Hi, my name is Vivienne and my dead sister was an alcoholic.
If you've fallen off the wagon (again), you don't want to hear about the latest alcohol health and safety statistics or the merits of various treatment programs -- you've probably heard all that before.
I am here to give you FIVE messages of hope and encouragement to help you get back on the road to recovery as soon as possible. Five things I wish my sister had known before alcoholism killed her at 51 years old, two and a half years ago.
First, let me tell you about Coral -- my bright, beautiful, fun-loving sister.
Alcohol seduced Coral in her teens, charming her with the promise of confidence and freedom. It gave her permission to be the person she wanted to be, without guilt or anxiety, and she loved it for that.
By her early 20s, Coral was a divorced, single mum and alcohol had become her best friend, always there to make her feel warm inside. During her 30s, drinking was an all day anaesthetic for life's stresses and disappointments, numbing her on the inside while she functioned on the outside.
By Coral's 40s, the disease was casting a darker shadow, eclipsing the remnants of her own volition -- gradually (and then not so gradually) unhooking her from daily routines, from bills, from phone calls, from alarm clocks, from eating, dressing, washing, from day and night.
Like you, Coral's addiction involved multiple factors. I believe the pivotal one for her -- and the most widely recognised psychological cause -- was low self-esteem. Coral drank to numb the deep-rooted pain and anxiety of not feeling good enough.
How do I know this? Let me count the ways! In short, I was her only sister and I struggled with similar feelings. I did not become an alcoholic but those same lies of worthlessness haunted my youth in other ways. There but for the grace of God (and therapy!) go I.
The problem with feeling bad about yourself is that it tends to be a self-fulfilling prophecy: Coral ran up debt, lost her job, her home, her friends and her health. This fed her inner shame which spawned the final barrier to recovery -- denial. She could not stand any more blame. She became unreachable.
I could tell a hundred stories of Coral's extravagant denials: through her harrowing shades of rock bottom, abusive relationships, squalor and desperation, even through the horrors of a slow and painful death from liver cirrhosis and multi organ failure.
I could tell you how it felt to kiss her swollen, jaundiced face as she lay dead on a hospital bed; or to watch her only daughter scatter her ashes into the sea.
I could tell you... but I can already hear you gulping harder.
Here's the good news. You have two big advantages over my sister: you're still alive and you recognised yourself in the headline -- you know alcohol is disrupting your life (Coral never admitted that). Knowledge is power. Your chances are already good.
Coral's denial made talking about addiction impossible. Let me tell you what I wanted her to hear...
1. You are better than you think you are
Who am I to tell you how to live your life? Nobody and everybody, that's who. I represent all the people who love you, who are watching you disappear. If you feel alone then I represent your future, the love and life that are waiting for you.
But most importantly, I represent YOU -- the child in you who yearns to feel entitled to a place in this world, to be unconditionally loved, without needing a drink to believe it.
Don't deny yourself, your humanity, your existence. Give that person inside a chance. Be your own best friend. Love yourself. You are better than you think you are.
If you have enough self-awareness to know low self-esteem is an issue for you, practicing self-compassion is a great antidote (not self-pity, that's something else), it can also reduce addiction distress.
But what about the guilt, failure, shame? How much self hatred can one person take? There's only one thing left to do, right? Wrong...
2. Addiction is smaller than you
Whoah! This might jar with what you feel, believe or have been told. But this is not about denial and it's not about underestimating the lethal nature of addiction. It is about developing a conquering mindset -- the premise of some leading recovery programs.
Yes, addiction has the power to kill you but ultimately it is a parasite, a visitor. It is not you. You are bigger than your addiction. Here's why:
- Your addiction cannot exist without you
- You can exist without your addiction -- in fact, you can thrive without it
- You were here before this addiction and you can be here after it's gone
3. Addiction is a liar
Here are some of addiction's lies:
- You can't cope without me
- You don't know who you are without me
- You've failed before, you will fail again
All lies. Coping will become easier. You can find your true self. There is no success without failure. You are stronger than you think you are.
4. Savour the possibility of empowerment
You have admitted alcohol has had power over you -- now it's time to take back that power. I want you to put down the glass and just look at it for a minute. Don't touch. Savor the possibility of choice, of self-empowerment, of a new life.
You can make that moment happen over and over and over again.
Is there a voice telling you this is written for someone else -- you're not important enough, not strong enough, a loser? More lies.
DON'T BELIEVE IT.
Those lies took my sister to her death. You don't have to go the same way.
5. The world is waiting for you
I could not save my sister any more than I can save you -- only you can do it for yourself, with or without the help of rehab, therapy, medication or a higher power.
But I can be on your team on the road to recovery. It doesn't matter how many times you've tried before. Do it again. Do it for yourself.
Put the glass down and tell me how the truth feels: The truth that this wonderful human being -- that's YOU! -- deserves an addiction-free life.
The world is waiting for you. There is hope. Never give up.
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.