Tag Archive | shame

The truth about women and addiction.

In the early 1980’s I was working as a nurse, fresh out of college, and found myself caring for a couple of patients whose illnesses totally baffled the doctors. One day while I was caring for one of these very sick gentlemen, and doctor informed me that they thought they might “have that AIDS that everyone is talking about all over the news.” We were all terrified. I look at the years that followed the appearance of AIDS, then HIV/AIDS—first the fear and condemnation, then the research and education, and 30 years later, as a society, we view HIV/AIDS with compassion, and through totally different eyes.

And yet, in the same 30 years, while we know much more about drug and alcohol addiction, there is still an incredible stigma attached, especially for women who suffer from addictions. We still cast stones and make harsh judgments rather than working to increase public knowledge, as well as increasing funding for treatment. Instead, funding is drying up, and beds in rehabs and treatment centers are disappearing for women in need of help for drug and alcohol addiction, but who cannot afford to pay for it themselves. When it comes to drug and alcohol addiction and how we view women addicts, we are still living in the Dark Ages. After all, women are supposed to be good wives and mothers, not addicts and alcoholics.

When we take a closer look at drug and alcohol abuse, we can see that women differ from men in many areas. To begin, it is estimated that 20 million girls and women in the United States abuse drugs and alcohol. Women get drunk or high faster than men, and it takes less of whatever substance is being used for a woman to get drunk or high. Also, because a woman’s body contains less water and more fat than a man’s, combined with the hormonal and psychological differences that exist between men and women, women are twice as likely than men to become addicted to drugs and alcohol and in a much shorter period of time.

Women also get sicker faster, developing things such as cirrhosis much sooner. This is a triple whammy for women who drink or use drugs. It is also estimated that 90% of women who need treatment for drugs and alcohol do not get it. In many cases, this is probably because they are afraid of how they will look if they admit they have a drug or alcohol problem. Women still want to be viewed as ladies, and a drunk or an addict is not a lady.

Women drink and use drugs for different reasons than men, too. Women drink to self medicate from depression, or psychological pain. In America, one in every four women has been a victim of sexual abuse of some sort, and most of the abuse occurs before the woman reaches the age of 30. Women who have survived sexual abuse are six time more likely to suffer from PTSD, thirteen times more likely to abuse alcohol, and 26 times more likely to abuse drugs. I was sexually abused at the age of 5, and again in my early teen years, and raped at age 18.

Women use substances to relieve stress, feel better about themselves, and even as a means to lose weight. Women do not drink or drug for the fun of it, and speaking very personally, once a woman is addicted to alcohol or drugs, there is absolutely no fun in the use of the drug of choice. Mine was alcohol, and it was hell, and it became a vicious cycle of guilt and shame. We drink or drug because we feel bad about ourselves, and as our addiction begins to ruins our families and our lives, we use more because of the shame of being a bad mother, or a drunken wife, or just not being a lady, in control and functioning.

Alcohol and drug addiction are fatal, progressive diseases, like diabetes, or heart disease, except there are no magic medications to take to control the progression of the disease. Annually, 80,000 people die from alcohol addiction, and another 60,000 die from drugs. It is not lack of will, or caring more about a high or a drink than family, friends, and work, that keeps women using. It is lack of treatment and support.

And while, getting clean and sober is great when it happens, staying clean and sober is not easy, and just being off of drugs and alcohol is not enough. Unless the woman addict gets to the core issue of why she drinks or drugs—gets to the bottom of that essential pain, and works to vanquish it, long-term sobriety becomes even harder. And all of this has to happen while we are raising children and having careers, and in the face of a society that views women alcoholics and addicts with little more than disdain and disgust.

I am one of the lucky ones. I have been sober for 5 years, but not without three rehab experiences, a 6 month stay in a half way house, several incarceration experiences, more relapses than can be counted, a great deal of therapy to get to essence of my pain, and the continued hard work to complete the healing process. By all rights, I should be dead many times over. I have a family that loves me deeply and friends who have stood by me and cheered me on. I almost lost all it all. I am so blessed that I did not.

At the same time, I very deeply know what the stigma of the female alcoholic or addict looks like because I have seen it first hand, and it is ugly and mean. I also know what it is like to live with the seemingly impossible-to-bear guilt and shame that goes along with being a woman alcoholic and a wife and a mother. It is the type of pain that at times feels bottomless and beyond healing. Just when you’ve peeled away a layer, and healed it, another layer of shame is just beneath, bursting forth with more pain, either to be faced and healed, or to run from.

I choose the pain and healing. But, my sobriety tomorrow is no more guaranteed for me than it is more any other alcoholic or addict. I have a disease that I will have to treat the rest of my life, and it is a disease that does not care if you are rich or poor, well-educated or not, a talented and beautiful celebrity, or an average wife and soccer mom. I treat my disease every day with what works for me, which faith and devotion to God, prayer, attentiveness to my needs and temperament, and a lot of self-care.

It’s time to come out of the Dark Ages and work towards a real understanding of drug and alcohol addiction, especially in women, and it’s time we got rid of the shame and stigma, and replaced with help and compassion. We managed to do just that with HIV/AIDS. For the life of me, I cannot figure out why we cannot do the same for women suffering and dying from drug and alcohol addiction. Perhaps it is time that we who are women alcoholic and addicts came out of the shadows and spoke our truths out loud for all to hear.

Maybe it is time to stop being anonymous, and to be visible instead—to fight for acceptance, understanding, and increased public knowledge. Maybe then the stigma will vanish. Maybe then we can do something to stop beautiful women addicts and alcoholics from hiding in shame rather than getting help. Maybe then we can stop women suffering from addiction from dying tragic deaths each and every day.

 

Mother’s Day Reflections—A Quickie ;-)

“It seems odd to celebrate one’s mom is just one day. Someone so important should be celebrated every day.”  Anonymous, because he’d prefer it that way.

I have seven gorgeous children who are the light of my life.  Six are adults, and one is just 7 years old.  They are truly amazing, though I admit to a bit of bias.  To say that they are accomplished is an understatement, and that includes the 7 year old.  While their accomplishments are good for bragging rights, they are their accomplishments, not mine, and their accomplishments are not what makes them so special.   As I have always said, I wouldn’t care what they did as long as they are happy doing it.

What makes them so amazing is their personalities, and their character.  They are kind and generous.  They are loving and they are funny as can be.  They can laugh at themselves, and no one can get me laughing faster, or harder, than my children, with my sisters coming in at a close second.  They help me laugh at myself, and we have those family stories that are hilarious to us every time.   We have a secret language of movie quotes that we all understand, and can use to convey a variety of thoughts and emotions.  “Keep the change you filthy animal,” means “I love you,” or “You owe me nothing, it’s a gift.”  We’re all a little nutty, in a good way, of course.  We we are all together, the room vibrates with love, hot conversation, and tons and tons of laughter.  Individually, we are all quiet people, and true introverts, but together we are a gaggle of kindred spirits knowing we are fully home.

However, their greatest gifts lie in their ability to forgive, and to move forward, and to recalculate life, and the people in it, as needed.  This is what means the most to me, because I have required forgiveness more than most mothers.  I have required forgiveness again, and again, and again, and each time it’s been freely given.  They’ve forgiven the years of drinking, and my inability to be there for them properly.  They have forgiven the times I was physically absent due to rehab stays, or jail stays, or prison.  They have forgiven lavishly, with no lingering resentments, and they have moved forward in their view of me as I have recovered.  In many ways, we have been growing up together and they have been as patient with me as I have been with them.  They love me unconditionally, as I have loved them.

Yet, for many years, because of all of the guilt and shame I dragged around because of my perceived poor performance as a mother, I lagged behind them both in my forgiveness of myself, and my ability to recalculate who I am today, as opposed to who I was 10 years ago.   I have been forced to stop and look at myself through their eyes, and actually feel their words, not just hear them.  They did not become who they are today in some miraculous vacuum.  They remind me of this often, and of course, their father has played a role, the older kids having seen the worst, and the youngest having been spared most of that.  Because of my children, and God’s grace, which underpins all of this, I have been able to forgive myself, and I am getting up to speed in the recalculating of my view of me.   I thank God every day for these precious people that He trusted me to care for and love, flawed as I am.

My own mother died over 24 years ago, and I miss her terribly.  Although we had bumps in our relationship, by the time she died, we had reached a place of deep friendship.   She was always the first person I wanted to call when anything happened in my life, good or bad.  Now, I am blessed to have three women in my life who are both friends, and mothers to me.  One woman spoils me silly, and is a grandmother to my 7 year old, though there are no blood ties.  Another is chock full of common sense, and tells it like it is.  She loves to cook, too, like I do, so we share recipes and new food finds.  The third woman is the one to whom I can cry my eyes out, and I discover a bit more of myself every time I talk to her.  There is reciprocity in all of these relationships, which is what makes them so special.

But, the best mother that I have now is myself.  In the recalculating I have had to do—the seeing myself as all of these other very special people see me—I have come to realize that I can, and should, give every wonderful gift to myself that I give to others, and that others so richly give to me.  Knowing that God has fully forgiven me, as have all of the people who matter the most to me, I realized that it is more than a little arrogant not to forgive myself, and treat myself with the love and kindness that I deserve.  What a tremendous gift that has been, and it’s one that will remain.  I am blessed beyond words, and I wish you all the happiest of Mother’s Day’s.  Mothers come in may forms–our own mothers, our children, our friends, our sisters, ourselves.  Even if you have no children, you can celebrate and honor the mother within you today.

That quote up top came from my 20 year old son…  I am sure I’ll stop crying anytime now 😉  Happy Mother’s Day!

Resilience and Life’s Hard Knocks—What Keeps Us Growing

“Resilience is that ineffable quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and come back stronger than ever. Rather than letting failure overcome them and drain their resolve, they find a way to rise from the ashes. Psychologists have identified some of the factors that make someone resilient, among them a positive attitude, optimism, the ability to regulate emotions, and the ability to see failure as a form of helpful feedback. Even after a misfortune, blessed with such an outlook, resilient people are able to change course and soldier on.”   ~Psychology Today~

 

Today, resilience has been on my mind.  Why do some people seem to thrive and grow and keep moving forward despite unfortunate life circumstance?  The answer is that they possess a quality called resilience, that springy, bounciness that has them back up on their feet quickly after a fall, dusting themselves, and moving forward stronger than before.  Resilient people are the Timex watches of the world; They take a licking and keep on ticking.  Resilient people are beautiful, and I know a lot of them.  I am a resilient person, too.  They do not turn to anger, and bitterness, and blame of the world, and everyone in it, when life is less than ideal, either by uncontrollable circumstances, or because of their own mistakes and poor choices.  Resilient people do not just take lemons and turn them into lemonade.  No, instead they make a lemon mousse with a blueberry coulis 😉

What constitutes resilience?  In a nutshell, it is the ability to cope with unfortunate life events without getting dragged down to too long.  Resilience comes more easily for some people, both emotional and physical resilience.  Some people are just born more naturally optimistic, positive, and flexible.  Some people learn resilience along the way, as life provides more experiences from which to recover.  Age plays a factor in resilience, as does experience at surviving and thriving.  When we’ve been through a lot, and we’ve kept going, and remained hopeful, and optimistic, and see that behavior works better than blaming or negativity, we develop more traits associated with resilience.

Yes, resilient people have certain traits.  First off, they are aware of their own emotions, and what causes them, and they learn to manage them.  This may take more time for some, especially the managing part.  I was always aware of my emotions, and generally aware of where they were coming from, but learning to manage them took, and still takes, time.  I am a sensitive, and fairly reactive, very expressive person.  However, I am also easy going.  As my sister says, “For a high strung person, you’re incredibly easy going.”  It’s true.  I don’t sweat the small stuff, and the older I get, the more I realize most of it is small stuff.  “It’s not the end of the world,” is a phrase I say out loud many times a day.  Trust me.  It’s really not.

Resilient people persevere.  They do not give up often, or easily.  I often liken myself to one of those blow up clowns with sand in the bottom.  You punch them and punch them but they just pop right back up.  My ability to pop back up time and again is because I never lose hope.  I often say that I am a “Hope springs eternal” kind of gal, and that’s true, too.  Resilient people, no matter how low they go, always have hope that tomorrow is going to be better, so they keep pushing forward towards that tomorrow.

Resilient people are internally focused.  What that means is that, instead of looking out at the world, blaming and shaming finger pointed at anything and everyone who crosses their path, they know inside that they are in control of their lives, their choices, their outcomes.  This isn’t done with perfection, or 100% of the time, and for many their are occasional missteps where the locus moves to the external, at what’s happening to them.  However, the resilient person won’t stay in the external for long.  They will go back inside themselves, examine their role in what’s going on, and begin problem solving.  They will find a solution, often through a change in their own attitude, or behavior.  That is why resilient people grow from mistakes, and poor choices and behaviors, and from life itself.

A resilient person will always find a bright side to any circumstance.  We are positive, optimistic people.  At the same time, perhaps because of this life view, resilient people have good support systems of friends, family, and others who are like minded, and who help shore them up during those experiences in life that we label “bad.”

Resilience is essential to recovery, whether it be from alcoholism and addiction, loss, trauma and abuse.  It’s my belief that everyone is in recovery from something, whether it be a job loss, a bad work evaluation, a divorce, or a stubbed toe, and bad traffic on the way to work.  Resilience allows us accept even undesirable outcomes, forgive, move on, and finally let go, usually coming out better and strong for the experience.  Resilient people are bright, shiny, and sparkling.  The don’t hold grudges, and they do not look back for too long.  They are not trapped by their past, a slave to their present, and they don’t worry a lot about the future.

I don’t know if I emerged from the womb a resilient person.  I think I probably had the traits on the delivery table.  Life’s hard knocks began early, and I learned some pretty crummy coping mechanisms along the way, though they are probably what kept me alive.  I’ve done anger, and blame at points in my life and I HATED how that felt.  I never could hold a grudge 😉 I have always had hope.  I have always known it was going to get better.  I have always kept going even when others thought it impossible, that I’d never make it through alive this time.  I have learned how to be more resilient with each tough experience, and with each tough experience I have become more myself.

Today, I am celebrating resilience, and resilient people.  Without God and resilience, I would not be here today.  If you are a resilient person, celebrate that today, even if you’re in the middle of yet another storm.  If you’re not the most resilient person in the world, you CAN learn resilience!  It will take work, but it will be worth every moment of it!