Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Romance of Alcohol: One Woman's Fight to Save Her Life

I had dinner with an old friend recently and was moved by her struggles, her pain and her hope. While I have known many who drink socially, she is the first to describe the pull of the addiction, the havoc, the affair of her heart in such detail. I know she is not alone.

Like far too many others in Genesee County and across this country, her romance with alcohol began as a casual flirt, a sly wink from an attractive Stranger who promised her a bit of pleasure in a world that had become so full of pain. As a committed, Born Again Christian, she knew well the verses admonishing the soul to avoid drunkeness in favor of His Spirit. The details of her life simply became too overwhelming to maintain that focus, too unpredictable, too frightening to trust the omnipresence of One too distant to help with her growing pain. In those moments of desperation, a new Suitor promised her more.

Not that her life had ever been easy. It became even more difficult nearly 20 years ago when her six-year-old daughter slipped and told her of her last visit with her Grandfather, a troubled man who had been sexually abused himself as a young child. The resulting confrontation with her Father went nowhere and all ties were severed between the two who, truth be told, never had much familial warmth between them anyway.

Now more alone than ever, my friend Meg – not her real name - redoubled her efforts to make her already troubled marriage work, to nurture her impressionable daughter who had experienced the unthinkable, and try to salvage some kind of normalcy in the nightmare of her unraveling life.

In the long shadows of those days, Meg first glimpsed that lingering Stranger, beckoning her in the darkness. She and her husband, once called by God to preach the Gospel, soon caught the Suitor’s wink and invited him into their lives. When the kids were safely tucked into bed, they would unlock the doors to their pain and draw the Suitor even closer. They found immediate relief and comfort in his embrace.

The comfort of the casual embrace soon left them, however. More time was needed to meet the demand of the continued dalliances. With little money between them, the couple searched for other numbing alternatives, hoping for peace, for instant relief, for hope that would sustain them through the storm of layered betrayals and uncertainties in a world that had always promised them so much more.

Her husband eventually turned to other women. Meg found notes in his pockets, and billfolds, and in the words he refused to speak in the growing silence between them. Her now adolescent daughter retreated into the unknown, behind fastened doors of her room, with her music and her art, which sometimes frightened Meg as she searched her latest piece for hidden meaning.

When it was painfully clear her husband could no longer find comfort in her arms, she severed that abuse as well, setting them both adrift in the pounding waves of pain of life’s unrelenting disappointments. She was then so very alone with her daughter and son, one she feared would never recover from a tragedy that played out again and again when she simply closed her eyes, or opened her heart to trust another soul who promised never to betray her. Her youngest simply struggled to understand the sense of grief that enveloped the lives of truly everyone he loved.

Meg turned again to another Stranger to help ease the pain, the only relief she could find, this time in the form of a doctor-prescribed pill, with clear warnings Meg soon ignored in her passion for peace in her turbulent world. It wasn't long before she found herself driven by thoughts of her new Suitor and her hunger for more as she rose to greet her day and the yet unknowns that could hurt her. She could no longer bear the day without the peace and calm and quiet of her newfound Love.

Her growing dependency frightened her, and she once again turned to church as a sanctuary for her troubled soul. She begged God to draw near, to restore what the devastating months and years had ripped from her life, to provide peace, to once again provide everlasting hope. As though God answered the very cries of her heart, she met a gentle Soul who took her into his quiet life and loved her completely. The raging fears died down, drunk with love, and they married, blending lives of sons and daughters of vastly different backgrounds of devastation and plenty. Perhaps they would, they could, finally lead meaningful lives of laughter and love.

Instead, Meg’s daughter took on more extreme expressions of her trouble and pain. She announced her affections for other women, perhaps, or not, Meg’s ultimate fear from the childhood trauma. There was no escaping that it had changed all of their lives forever.

The lure of her former Suitors reappeared to Meg that day, in the midst of the all-consuming pain. They winked and smiled and tried to lure her away. And Meg accepted the offer to dance once again with alcohol. She greedily drank of its pleasure as she twirled, and turned and embraced the strength and delight of her long-lost love.

Their romance continued, at first only on occasion, when her new husband worked late, or she needed help expressing the drunk love she soon found tightly bottled up inside. The Suitor proved a reliable aide for facing life, for laughter, for making life seem so much more bearable under the weight of uncertainty. Meg had learned to trust his influence on her moods, took confidence in his deepening provision for the everydayness of her mornings, noons, and nights.

Her younger son had noticed her growing attachment to that which now stood between them. In that moment of the discovery, Meg quickly turned away, hiding her forbidden romance from his cold glare. She recognized the fear in his eyes as her own as she pleaded her case to the only judge who could ultimately condemn her to an otherwise meaningless life of pain.

“You, too, my son, would do the same if you had a Father who sexually abused your daughter, if you had a daughter who was gay, if you had a husband who cheated on you, if you married another man who refused to accept your children as his own.”

The words streamed out with her tears and her sobs as the truth of her soul poured from a defeated heart now finally, wholly broken.

“Then we should just go ahead and do it together, because I have a Grandfather who sexually abused my sister,” he mirrored with undaunted intensity. “I have a sister who is gay. I have a father who cheated on my mother. I live with a man who refuses to accept me as his own. Why not just do it together if this is truly the answer you believe it to be?”

At that moment of sobriety, Meg found her peace. Her romance with the Suitor ended as she suddenly found herself in the hope-hungry eyes of her teenage son. From her ultimate defeat she found ultimate hope. In coming to the end of herself, she found the beginning, for her, for her life, for them.

And the Suitor went in search of his next romance.

National Symposium on Women's Health
Patterns and Trends of Alcohol and other Drug Abuse Among Women
* About 4.6 million American women are alcoholics. One in every three alcoholics is a woman, according to The New York Times.
* Women aged 26 to 34 have the highest usage rates compared to other women who use alcohol.
* Never married, divorced and separated women generally have the highest rates of heavy drinking and drug related problems; widowed women, the lowest rates; and married women, intermediate rates.
* Almost half of all women aged 15 to 44 have used drugs at least once in their life. Of these women, nearly 2 million have used cocaine and more than 6 million have used marijuana within the past year, says the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
* Compared with men, women with drinking or drug problems are also at increased risk for depression, low self-esteem, marital discord or divorce, history of sexual abuse and drinking in response to life crises.
* The National Institute on Drug Abuse claims more than 4 million women need treatment for alcohol and drug problems.
* Among drug-using women, 70 percent report having been abused sexually before the age 16 and more than 80 percent had at least one parent addicted to alcohol or drugs.

Women and Alcohol
Alcohol Use
* 77.6% of women age 12 and older reported ever using alcohol, while 60% reported past year use and 45.1% reported using alcohol in the past month. (1)
* 82.5% of white women reported ever using alcohol, while 65% reported past year use and 49.7% reported using alcohol in the past month. (1)
* 67.9% of black women reported ever using alcohol, while 45.1% reported past year use and 32.3% reported using alcohol in the past month. (1)
* 60.8% of Hispanic women reported ever using alcohol, while 48.4% reported past year use and 33.6% reported using alcohol in the past month. (1)
* Among current female drinkers, 7.16% of whites, 10.22% of blacks, 22.16% of American Indians/Alaska Native, and 9.03% of Hispanics reported alcohol dependence. (2)
* Men and women reported different levels of alcohol involvement. 58.7% of men age 12 and older reported past month alcohol use compared to 45.1% of women, while 23.2% of men age 12 and older reported binge drinking in the past month compared to 8.6% of women.3

Moderate Drinking (4)
* Moderation is defined as no more than one drink per day for women.
* One drink is 12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of wine, and 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits.

1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (1999). National Household Survey on Drug Abuse: Population Estimates 1998. DHHS Publication No. (SMA) 99-3327. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
2. National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (1998). Drinking in the United States: Main findings from the 1992 National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiologic Survey. NIH Publication No. 99-35198. Bethesda, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
3. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (1999). Summary of Findings from the 1998 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse. DHHS Publication No. (SMA) 99-3328. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
4. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2000. United States Department(s) of Agriculture and Health and Human Services.


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