Keeping Up Appearances and Drinking


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.

40 thoughts on “Keeping Up Appearances and Drinking

  1. That was a wonderful post! Your comment “As a mismatched couple, betrothed while drinking” really hit me. That was my ex and me. It’s hard to admit that. I had my son because I stayed in that marriage longer than I should have so it’s even harder to admit because I can’t imagine life without my son. Drinking tied us together and yet drove us apart in so many ways, allowed bad decisions to be made the impacted us to the point of no going back. Drinking is still a part of my current marriage and redefining that is something we are working on. He doesn’t have the issues, the potential I have with it though. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts, I always enjoy reading them.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. If he doesn’t have a drinking problem it might be with redefining it to not have alcohol in the house.
      It’s amazing to have a non drinking partner. You can accomplish anything and have fun without either of you numbing out.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Thank you! I was betrothed while drinking the second time too, but the difference was that I had had a few extended periods of sobriety at that point … three months here, five months there. My mind was healed enough that I wasn’t totally at the mercy of alcoholic decisions anymore. And he still drinks as well, but he doesn’t have my issues with alcohol. Still … it does require some renegotiating of the relationship. We no longer have our go-to recreation of dinner and drinks. I almost feel like it’s been a bait and switch for him. He married a fun drinking partner and then I gradually became less fun, and then quit altogether. ; )


  2. Yes. Drinking is the problem…which is so hard to see when in the middle of it all.
    I am grateful my husband and I both looked around and go off the ride when we did. I’m sure we would have divorced. We were both quite good a pointing the finger st each other…

    I works hard to keep up a facade that things were ok. Fear of being found out. Of being blamed. The unending guilt and anguish.

    Funny. I openly talk to my personal recovery now. My mental health issues. The joy and hardships of parenting.

    Who was I trying to hide from? I’m not sure, but now I’m free. Sobriety has released me.

    Awesome post.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Thank you Anne! You hit the nail on the head with this question: Who was I trying to hide from? I still find myself stuck thinking that my old high school friends are actually hanging out in the same parking lot, wondering what ever became of me, ready to judge my current life situation. I read somewhere that it’s called the shitty committee, and it’s linked to that voice in your head that constantly judges what you’re doing. I don’t even keep up with most of the people I “fear” judgment from. It’s ridiculous!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. thank you for these words. “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.”

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Ms Miracle this is so beautifully written & made me very emotional. It’s such a wake up call when we realise the very thing we’ve been self medicating with is causing all the destruction! You are helping everyone who reads this. We rise together. xxx

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you!!! For so long I refused to think that alcohol was the problem. I protected it from scrutiny like you would an abusive spouse. I didn’t want to hear the truth because I wanted to continue, just maybe cut back here and there, until things settled down.
      And you’re right — we do rise together. ; )

      Liked by 3 people

  5. Hi Shawna!
    I knew my hubs and I would probably get divorced the way we were heading.
    Although he had no problem, I was “making” him drink more, to keep up with me.
    Then I started getting to be a mean drunk, (I always was fun when I was younger), and we would have bad fights when we were both drinking.
    Finally, I was able to see the future and it really didn’t look fun.
    So we both quit, even though it wasn’t a problem for him.

    There are so many things that are not important, but I still live in an area where “things” and appearances are really important…when they really aren’t.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Wendy. I can relate exactly to what you’re saying — I also encouraged my husband to drink with me. Life had to be fun! I was constantly lobbying to go out to lunch as an excuse to start early. Then, after a long nap, I could start over at 5:00. It wasn’t good for him because he could moderate, but I needed an excuse to normalize my drinking. I made up all kinds of events to celebrate as well: Cinco de Mayo! The day before St. Patrick’s Day!
      We are on a trip out of town at the moment, with a long car ride ahead of us this weekend. I’ve decided to tell him then, if nothing else, so that I can read and comment on blogs without having to hide.
      Thank you for the advice!!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. This is such a beautifully written and strongly encouraging post, Shawna. I’m so taken by your ability to revisit your wounds as a means of focusing on where you are today in your healing journey. Thanks so much for your candor and compassion in sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Greg, your words have had a powerful effect on me, and I can’t help thinking that the universe has prompted YOU to tell me exactly what I needed to hear. As I’ve written earlier, I’ve been struggling with whether or not to publish a book describing my journey. Thank you so much for reaching out to me with such a beautiful and clear message. The people in your life are so blessed to have you as a friend.

      Much love,
      Shawna 💕

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m sure there is a book in you longing to be birthed. This is a part of the process in your healing that you will know precisely when to begin giving birth. I will always be giving you encouragement to just “do the next right thing.”

        And you know I hold you in simply the highest regard, Shawna, for you are in my prayers every day.


  7. Just read this again. I was such a perfectionist. I was entirely hung up on what my life looked like to the outside world so that I could continue to drink …while secretly falling apart inside. Trying to gloss over addiction is like plugging the holes in a sinking boat with bits of crumbled up paper. It was utterly exhausting and its a miracle my marriage survived at all. (we are not out to the woods yet…he has his own demons to face)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I LOVE that analogy … plugging the holes of a sinking ship. Except that you don’t realize it’s sinking, in my case. I’d be waving from the deck, cocktail in hand, pretending everything was OK. Exhausting for me has turned into restless energy. I’m hoping that as the weather turns, I’ll be a bit saner. ; )

      Liked by 1 person

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