doing its thing, I would have moved to a mountain hideaway for a few months. Or maybe a year. That is how I wanted to tell.
But life doesn’t ever work that way. I mean, I have in my head how things should go, and then reality infiltrates, like a cold. So the telling of others, in reality, involved lots of tissues, and I needed to lie down after. See? Just like a cold.
I am a Christian, a wife, a mother—with a teaching job, a cat and a dog, and a lot of casserole recipes. I am kind of typical when it comes to the whole mom and wife thing. But, I am also an alcoholic mom and wife in recovery, which some would say is so not the norm—but I would argue it’s becoming more so.
The numbers tell us that the gender gap between alcohol abuse is closing between men and women, and women over the age of forty have the highest number of drunk-driving arrests now. We addicted women are not the meth-addled, toothless, scarred mugshots you see on the news. We are drinking our alcohol paired with Netflix and playdates and block parties. And we are loving wine culture. Until it loves us to death, I guess.
We are drinking our alcohol paired with Netflix and playdates and block parties. And we are loving wine culture. Until it loves us to death, I guess.
You see, drinking helped me feel like a normal person. And then I got sober, and then I felt about as abnormal as possible. Drinking helped me feel like I could wear tiny sweatsuits and still look cute in them, with a high ponytail and a baby on my hip and a calendar packed to the hilt with educational and fun activities for my boys. The alcohol made me That Mom Who Has a Handle On It.
Now, without wine? I was all askew and unbalanced and really, really not normal at all. I just wanted to feel like I knew what I was doing for twenty minutes. I really missed my wine.
And also, I realized, I missed people. People and me had been at arms’ length now for many years. Mainly for two reasons:
1. People involved talking, and unless I was talking in front of a classroom, I flunked talking. I was too awkward for talking. Sit and attempt talking with me; you’ll see.
2. People could hurt your feelings.
I had dealt with this hurting-of-feelings stuff enough, and so I had decided, unknowingly, that people and I just did not need each other.
So I got sober, and I found myself wanting people but also fearing them. I was like those kids in my classrooms who were prickly and quiet. Often my attempts to reach these kids were shut down by silence. It was always easier to joke and banter with the more charming ones, the attractive, popular folk. The silent ones were so very often placed in an “I’ll get to them later” slot. But I never really forgot them, since they reminded me of myself. Little did I know how much I would be able to relate to them.
In recovery, I was that kid in the back row, with my hair hanging over my eyes, willing someone to come and really talk to me. But also hoping just to be left the heck alone. Of course, my pastor had to mess with all of this.
Newly sober, I had managed to slowly back away from nearly every social responsibility I had. My life consisted of work, meetings, and sleep, with occasional child-rearing and conversations with my husband sprinkled in. However, one small weekly obligation stayed in place—my small group.
In church-speak, a small group is not short people who get together to talk. We are just small in number, and we get together to talk about the big stuff. The biggest stuff. Like God. And Jesus. And how to love each other—and God—on a daily basis. And, as much as I wanted to hide from them, I didn’t quit the group. I don’t really know why. Well, that’s not true. I do know why. I didn’t quit the small group because, deep down, I really, really needed them. And, I loved them.
And there were always really good snacks.
So my pastor told me, “You need to tell.” And I didn’t argue because I knew that I needed all the help I could get.
The actual telling part is rather uninteresting. We met, in our small group way, with copious snacks and children playing in the basement, and laughter about how we had all managed to show up on time. And then the pastor, never one to waste time, said something like this: “Uh, guys. Dana wants to share something with you that is awful and difficult, and she is so freaked out. Grab a cookie; they look delicious! And have a seat.”
Okay, maybe he didn’t say it exactly that way, but that’s how I heard it. Anyhow, I sat and sighed at my cookie and then said something like this: “For as long as I can remember, I have struggled with, uh, being me. So I drank a lot—to make that easier. And now I have quit drinking. And so, I guess, uh. Me? I am an alcoholic.”
It was really so not a Hallmark moment. It should have been paired with some sentimental piano music and maybe a really endearing story about my father or something, but really? I was embarrassed. It was the first time I had said “I am an alcoholic” out loud to anyone other than the folks at my 12-step meetings. And the one thing I feared the most was that my group would just sit there and stare at me. And you know what? That’s exactly what they did. They just kind of . . . eyed me. There was a good ten seconds of Well, this is awkward, we have an alcoholic at our meeting now, and I found myself smiling at them to try and comfort them about it.
But then it got better. Conversation started again, a few questions were asked, and I settled into the couch cushions and ate my weight in scotcharoos, and I breathed in and breathed out. And Brian, my husband, took my hand (hard to do because I probably had scotcharoos clenched in both fists), and he hugged me close.
But then it got better. Conversation started again.
When you have to tell your small group about the most horrible thing? You won’t die. Remember that. Nobody dies at small group—at least, not as a result of confession. That’s the thing with us: We’re all about Jesus and being united. We’re the few, the small. Like the special forces, we never leave anyone—no matter how tiny—behind.
Watch for my final blog post where I tell you how am am doing now and how to help addicts who are in denial about their addiction.