There are high functioning alcoholics all around us. They continue daily work, in even the highest types of professional positions, while managing an addiction. Their ability to appear “normal” allows their condition to be overlooked for a long time, or even through their own death.
A former employee of mine saw patients everyday in a medical office. The patients loved her, and requested her for care. She treated their chronic conditions and acute illnesses with care. Her clinical notes were thorough, accurate, and professional. Employees around her were glad she joined the team.
My ex-husband managed people successfully at work. He never drank during work hours or when our child had school functions. He didn’t cross paths with the law or get into any altercations.
A friend of mine traveled all over the world for work and continued to get large monetary increases in salary. She had a husband and two kids and appeared quite successful.
All three of these people are alcoholics. What do they have in common other than being “hidden” from suspecting eyes and being professionally successful?
They, and others, use alcohol as a coping mechanism. In many cases, it is trying to cope with a feeling of “less than.” Social anxiety, depression, stress, and generalized anxiety are what drove many to alcohol use and eventually to alcoholism.
The people closest to them, typically those that live with them, know the reality. They worry about them, and worry, and get angry, and get sad, and get frustrated, and get sad, and (repeat, repeat). It’s a family disease because families walk on egg shell;, they take emotional rollercoaster rides; they get treated to many periods of silence; they have many things that they have said or done forgotten, because the alcoholic was drunk originally. The list goes on and on.
Typically, they (the alcoholics) become more and more selfish and more and more isolated over time. Their actions and decisions seem immature emotionally and while they are ashamed of their condition, they build a wall of protection, or even a bubble as my ex did. And they drink more, and perhaps hide it more.
How does it stop or does it ever?
Nobody can make another person stop drinking. NOBODY. I repeat….nobody. It doesn’t matter if the alcoholic knows that he/she is hurting the family. It’s not that they want to, but they can rationalize it away. Ultimatums do not work….at least not long term. Some may cave temporarily, but it never works in the end.
The successful and sober alcoholic is one that made the decision for himself/herself that it was time. Many have said that it takes hitting an absolute rock bottom place to make that decision. In my ex-husband’s case, he wasn’t ready. It was/is a parasite within him that has not been ready to leave. While he tried rehab, he didn’t follow instructions from the moment he departed the building.
In my former employee’s case, she was caught with a lot of empty alcohol bottles in her office at work, and she seemed relieved to no longer have to keep up the façade. She entered detox/rehab right away. She fell off once and is clean again for six months. An incident forced the change, and only she knows if she is truly ready to be done.
My friend’s body started failing her. It was scary. She was fine mentally, but her body started losing functionality. She made the decision to live, to fix her body by giving up drinking. She is now three years sober.
Sadly, many alcoholics drink their entire lives. They often die younger than others with heart attacks or sudden deaths, or even the obvious one…cirrhosis.
They walk among us. While the word alcoholic carries a stereotype look (or even smell), it is not the case with many. They are our friends, neighbors, doctors, teachers, and even clergy. There are no socioeconomic boundaries. The parasite can live in anyone who tried alcohol as a coping mechanism and then continued to use it until it overtook their power to quit.