The stigma is so excruciating, people would rather die in this country than be labeled an alcoholic.
The stigma, not just the addiction, is killing people.
When I started having a gut feeling that I was drinking too much and couldn’t stop, I felt like I couldn’t speak up. I was petrified to tell my husband, my closest friends, my own mom. People whom I would tell anything else to, people who I knew would listen to me, people who loved me unconditionally.
I was scared to death of feeling humiliated. The fear paralyzed me.
I was so ashamed of my “lack of willpower.” I became so disgusted with my “behavior” that I started to isolate instead. I became a prisoner to my own mind. I kept my problem a secret, and my secret kept me sick. Shame festers in the darkness of secrecy.
The guilt, the shame, the mental demolition I put myself through made me want to drink more. It made me want to numb the pain of feeling like such a failure. Why can’t I handle this? Why can’t I just get a grip on this? What is wrong with me?
The stigma of being alcoholic had the driver’s seat to my addiction. Yes, I was starting to become dependent on alcohol, but the fear and shame kept me from speaking up. It kept my problem hidden. Hidden from the air and support it needed to get better. So instead, it got worse.
It is a huge part of the toxic cycle. Our culture encourages us to drink alcohol (an addictive drug) at every turn and at the very same time will condemn us if we “can’t hack it” and get addicted. With zero love and support, it will turn on us and label us as weak and inferior. If we happen to get addicted, we are demonized.
Society has made alcoholism black and white. There are normal people and alcoholics. Good and bad.
That’s just not how it works, though. There is so much grey area in between, so much opportunity for early detection and treatment. If we felt safe enough to speak up when we first start questioning our relationship with alcohol, I think of how many people could be saved from its heinous grip.
But we don’t. We keep it a secret for fear of what other people will think, how others will judge us, how others will treat us. It reminds me a lot of how years ago, being gay in this country was something to be masked or hidden, something to be ashamed of. Our brothers and sisters were killing themselves rather than coming out of the closet for fear of humiliation and retaliation.
Until we address the shame and stigma in this country around alcoholism, it will never get better.
Alcoholics don’t get addicted to alcohol. Human beings get addicted to alcohol. Anyone can get addicted to alcohol. Alcohol is an addictive drug, and alcoholism does not discriminate.