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
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
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
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
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
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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