Keeping Up Appearances and Drinking

keeping_up_appearances

Years ago, I came across an article that claimed that most alcoholics have perfectionist tendencies.

Ha! That seemed like such a joke at the time. As I looked around the chaos that had become my home, I thought about how little evidence of perfection there was. In fact, a quick glance showed outright dysfunction and chaos. Mail unopened, dishes from the night before, an answering machine with blinking messages. Always a dog needing to go outside. (Had he been fed lately?) TV blaring inappropriate shows somewhere in the house.

There was no one in charge even, much less keeping up appearances. But the appearances were so important. A taped together life to present to the public. Decent clothes. A job.  Breath mints.

I used to love the show “Keeping Up Appearances” with wacky Hyacinth Bucket clawing her way up the social ladder in her little British town. As an example, she told everyone her last name was pronounced “Bouquet.” She answered the phone with “This is the Bouquet residence. Lady of the house speaking!” The more I watched it, the more I realized this truth:

I was Hyacinth Bucket.

I was a perfectionist when it came to appearances. I cared more about appearances than what was actually going on. And appearances became my reality.

But where, I wondered, did this tendency start?

As a child, I first learned the word popular by watching the Brady Bunch, and knew that it was something important to achieve. I dressed just like Jan Brady and copied her mannerisms.(Marsha was out of reach — a real teenager, while I, at 10 years old, was clearly not.) I even had the hated freckles Jan tried to get rid of. No higher compliment could be paid me in the fourth grade than “You look just like Jan Brady.”

Fast forward a few decades (you will be relieved to read), and the habit of keeping up appearances continued. I appeared to have an ideal family — two kids, husband with a good job — but already, with the college habit of drinking beer still flowing, the image was beginning to spring leaks. As a mismatched couple, betrothed while drinking, we had an unhappy marriage, full of tension and unmet expectations. Beer, which later became wine, covered over the hostile undertow, and united us on at least one front. That worked for a while.

But the ominous rumble of reality was just over the horizon, like a thunderstorm ready to break.

What happened next was tragic, like it always is with heavy drinking. And once the storm picked up steam, it was downright scary — like watching a car crash in slow motion. Divorce. Custody suits. Lawyers. Financial problems. Damaged children. Escalating drinking, to cope with the ruins of a life led by drink. I never knew it could get this bad. The truth burst like dam, flooding everything in sight, nearly drowning us all.

Appearances, once you’re really falling apart, no longer matter. Raw with pain, I found myself blurting out the truth to random people, even strangers. I could no longer hold up the image of a person who even remotely had it together. I quit trying. Still, I kept going to work … doing the minimum to keep afloat. Appearances had to give way to survival. And even survival now seemed questionable, as the will to survive was replaced with apathy.

Somewhere, deep down, I began to make the connection between the chaos of my life and the alcohol. The shit storm life had become, and which I had dragged other people into, was not just the result of choosing an ill-suited mate … of circumstance beyond my control. The drinking caused the destruction. It didn’t add to it, or exacerbate it, or help me survive it. It caused the destruction. And there was only one way to stop it from continuing.

Having humility is not a socially advantageous trait. Neither is admitting your faults and sneaking into church basements to stand up and say, “Hi. My name is ….” In fact, it might seem like the depth of disgrace, if you’re hung up on such things.

Getting un-hung up on such things has been an ongoing and freeing process. I am a work in progress. After dozens of stops and starts, over time I have put together another life, except this one is based on the truth. And now that I have some of the trappings of the life I once craved, the trappings don’t bring me the joy and peace that I thought they would. I am grateful, but called to do so much more than just look good on the surface. I’m surrounded by love, and people I cherish, and I don’t care what that looks like from the outside. I want to reach out to those who were where I was — as far down the wrong side of the tracks as I fell. I have the need to lift somebody else up, with the hope that it’s possible to heal. And to be beautiful in a way that has nothing to do with what you’re wearing and everything to do with becoming who you really are, stunning and awe-inspiring in your brokenness, and divine in your willingness to finally rise.

Should you tell your S.O. about your blog?

woman-hiding-behind-mask

I need an educated opinion here.

How many of you have husbands/boyfriends/girlfriends who know about your “secret” blog? Did you start the blog and then clue them in later? How did they react? Where they upset that you kept this “secret” from them?

I was going to tell my wonderful, supportive husband about my blog at the one year sober mark. I am now at Day 293, and one year is in sight! Plus, I didn’t want to share my successful sobriety blog if I had not successfully stayed sober. It seemed a contradiction, somehow.

I’ve gone out of my way to not include personal or harmful info about any of my family. Still, it’s a bit like having someone read your diary. And I am not, in real life, an over-sharer.

All comments appreciated!

Burning Down the House

burninghouse

Alcohol is lighter fluid.

It soaks into whatever you pour it on, and then it waits to be lit. You light a match, and it bursts into flame, sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly.

Lighter fluid is tricky and dangerous, so there are rules around its usage — how much is safe to use, how to keep things you had no intention of burning from catching fire, and how not to burn yourself in the process.

It’s not safe around children.

But it seems to have its uses — it keeps you warm in winter, and the glow of a fireplace with friends around it is like liquid solace. It’s cocooning and comforting, and to want that is to be human.

But alcohol is trickier still, because it knows no boundaries. The flames will escape, and you will only see the flickering trail out of the corner of your eye. But it’s there, and it’s stealthily moving along paths in the brain, burning its way into desire, lapping closer to your body, but you are mesmerized by the flame and that feeling of well-being and comfort, and you can’t see what’s happening.

So your life moves along, and you carry the can of lighter fluid with you, lighting this, lighting that, until soon you begin to see flames in the distance. How did that happen? Now you smell smoke, and it’s acrid and makes your eyes burn. You begin to suspect that the whole house could be burning, and you are powerless to stop it.  And it’s getting hot. Too hot to be comforting.

You want to control the flames but you can’t put down the can because you’re afraid of the cold. Because the fire has told you that you need it to survive, and now, in your mind, you do. A mind soaked in ethanol cannot think clearly, no matter what that mind tells itself.

What happens next is up to you.

Once you see the danger, once you see what’s happening, do you struggle to put out the flames here, but light a little something there, clinging to your can of lighter fluid? Or do you see that it’s better to fight the fire without carrying a combustible can with you, playing the odds that you won’t explode along with it? Your brain is fractured, but if you want to, in a moment of lucidity, your better angels will show you what is happening, and they will show you a way out, and whether you listen or not is up to you.

It’s up to you.

I’m only hurting myself

woman-with-bottle

“I’m only hurting myself.”

These are the words I used to justify drinking. In the sober light of day, and with a clear mind, I can see how twisted and deluded and tragic these words are. And completely untrue. They are the words of a sick mind, overtaken by alcohol. And alcohol will lie. It will train the mind to attack itself, like a cancer of the soul.

If “I’m only hurting myself” is true, then it has to follow that “I don’t matter.” Who cares if I hurt myself? It’s not like I’m the president or in charge of great things. I am just someone who drinks too much, and my life reflects that. Even if I can put up a good front, and my life looks OK from the outside, inside it’s chaos and depression and humiliation and regret. And who wants to save that?

The thought “I don’t matter” means the alcohol’s job is complete. Well almost. Because ultimately it wants you dead.

The thought of death didn’t really rattle me either when I was drinking heavily because it seemed to be a fitting end to what I came to believe was a wasted life. Maybe people would be better off if I died. And it would end the pain of life led by drink once and for all. Just like passing out and never waking up. Tragic, but fitting.

Alcohol causes suicidal thoughts. One-third of people who commit suicide have been drinking.

Alcohol says, “You are worthless.” But ultimately we don’t blame the alcohol. We blame ourselves.

How does that happen?

A young person, say you, goes out with a group of friends. You are a bit shy, unsure of yourself, like everyone is at this difficult age. You want these people to accept you, and think you’re cool. They drink, so you do too. And it works! You become someone else. You are so less inhibited. You tell jokes! You are funny, attractive, and free.

But then one time, you do something really stupid while drinking. Something completely out of character. If you are a young woman, maybe you sleep with someone — someone you had no intention of dating, much less sleeping with. If you’re a man, maybe you start a fight with one of your friends, and it gets really embarrassing, and you yell and cry in front of a group of people.

Or use the scenario of your choice. There are an infinite number of ways to suffer humiliation while drinking.

When you wake up the next day, you still have to go to school. But now, your self-esteem has suffered a horrible blow. You don’t want to see anyone. You’re not sure exactly what happened because you can’t remember, but you know it was bad.

You have just suffered the first of a series of blows that will keep occurring as long as you keep drinking. And your place in the world, what you think about yourself, what you try to believe is true will be devastated in ways both big and small, and they will take a huge toll on how you perceive your worth.

To face this new reality that has been created by alcohol, you have to drink. Then things don’t seem so bad. You can face people again — start anew, you think.

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. You now have the perfect cycle for accelerating drinking. It is your best friend and your worst enemy.

But right from the start, you blame yourself for feelings and events that alcohol caused. You don’t think, “I drank a substance designed to lower inhibitions, incapacitate, and addict, and that substance took over my brain and caused x, y, and z to happen. I have learned from this. I blame the substance itself and I will never drink again.”

You blame yourself, like most victims of abuse. That is where the real devastation of alcohol lies. It tells you you’re worthless, and you believe it.

But it lies. Because the truth would stop you from drinking. The perfect trap can continue as long as your miserable life can last unless you start to examine your relationship with alcohol and decide you are worth saving.

Because that is the truth. You are worth saving. To feel this for yourself, you have strip away the years of drinking and everything that came with it. You have to forgive yourself and let it go, no matter what the voice of alcohol tells you, and remember you before you took that first drink. There you are … just a kid really. Shy, insecure, and hopeful for a wonderful future, ready for adventure. You have to take this child by the hand and remember that this is the real you. Worth loving. Worth saving. Worth anything you can do to ensure that you will honor that child by saving his life.

I love to read books about people who have gone beyond the thin veil that hides reality from us — people who have had near death experiences that come back completely changed. They assure us that we are magnificent spiritual beings despite any illusion of ourselves as being weak or guilty. Anita Moorjani, who was healed from a devastating cancer diagnosis, says this:

“One of the biggest lessons I learned from nearly dying of cancer is the importance of loving myself unconditionally. In fact, learning to love and accept myself unconditionally is what healed me and brought me back from the brink of death.”

Self love has also been the answer for me. Loving myself enough to save myself — no matter the cost, no matter how many times I have to try — has made all the difference in my quest to stop drinking. I no longer listen to the lies that alcohol still tells me. I listen to the truth — that voice of love and strength that I was born with and can never lose. I let that voice tells me who I am.