The Stigma Part II: Looking Out From Inside the Fish Bowl

To be troubled or sober is socially unacceptable in our society. Those that struggle with either of these will go to great lengths to disguise it. It’s the nature of the diseases. To be further isolated adds to the torture. It doesn’t end there. It’s a family disease. No longer do your children receive invitations, and you certainly don’t invite anyone over because life at home is too unpredictable, yet you can always count on embarrassment. What’s worse is we quickly discovered sobriety didn’t offer the return of normalcy. You make others uncomfortable by choosing sobriety in social settings. They feel guilty for having a drink, and let’s face it, no one wants to feel poorly about themselves on a Saturday night. I’ve never put too much effort into what other’s thought of me. I don’t, however, want preconceived notions of my family.

If there was one hesitation I had in dating him it was that he was the child of an alcoholic.  But who, at nineteen years old, determines who they date based on their upbringing?  Nineteen year olds, in general, are anarchists.  They believe they will and can rise above their family genes, how they were raised, pitfalls, whatever. We were at opposite ends of the spectrum.  He grew up with the harsh reality of what alcohol does to a person and family.  My home life could be compared to Leave It To Beaver.  Neither of us had any gauge on what is normal and society further blurs that line.  We met in our first year of college at a party school.  In looking back, I can recall times as early as our sophomore year when I first felt like I was reeling him back in.  He’d charge right up to the threshold of “you’re taking the party scene too far” with the weekend binge drinking and then he’d back off to rejoin Debbie Downer.  If he could have willed himself to be different from his genes he would have.  If intelligence and determination meant you wouldn’t fall into the trap he would’ve been in the clear.  He was smart and he was driven, but ultimately he wasn’t above the disease or the co-morbid diseases that followed.

My first awareness of becoming glass-housed was when I began protecting the public image of my husband and children as he fell into alcoholism.  Our family enjoyed a comfortable life as a result of Corey’s determination to be more than his dad was.  He climbed the ladder of success quickly with a career in finance.  He was smart and competent and loyal to his company.  So loyal, in fact, that he refused to see the writing on the wall.  When the recession hit his company ceased all US operations.  The type of lending his career was built on no longer existed.  Thousands upon thousands were left jobless with no career options in their industry.  I had been asking him for months, and always the reply was “It’s fine. We’re good”.  I found out through an email from a friend whose husband had read an article on HSBC in the news. Three months later he packed up his files, awards, family photos and cleared his desk.  Equipped with a 17 month severance package and cobra insurance he was cut free.  He came home to the house and life that HSBC built and immediately got to work setting that house on fire.

In the months following, I went to work in furniture sales, barely making minimum wage.  I was lucky to have a job.  I hadn’t worked in years.  My degree had, for all practical purposes, expired and my portfolio didn’t show the breadth and depth despite my keeping up with current software.  Never would I have believed that as a college graduate making the choice to stay home and raise my children would mean that I would one day not be able to put food on the table for them.  Meanwhile at home, Corey was falling deeper and deeper.  I was fielding calls from my kids that he hadn’t come out of the bedroom and they wanted lunch.  It took awhile, longer than I ever would have expected for someone who had trained herself to be looking for addiction, before my lightbulb moment.  There was erratic behavior, stories my kids would tell me (which I would then take to him, and I always believed him over them), unpaid bills, hidden funds, hidden debt, hidden beer cans – hundreds of them, the personality change.  He became bigger than life.  I remember telling him once that there was no room for anyone to compliment him.  He took care of that himself.   The thing is, you know who the person is before the disease and you so desperately want to believe in that person, so much so in fact, that you believe all the lies the disease hurls at you.

It is incredibly scary to feel you have no option but to leave your children in unsafe conditions.  It’s nearly unbearable to admit in the recesses of your mind that their father, your partner, is the cause of those conditions.  You can’t really hire a sitter when the parent is at home.  You won’t leave him because the thought of handing your children over for a weekend at a time makes your stomach turn.   You spend your day trying to focus on earning a paycheck while consumed with worry about what they are witnessing and if they are safe.  Further compounding hell on earth is reaching out for help. Woah there! People visibly stiffen. No one wants to get involved, and those that entertain the idea, even briefly,  approach it with the thought that she must be exaggerating.  John Mellencamp says it best in the lyrics from his song, “Case 795 (The Family)”.

Everything’s all right with the family.

Everything is safe here at home.

Everything’s all right with the family.

The beds are made but there’s no sheets on.

By the time he quit cold turkey, the damage was done. The cat was out of the bag. His family was ostracized, and there is no redemption from addiction in this society. People may praise your sobriety efforts, most are likely to ignore the elephant in the room, but very few will take you for your word and help.  We don’t want to overstep our boundaries, but boy we want the 411.

4 Comments

  1. Yes. Precisely. I’ve lived this portion of the experience as a child and as a husband; now as a parent with a child who cannot seem to break the chains. I cannot decide if you very precisely, and concisely, provide the clear picture of life stigmatized by the condition, or if I have become so aware that I fill in the blanks without further description. I understand every emotion that comes with each situation: as a child, a spouse, and a parent. I don’t know what else to say to this. Feelings of hopelessness lay shallow in my memory. I’m not sure the feeling has ever left. Perhaps I have become blinded to the constant existence of it: numbed, so to speak.
    Very nicely written work, Laura! Very precise!

    Like

  2. As the step daughter of an alcoholic, much of what you wrote gave me chills of reality. Your words are so beautiful, I really pray that your writing can bring some peace to your heart.

    Liked by 1 person

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