A while ago, I was at a picnic. It didn’t take long before people were joking that adult beverages were needed, and everyone laughed… everyone except me. Now, I’m not a humorless person, I laugh all the time. I just don’t think those jokes are funny.
Every single day, more than once a day, someone around me will mention alcohol. There’s a constant barrage of advertising, internet memes, drink recipes, casual jokes. I’m not a person who needs a trigger warning, but I really wish it all would stop sometimes.
Let’s set the scene. I am an alcoholic. For me, drinking was fun for about five minutes, back in high school. I think I had a normal teenaged love-hate relationship with the drug until I was an adult.
When I was 19, I woke up one day feeling crappy. The crappy feeling just wouldn’t go away. It stuck around all summer, dragging me down. I was suddenly terrible at my job. I was becoming apathetic. I didn’t know it, but I was depressed. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, hadn’t the faintest clue how to fix anything.
My depression worsened, and as that happened, anxiety bubbled up and reared its ugly head. After a few years of feeling lost and alone, I found a lot of friends who were interested in drinking and partying. Things spiraled out of control around me, and I just watched it all go by. I wasn’t having fun, though. I’d have fun in the moment, sure, but the bad feeling was always lurking around the corner. I can see now I was trying to chase it away.
At 21, I left home. This gave me the freedom to drink every night without fear of judgment. So that is exactly what I did. I drank to feel nothing instead of feeling bad. Alcohol became my crutch. Fast forward several years of addiction and misery, and I had a breakdown. Finally, two years later, I found myself in recovery. As my mind and body recovered from the hell I’d put it through, my concurrent disorders slowly became manageable.
Today, I’m open about my recovery. I don’t lead with that when I’m introduced to someone, but I don’t hide it either. Sharing has helped me learn how widespread the problem of addiction is. Every time I tell someone I’ve been to treatment, they tell me about how their dad went to rehab and they never told anyone, or their sister is an addict and they don’t know what to do, or they’ve lost someone as a result of alcoholism… the list goes on. Everyone I speak to seems to have a story about addiction negatively affecting their lives.
So why do we make these drinking jokes? I believe it’s because the topic is uncomfortable, and there’s still a lot of stigma. Personally, I had a fear of telling anyone about my addiction for many years, and that was because I felt like people saw addicts as pleasure-seekers. I wasn’t having fun, though. That was important. I was just trying to function in a world where I didn’t even know how to get out of bed.
If you are one of those people who jokes casually about how they need a drink to get through the day, please consider this. The person you’re talking to may be trying not to drink. They may have an addict in their family. Statistically, they probably do! They know someone, somewhere, somehow, and addiction has touched their life. Maybe a simple joke doesn’t affect them negatively, but maybe it does. Maybe they’ll even laugh – I did it for years. I faked a laugh as I felt more and more alone.
Addiction affects more people than we realize. If we can educate each other and think twice about making jokes, the stigma won’t stand a chance.
Image via Thinkstock.