It’s not easy to watch someone suffer. I suppose we all experience it as some point in our lives and we learn things not only about others, but about ourselves.
I must admit that watching people I knew struggling through their 20s, attempting to numb their pain, didn’t always inspire me to point out the problem if I wasn’t directly affected by the situation. In retrospect, I realize it was because from a distance, what they were doing is what many people did, still do and live to tell the stories.
On any given Friday eve through Saturday (and sometimes even Sunday) night, I had the disturbing experience of watching friends and acquaintances drinking themselves silly and using drugs to enhance an otherwise ordinary evening. Although I was there as part of the action, more often than not I observed from a sober standpoint (because I was what tolerant drinkers consider a “light weight”).
Many of them went about the business of codependency with finesse and under the guise of normalcy. I felt if I had voiced my opinion, they would laugh and disregard my concern as an overreaction to their very common behavior.
Perhaps I would have continued down the same road to ruin if I hadn’t gotten help. The fact that I didn’t need more than four drinks to fall face down on the concrete didn’t mean I wasn’t also developing a serious problem called alcoholism. But my eyes didn’t fully open to it until I had a chat with a professional who asked a list of questions about my habits.
Apparently, drinking several shots per night on several nights a week constituted a problem. I wasn’t exaggerating and didn’t think to downplay my answers. I was telling the truth. Her low-level horror in that moment was the spotlight in the dark. I realized that just about everyone I was hanging around with at that point had a problem with alcohol. When I said I could stop at any time, she didn’t respond and probably didn’t believe me. But it was 100 percent true.
I don’t have an addictive personality, I told her. I had enough self-awareness at the time to know.
From that point forward, I actually stopped drinking to get drunk. Some nights I drank only water or juice, and unless we were on foot at a local bar, I offered to be the designated driver to maintain some control because I never knew who was really drinking even if they’d promised not to. Still, no one else to my knowledge seemed to have any idea whatsoever that they were in trouble.
There were a few who would get arrested for drunken driving or have other negative reactions to their intoxication, but not enough to make them stop. The common attitude that drugs and alcohol were “just a way to relax,” to let go, a prerequisite to most social situations that didn’t involve our families. And it was funny when one of us got so drunk that we fell down or couldn’t drive or fell asleep in a public place or slept the next day until dinnertime.
Although I turned myself around, I didn’t judge anyone else or try to encourage them to do the same. I still believed that’s what our culture not only allows, but encourages. Today, I wonder where many of them are and whether or not they still numb their depression and anxiety, PTSD, negative emotions and other issues with life-altering vices. Many of them are likely divorced, remarried, have a hard time keeping jobs and therefore paying their bills and supporting themselves and their families. For those who were fully addicted, I hope they have chosen to detox.
If I could go back in time, I would be more vocal about my own suffering and hard choices not to continue using drugs as a crutch or alcohol to loosen up at a party. I might suggest they get out of the problem and into the solution, and stop wasting time tripping over their drunken feet until their youth is gone, and instead to get help immediately. Life doesn’t have to be an ongoing crisis. When it is, it’s often because we’ve set it up that way.
We have a limited amount of time. Why bury our power? Compound our anger, resentment, sadness and perpetuate a lack of self-worth? I might also ask them the harder questions:
- What is the truth of your life?
- Are you immersed in your truth?
- Is your truth lingering in the periphery, waiting for you to embrace it?
- Are your dreams and goals distant thoughts?
I’ve often had to ask myself the same and conclude that if I’m not focusing on what I care about most, I’m empowering the victim within rather than the heroine.