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I'm Maureen and...
I'm an Alcoholic

Introducing myself in this manner has become second nature to me, and every time I say these words it is a reaffirmation of the disease I have.

I was 48 years old before I realized that I came from a dysfunctional, alcoholic family. Since everyone I grew up with and associated with lived in an identical environment, there was no reason to question the craziness that surrounded me. Every other kid on the block told stories that were duplicates of mine. Alcoholism was an inherent part of all of our lives.

The odds were stacked against me and my association with alcohol having two sets of grandparents, an aunt, uncle and father who drank for all the wrong reasons. They were all trying to do battle with their own personal demons and alcohol was their weapon of choice. I marched into combat right behind them armed with my bottle of bourbon.

In the east European village tradition, family clustered together and I grew up in my grandparent's house surrounded by a bunch of insecure, unhappy human beings. There was an abundance of hitting, blaming, guilt and shame, but very little joy and harmony. Strife and discord replaced peace and order. We were always spinning out of control. Each day's agenda included yelling and hitting accompanied by copious amounts of alcohol.

My grandmother was the family bully, having in turn been browbeaten by her mother. Both women married weak, ineffectual men and control and domination was their survival mechanism. Whatever my grandparents accomplished was achieved by Gram's fierce, driving force and she devoured people in her pursuits. Having come from an impoverished existence in Czechoslovakia and experiencing the Depression, monetary gain and food were the primary objectives of her existence. She was a cold controlling woman. Similar to the singular function of the male spider in the black widow's life, my grandfather existed for the sole purpose of providing a weekly paycheck. After he surrendered his wages to my grandmother, he was dismissed. He was not a helpmate, companion, lover - he was a money machine.

Back 50 years ago people were paid in cash and before my grandfather presented his wages to gram, he extracted what he felt was his due and a little extra which he hoarded for treats. The first stop after work on Friday afternoon was the corner tavern. He and my uncle and every other man in the neighborhood would descend on Buckeye's, bend an elbow and fortify themselves before entering their respective war zones. Some of my earliest memories are of them weaving down the street grinning and laughing. When Gramp picked me up and held me in his powerful arms, he would smell of Camels and bourbon. To this day when I think of him I can immediately conjure up his essence. The smiles and grins abruptly ceased at the back door. We were not in enemy territory.

For eleven years my parents and I lived on the ground floor of my grandparents three-story house with Gram, Gramp and an uncle in the middle. Up next to the sun,. there was another aunt and uncle with Gram pulling everyone's strings, except my father. He was our dictator, two mini-Hitlers in one house. What more could a child ask for?

Grandpa would hide in the basement out of harms way sitting in front of the furnace, smoking and sipping from his forbidden bottle. Being the only child in the house and a girl at that, Gramp taught me to cut, saw, screw and hammer and my reward for a job well done was liberal sips of his equalizer. The smell and taste were vile and repulsed me and I would choke and sputter as I swallowed the burning liquid, but I loved the sensation of heat in the pit of my stomach. My time with him always included alcohol.

Auntie and I would sit in the dark parlor and watch Fred and Ginger movies accompanied by her ever-present can of beer. She would wander the house all day constantly exchanging her warm, empty can for a full, cold one. When her buzz had reached a satisfactory level we would put Glenn Miller and the Dorsey Brothers records on the big RCA and jitterbug. As the euphoria wore off she would become Mr. Hyde. Later in life I was taught that this lady who everyone referred to as "crazy Auntie" was not deranged, but simply drunk.

Along with the chaos, I grew up with an inordinate measure of guilt and shame. Being an only child for eleven years I was the prime focus of six dysfunctional adults. When I performed well I was a darling, but when I displeased I was made to feel inept and inadequate. How could these insecure people instill in me a sense of self-worth when it alluded them.

I moved into my teens always operating one click left of center because of my insecurity. I desperately wanted to fit and be one of the "in" crowd, but is never happened. I was always on the fringes. I utterly lacked the requisite social skill, but I found my surrogate courage in alcohol. Sober I was silent and withdrawn, but fortified with bourbon I became witty and charming. I was no longer tongue-tied. I was captivating and simply delightful.

Alcohol became an integral part of my teens and under the influence my transformation was miraculous. Miss Wit and Charm even snagged the class stud muffin and after consuming a bottle of Thunderbird, I lost my virginity in the back seat of a '54 Ford.

From an insecure teenager I developed into a young wife and mother total lacking in self-confidence. My choice of a mate was a domineering, passive-aggressive, control freak similar to my father. Since I was never my own person, this selection of a life partner seemed inevitable. From day one, I presented him my self-esteem and surrendered my power.

I spent the next 20 years striving to be Super Mom and Wonderful Wife, always placing my wants and needs behind those of my family. In the process I lost me. My life was a cycle of upset, pain and eventually alcoholic sedation. Little by little I was disappearing down the rabbit hole.

In the 60's PMS did not exist. Doctors dismissed a woman's mood swings and the hundred other very real symptoms that accompanied her monthly period as illusional, or told to "live with it", depending on your doctor. When I was feeling edgy and irritable and making my family's life miserable, my physician suggested that I consume enough wine to elevate me to an alter state. Then I figured out that if Annie Greensprings worked on PMS, it would probably alleviate my emotional pain. And if two glasses were good, then a bottle was better. For twenty minutes my hurt and pain would vanish, only to return two-fold.

As my life and marriage disintegrated, my drinking accelerated and I began to hide my booze, strategically placing caches in various locations in the house so that I was never too far from my liquid strength. I became verbally and physically abusive and slowly I was alienating my husband and son.

My drinking included a friend of twenty years, I was the chief and she was the Indian. She was my principal enabler. She would go along with anything I suggested. If I told her I had planned a forced march into hell, she would agree and bring the beer. She too was in a bad marriage and we commiserated with each other. We were both cognizant of the fact that we did not simply drink too much, we were full-blown alcoholics. Acknowledging this fact and acting on it were two different issues.

I had a job with a Fortune 500 company and traveled to California periodically on business. At that time our son lived in southern California and these trip afforded me the opportunity to visit him. Our relationship was tenuous and our time together usually ended in an argument and me huffing off. On my last trip to California the inevitable happened. We banged heads and I stormed off to the airport. On the way I stopped at a liquor store. I sat in the airport and proceeded to drown my sorrows.

When it came time to board I couldn't locate my pass and presented the attendant with an empty folder. I was stopped and asked to search my purse for the missing ticket. Immediately I became defensive and belligerent and wound up pushing one of the airline personnel. At the top of his lungs he yelled for security and I was petrified. I thought I was going to swallow my tongue or have a stroke, preferably both.

I had really done it, but being able to effectively lie on my feet, I burst into tears and started into my song and dance about burying my parents that morning after they had been killed in an auto accident earlier in the week, and I just wanted to go home. They turned very solicitous and helped me find my ticket on the bottom of my purse, escorted me aboard and changed my seating to first class. I had a wonderful flight home. I was pampered and plied with all the liquor I wanted. How accommodating of them.

I am what is referred to as a high functioning alcoholic. Such a distinction! I held down a responsible job never had a DUI or an accident and my drinking never caused me money problem. To rationalize my drinking I blamed my problems on my husband. I never denied that I was drinking too much, but I intellectualized it by convincing myself that my husband was a bastard and the only way I could cope with his behavior and my pain was to drink. Instead of trying to find another path, I chose to anesthetize myself.

A month in a treatment center was a futile attempt at sobriety and I vigorously resisted AA. I had not reached my bottom and until I made up my mind that I needed to be sober for me and to reclaim my power, I was going to continue to slowly kill myself.

My decision to seek help and make a concentrated effort at sobriety did not come to me in a burning bush revelation. It was a gradual, agonizing processing of feelings over a period of time. After many relapses and coming dangerously close to losing my family, I finally came to the realization that at age 54 I was truly a good, worthy person, no matter what I had let people tell me and allowed myself to believe. I had permitted people to manipulate, degrade and diminish me. For the first time in my life I knew I had to take care of me first instead of mothering everyone and fixing the world.

Gradually, I started to pull myself out of the rabbit hole. Keeping company with my friend and her crowd was coming to an end. With help, I found a way to become assertive and express my wants and needs. My feelings of guilt and shame began to vanish and were replaced by confidence and self-worth.

I still have days where I struggle and the thought of having a drink to calm myself is very attractive. I have a disease which is progressive and I will live in the shadow of my next drunk, but as long as I don't take that first drink there is hope.

By Maureen Mueller
Copyright © 1996 Maureen Mueller

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