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A Tweet, A Death, and Boundaries
Last week I was faced with a number of honest truths about the disease of alcoholism and sobriety as something that is a constant work in progress.
I’d like to preface this by saying that my Twitter profile is completely anonymous. I have literally no connections on Twitter who know who I am IRL (In Real Life). I only joined Twitter a few months ago and it’s one place where I can be open and honest about being an alcoholic and not a single soul knows who I am. And I love it that way. It’s very freeing.
In a moment of shower-induced introspection (does anyone else think WAY too much in the shower?) I tweeted the following:
“My parents this my alcoholism is my problem, not their problem.
Yet the psychological abuse & emotional neglect we suffered as kids has had a profound lifelong effect on my brother & I.
I’ve been sober for 10 yrs but it’s still so raw.”
Naturally I would never write anything so deeply personal or potentially hurtful on a platform like Facebook, or anywhere that my parents or their friends could see it, but the anonymity of Twitter allowed me to be brutally honest. New to Twitter and with 100 or so followers I didn’t really expect anyone to notice this tweet. And even if they did, the tweet would have instantly been consigned to the depths of everyone’s Twitter feeds and forgotten before you could say ‘blueberry pie’.
Boy was I wrong. And I certainly hit a nerve! Over 2500 people liked that single tweet!
I’d like to clarify that I don’t think that my alcoholism is not my problem, it absolutely is my problem. And I don’t mean that my alcoholism is my parents’ problem, rather than mine. What I mean is that my parents have not in any way voiced concern about, or enquired about, how and why I became addicted to alcohol. In fact, they have not mentioned my alcoholism once in ten years. They don’t speak of it because they consider it my problem and not theirs. They still happily slug wine in front of me which indicates they have no awareness of, or willingness to acknowledge, their role in the development of my addiction. My second sentence clearly implies that I consider the lack of nurture in my childhood as having played a major part in my becoming an addict. Our family dynamic wasn’t the only reason I became an alcoholic and I am not saying that, but it definitely played was a factor.
As always, written communication can be misinterpreted which was interesting, especially on social media! But most people understood what I said, and the subject matter was clearly something that many people wanted to address, as evidenced by 193 retweets and 387 comments. One comment stated that misery loves company but the running theme throughout was how relatable my tweet was to so many other alcoholics and addicts out there. Incredibly, the majority of comments were wonderfully kind and supportive. Many people shared that they had a similar upbringing and addiction story, others thanked me for raising the subject and validating their experiences, while others sent messages of love and congratulated me on ten years of sobriety.
Some people were harsher; “get over it“, or “just move on“, and one of my favourites, “your parents are right, you chose to be an alcoholic!“ Luckily, I have a thick enough skin, so these opinions did not upset me. There’s a lot of angry people out there though!
In between the two poles, a lot of tweeters offered excellent advice from their own experiences of healing and about freeing themselves from generational trauma. A lot of their suggestions were excellent, many I had not heard of before, and I am looking forward to digging deeper into many of them. I’ll share what I find in a future newsletter as a lot of valuable knowledge was shared with me that’s worth sharing with you.
For now, though, what I internalised most from the responses was,
a) how valid my experience and feelings are in this respect, and how many (so many) other people have such similar backgrounds and,
b) that the happiest sober people have worked hard to heal from such wounds and have forgiven or are working towards forgiving, their parents (or other adults) who hurt them emotionally and/or physically as children.
I love the quote “resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die”. And it’s never seemed so relevant. Perhaps I was just waiting for the right time (and the right tweet) to understand why I’d memorised that particular quote.
Several years ago, I met someone here in Noosa who in his role as professional healthcare provider, expressed a lot of interest in my recovery from alcoholism. He was really keen to find out how I managed to achieve sobriety. I told him much of what I have written in my previous Substack posts, albeit in much briefer form. But I couldn’t give him the answer he wanted. This clinician wanted to find out how to save other people suffering from alcoholism. As my alcoholism was not the reason for seeing this person, and addiction was not his field, we didn’t dwell on the subject for long at our appointments.
I felt sick to my gut when he much later shared with me that his daughter was an alcoholic. He said she had the worst case of alcoholism that he had ever heard of. That was the last time I spoke with him. Shortly after that Covid hit, and we didn’t meet again. He moved away, presumably to be closer to his daughter. I looked them up online last week. I’d been thinking of this man and his daughter regularly since I’d discovered that she was a chronic alcoholic, like me. I kept regretting not having been more forthcoming with my recovery story. I wish I had known sooner why this man was so interested in my story. It took me until last week to build up the nerve to google the daughter’s name. I know I didn’t search for her earlier because I feared the worst. I was right to be cautious. She died, ‘suddenly’ and ‘tragically’ according to the death notice, ten months ago. Learning of her death hurt. This young woman’s father loved her immeasurably. He was one of the gentlest, kindest, people I have ever met. He was beside himself with worry about his daughter and was desperate to do anything he could to save her.
Realising that this young woman didn’t make it out alive really hit home for me how deadly the disease of alcoholism is and how incredibly lucky I am to be in recovery. I met this young woman and few times. She was quiet and lacked confidence, but I had no idea at the time that she was an alcoholic and in so much pain. What I wouldn’t give for that knowledge earlier so I could offer her my hand and tell her not to give up, because we do recover if we believe we can. I’m not for one minute implying that I could have saved her, but I would have liked to offer her kindness, understanding, and hope.
My husband and I went out for drinks and dinner with friends at the weekend and I feel compelled to share the outcome with you so you can learn from my mistake. My mistake was not setting adequate boundaries in early sobriety. And I am now realising that this lack of boundaries, and my fear of sharing my alcoholic ‘secret’ past, has led me to sit very uncomfortably in situations I should not have sat in.
I’ve been sober for ten years and usually have no issue being in the company of others who are drinking. It took me a while to reach this point, but I am happy to say that other people drinking rarely bothers me. Saturday night was different, however. And frankly, I’m to blame. I have chosen to keep the reason I don’t drink a secret from so many people for so long, that there is no reason that others should change their behaviour around me. Their ignorance is what I chose. I made my bed so to speak.
Because of my lack of boundaries, my people pleasing and my fear of being judged, I found myself spending what was meant to be a nice evening out catching up with friends, sitting across from two very inebriated people who were not good company. I found myself getting increasingly pissed off. I was angry at the drunk people, because getting smashed at dinner is never polite, particularly if one of your party is a non-drinker. And angry at myself for not having ever been brave enough to tell these close friends about ‘my secret sobriety’ and therefore having to sit and watch them get smashed once again.
Moral of the story: Respect yourself enough to set boundaries that keep YOU safe, healthy and happy. Set these boundaries from the very beginning of your sobriety. Make those boundaries non-negotiable and back yourself in applying them. Don’t spend ten years hiding your true self, and acting in ways that appease others, or societal expectations. You’ll only end up feeling miserable after a night out with friends who are supposed to know you and what you value! You’re worth so much more than that!
Thank you for reading My Secret Sobriety.