What does an alcoholic “look like” anyway?

If I had a nickel for every time somebody told me I didn’t “look like” an alcoholic, well…  What was I supposed to look like? Disheveled, dirty, makeup smeared? Was I supposed to be broke and homeless? Jobless? I wasn’t any of those things.

I had nice clothes, a house with a car in the garage. I went on vacations.  I was considered successful, even envied by many for my business achievements. I’d never been in jail or had a DUI.  Apparently, I was very good at hiding my alcoholism, which didn’t necessarily serve me well in the long run.  And it WAS a “long run,” a drinking career that spanned 40 years. That’s a long, long time to hide your active alcoholism; and in the end it was an exhausting, full-time job to NOT look like an alcoholic. If you’re reading this and you, too, are working very hard to hide your drinking, take note: it’s a pretty good clue that you might have a problem.  Just sayin’.

A day in the life of a “high-functioning alcoholic”

First off, let me just say I don’t like that term at all: “high-functioning alcoholic.” Using the word “functional” in the same breath as “alcoholism” seems to sugar-coat one manifestation of an insidious disease. One might think: “If I’m functioning so well, why do I need to stop drinking?” In fact, I guess I really did think that. But the fact is, for years and years, I was so busy managing the unmanageability of my life that the simple truth of my situation was completely obscured and I bought the lie that I was “doing OK, thank you very much.”

A closer look reveals the following:  1. Wake up and get a drink as soon as possible from a bottle hidden in one of several places (nightstand, medicine cabinet, green flower vase on top shelf of cookbook rack) while my husband was in the shower or not looking. This stops heart from racing and hands from shaking so the day can begin. 2. Follow first drink immediately with coffee, mints, mouthwash and brushing teeth before husband can find me to say good morning with hug and kiss. 3. Go into bathroom to begin morning routine where alcohol can be consumed behind locked door. Say goodbye to husband – be sure he leaves for work first. 4. Drink some more and fill up a Vitamin Water bottle with wine for the drive to work. 5. Scan house carefully for evidence before leaving. 6. Stop at grocery or wine store or liquor store (in rotation, so as not to visit the same one too often) during the morning to re-supply. Repeat this in afternoon if necessary. 7. Go home at lunch a couple times a week to collect empties from around the house and take them in large green trash bags to the dumpsters in the park.  Circle the park until no one is parked by dumpsters – this step is very important, and it may take a while. 8. Finish the day by continuing to drink at home during bathroom breaks from TV, while doing laundry in the basement, washing dishes, etc….

Days 2 through 4,382: Repeat, tweaking as necessary.

Now, keep in mind, this job as a “high-functioning alcoholic” also required me to run a small and growing business; make television appearances and do public speaking to promote my business and represent my industry as a respected “expert”; meet regularly with customers, potential customers and suppliers; review contracts and other complex documents; keep in touch with family and friends and host social gatherings; and, a few other small things:  look good, remember what I said, and drive a car (while drinking in it all day) without getting pulled over.

I got really, really tired and I just kept falling uphill.  Things looked good on the outside and I was completely disintegrating on the inside.  My charade was killing me – literally and figuratively.

The turning point

One day, maybe I DID look like an alcoholic (or at least my husband’s definition of one) because he gazed over at me on the couch and asked me if I’d been drinking…and I just said: “yeah.” That was it.  The gig was up and I think I was actually relieved. For so long, I’d wanted help to escape from my alcoholic prison, but I was afraid to ask. I didn’t want anyone to know that I just couldn’t stop drinking.  I gave up, I went back to rehab (unfortunately, not my first rodeo), and I just completely surrendered to this disease. I returned to AA, listened to the stories of people in recovery, and found tremendous comfort in the fact that EVERYONE in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous was JUST LIKE ME! We might look different, sound different, have different details to our stories, but we’re all exactly the same when it comes to alcohol: We had a love affair with it.  We protected it; manipulated, cheated and lied for it. We simply can’t take it or leave it; we have to have it. The day that we can both control AND enjoy our drinking will never come again if we ever had it in the first place. And in knowing that, in sharing that with my fellows in recovery, comes the joy of traveling a sober path together…one day at a time.  Whatever “kind” of alcoholic you are, join us and you’ll see. Look for me at a meeting. How will you know me?  I’m the one who looks exactly like a sober woman living a happy, useful sober life!

About the Author

Mary R. is a wife, mother, daughter, retired business owner and recovering alcoholic who relocated to southwest Florida from Ohio. As a person in recovery, she writes from the heart and shares her strength, hope, and experience with others so that they too may recover from the prison of addiction. Her sobriety is strongly engrained in the belief that “you can’t keep it unless you give it away.”  When not volunteering for David Lawrence Centers or actively participating in 12-step meetings, you can find her living her life in recovery to its fullest potential playing tennis, traveling, or trying out a new recipe with family and friends.

About Crossroads Rehab in Naples 

If you or someone you know is struggling with alcoholism or any kind of addiction, we can help you here at Crossroads Rehab in Naples, Florida. We have a number of substance use treatment services for adults including inpatient detoxification, and residential and intensive outpatient rehab services provided by the David Lawrence Centers . To get help for you or a loved one, don’t hesitate to contact us today.

Jan 08, 2019 | Blog

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