After my last blog a month ago, when I ‘came out’ as an alcoholic, I received a lot of emails – thank you to everyone who wrote to me.
One of the emails I had was from a very successful businessman I know. He told people he could drink in moderation as an adult thanks to the way he was brought up to drink in moderation. The reality is he doesn’t drink any more and is basically sober.
Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic is a common phrase. Once you lose control over your drinking, you’re unlikely to ever get it back.
But it doesn’t mean you will always fall back into drinking when times go hard.
Many people’s perception of alcoholics is shaped by the most famous (or infamous) alcoholics, even when they will know alcoholics closer to home.
But we aren’t all like George Best, Paul Gascoigne or Amy Winehouse.
These people publicly struggled to stay sober and repeatedly fell off the wagon (possibly in part due to the public and media attention on them). George and Amy paid the ultimate price. At the time of writing, Paul is still with us.
All alcoholics share the same fundamental problem, but many of us can and do successfully stop and stay stopped. Most of us took a few attempts, but we’re now sober and plan to stay that way.
Of course, we can’t guarantee we’ll always stay sober any more than any drinker can guarantee they’ll never be an alcoholic. But many of us know ourselves well enough to know when we might feel weak and find ways to cope.
Since writing my first blog on my alcoholism, I’ve had so many messages of support from other recovered alcoholics and, fantastically, from people asking for help with their problems.
‘A very brave decision’
Many commented on my ‘bravery’ in being so honest.
Most of these people shared one thing in common. They all hid their alcoholism.
I tweeted lots of people about my blog and asked then to retweet it. Many were kind enough to do so and the potential audience was in the millions. Thank you to everyone who did retweet it.
One of the journalists I tweeted sent me a direct message asking me to delete the tweet as it compromised their anonymity. This person had been sober for decades and goes to AA. They presumed I knew this and that’s why I’d asked them to retweet it. The fact is, I didn’t know.
This journalist is so good at their job, and so respected, they should be able to be open about their alcoholism but they clearly don’t feel they can be.
I began to ask why so many recovered alcoholics felt they had to hide their alcoholism, and compared them with the people who were openly alcoholic.
I firmly believe everyone has the right to anonymity and to make their own decision about what they reveal and to whom. I am not judging those who choose to keep their alcoholism secret.
Why some people choose to keep it a secret
The reasons people keep their alcoholism secret aren’t very surprising, but they are depressing. They show a deep-seated prejudice – or at least a perceived prejudice – against alcoholics.
One reason that is totally understandable – and it kept me from talking openly for years – is parents who don’t want others to think of their child as an alcoholic.
My own mother, who was initially worried about me coming out as an alcoholic, is now very proud of what I’ve done with the blog and the awareness I’ve helped raise.
But the main reason seems to be work related. People are worried it will harm their career if their bosses or colleagues know they previously had a problem. Perhaps they will be overlooked for a promotion, despite good results, in favour of someone ‘safer’.
Some of the alcoholics I know have been, and still are, very high-functioning professionals.
Yet these people, once sober, feel they have to hide the fact they are now better for fear of damaging their career.
Sometimes it’s simply that they fear they will be treated differently by their colleagues – that they would be seen in a less favourable light. No one wants that, especially when that problem is in the past.
And of course when people talk about the risk – it’s their livelihood, their household, their family – all the things they fought so hard to keep or win back when they stopped drinking.
It’s so sad then when they stop drinking they have to continue to live this fear and can’t be open about who and what they are.
Time for a fairer approach
It’s illogical to discriminate against people – especially people with a good track record – because they have previously had a drink problem.
Even more so if that person was a high-functioning alcoholic who had a good track record when they were drinking!
When you’ve seen rock bottom, you’ll do everything you can never to see it again.
Most people I’ve spoken to who are openly alcoholic, aren’t in employment. That’s not to knock them, it’s just what I’ve found. Many suffer associated health problems and work isn’t a realistic option. Most hope to work when their health and the economy allows.
Employers, middle-management, and colleagues should judge on results. If we all did this, we’d soon get to the point where the only people who risk losing their jobs are those who deserve to by their actions rather than prejudices against their past.
Perhaps then more people would have the courage to reveal their alcoholism. And if my experience is anything to go by, each time someone does that, someone else asks for help for their problem and maybe another family and set of lives are saved.
Perhaps not everyone speaking publicly about it could have been as lucky as I was to be so widely read. But if, by speaking up, they only helped one other person then it would be worth it.
Every time one person is helped with a drink problem, many other people are also helped (spouses, children, parents, friends etc).
Wouldn’t that make more sense?