Being young and alcoholic

When you’re young and alcoholic, a recovered alcoholic, it can be alienating. Because it feels like you’re the only one. You seem normal to people and when they find out that you don’t drink it’s strange to them, shocking, and they need to know why, why would you choose to not drink? They don’t understand and need to get to the bottom of it…there must be something wrong with your character, some deficiency, or you’re boring or a square, no fun. Or there must be a story, some reason that you’ve made this odd, odd choice.

And you’re left there stammering because you don’t want to lie, damn it, you shouldn’t have to, but the truth is embarrassing, is so personal, you don’t want to tell a room of almost strangers that you’re a recovered alcoholic, that you had to quit drinking when you were 33 because your life was being ruined and you were sick of being sick. That you don’t know when to say when, when it comes to alcohol, to anything, really, you were never good at saying no, or at slowing down and taking things easy.

After over six years of being sober, I still haven’t figured out a way to say that I’m a recovered alcoholic, without actually saying the words, “alcoholic”. The word has so much stigma around it, that the second you assign it to yourself, you’re putting yourself in a category. I know that for most people alcoholic means out-of-control loser who can’t be trusted. It’s the asshole on the street asking for money. It’s the woman making a fool of herself at a party or going home with any guy she finds at the bar. It’s dirty old men.

But it’s not me. It’s not the nice woman who works in the office with you who makes everyone laugh all the time. It’s not the lady next to you at yoga or buying nice clothes on Main Street or hiking out in nature somewhere with her dog.

So that’s why it’s so hard for people to grasp that I might have a past that includes a decade of struggling with addiction and all of the issues and disorders that go along with it. Why I’m still left searching for the right words as I try to gauge yet again how the person or people asking the (always direct) question this time might feel about that past, and how much of it I should reveal this time. Or if I should reveal all of it and just say the words, “I’m a recovered alcoholic”. I haven’t yet had the courage to say those words. They just come with too much baggage, and reveal too much, more than I’m usually willing to expose to the person asking. Because if they don’t know about that part of me yet it means they don’t know me very well; as much as I try to live free of my alcoholism, it is a constant presence in my life, I am reminded daily of the fact that I will never have alcohol again, or that I might, but I can’t, or I shouldn’t. It’s always there.

It’s not something that I want to discuss with a room full of people, and yet, every time I turn down a drink from someone for the first time, I am required to explain why. And if I try to avoid the question it’s awkward. So again, always, this uncomfortable moment when I am forced to reveal what I feel is a personal aspect of myself. One that I don’t want revealed, and why is that? It’s a disease. I didn’t choose to be alcoholic. I was born this way, and I struggled and went through all the stages of disease, and was able, through strength, resolve and amazing support, to stop drinking before the final, inevitable stage which is death. Because alcoholism is a fatal disease. It causes the person affected to be addicted to a toxin and to consume it repeatedly until they die, are forced to stop through some calamity, or stop themselves.

When the toxin in question, alcohol, is not only readily available but socially encouraged almost constantly to the point where it is odd when one doesn’t drink, it is hard to quit. Add to that the social stigma of being alcoholic, plus the fact that most people aren’t offered help until they have no choice, until they are dying, or have killed someone else in an accident, or have committed a crime, or are homeless and have nothing left because they’ve drunk their whole lives away, then they get help. Or die.

And even after they get help, it’s Alcoholics Anonymous, it’s talking and will power. The alcoholic is still left to quit by themselves, unless they are a really severe case and they are admitted to rehab.

But millions of alcoholics are struggling because social stigma is making it almost impossible for them to get help. They’re afraid, they’re alone, because they keep messing up, they keep drinking, and they’re getting further and further away from their families and friends, they’re isolating themselves with their disease. All alcoholics do this. They hide and consume, slowly killing themselves in secret. Or out in the open and these are the alcoholics that society hates, that it laughs at. The drunks on the street, or acting out in bars and parties. They’re sick and everyone just thinks they’re a joke. Why is that? Why is there still so much misconception about alcoholism and so little help for alcoholics?

Seriously, why is that?

Why is there still such a stigma around alcoholism, even now? Why do most people still see alcoholism as a weakness or flaw of character? Why are alcoholics still a sad joke?

Because the truth is, this is why alcoholics still live in hiding, or on the margins, dying alone, slowly or quickly, without support. Because they’re afraid of exposing what they know will be seen as a weakness of their spirit. They are ashamed of themselves. They struggle alone to battle a demon that rides their shoulders constantly, trying and trying to halt a pattern that they are biologically predisposed to repeat, that they keep returning to even as they watch their lives fall apart around them and their body and mind degenerate.

Why can’t we talk about this? Is it because to admit that alcohol is a problem would mean an adjustment of society so large that it seems impossible? Is it because alcoholics are better left to their own devices? Or is it a simple matter of not enough resources?

The truth is alcoholism is a disease that, in this society, is fought on the ground by lone soldiers who a) need to recognize the disease in themselves, then b) need to seek help for themselves through any avenue that may or (in most cases) may not be available to them, then c) through great will, effort or by the grace of some spiritual entity, quit drinking altogether, sometimes with no support except for a group of strangers in scheduled meetings that are completely voluntary.

Essentially, a person with alcoholism is required (except in extreme cases) to diagnose and cure themselves, without medication or regular support from a physician–as is the case with other diseases–but purely by his own will. If her case isn’t severe, or she doesn’t have a support system to help her, she will suffer on her own.

Alcohol is a disease with symptoms that are seen by all, that are often displayed publicly, loudly and with much consequence, but that is still seen as a sign of personal weakness.

I believe that normalizing alcoholism is the answer. It’s still seen as shameful. Family members who are obviously alcoholic are tolerated and talked about. Friends just stop inviting the woman who keeps embarrassing herself and those around her. There aren’t enough interventions. There isn’t enough support. It’s a progressive disease that, left untreated, ends in bodily failure and death. But people who are known to be alcoholic are left to figure it out for themselves and get themselves help in their own time, when they hit “rock bottom”–which should never have to happen in the first place–or when they have no other choice because they’re either ill or homeless or in jail. Why does it have to get to that point? Why are alcoholics left out in the cold until they bring themselves to a cure?

The answer of course, to many, is: “Alcoholics don’t want help. How do you force an adult to get help if they don’t want it?” And that is a damn good question. But I think one that needs to be explored because the cost of alcohol abuse on society is too great. It is killing people, destroying lives and tearing families apart. The lost potential of the multitude of people–many of them creative, intelligent individuals–who are living on the fringes because they are slaves to alcohol, who otherwise would be contributors to our society, in itself is uncountable but undeniably staggering.

Not to mention all of those who did achieve, the countless people who did accomplish great things and were in the midst of fruitful lives only to have them cut short by alcoholism and its myriad mental and physical consequences.

Also, not to mention all of those who had nothing to do with alcoholism at all, but were killed by an alcoholic who was driving drunk.

The whole mindset around alcohol needs to change. There needs to be more talk about alcoholism in schools, more education and more communication about it in families. It needs to be normalized. Alcoholism needs to be looked at right in its ugly face, and addressed for what it is which is a killer and a destroyer. Alcoholism needs to be more commonly recognized and diagnosed, and treated without shame, by doctors with the aid of counsellors. There has to be a solution because right now it’s not good enough. It’s not okay that so many people are needlessly suffering because they are too ashamed to seek help. Or their family members are too ashamed, or scared, to confront them, or they just don’t know what to do. There needs to be a more solid support system in place for alcoholics and their families. I know that it is hard to bring an adult to help when they don’t want to go there. But the reason is shame and fear. This needs to be talked about. A solution needs to be found.

Are you an alcoholic, recovered or otherwise? Let me know what you think–reach out in the comments!





I was raised to be an underdog. Trained, talked down to, told I was going to fail, treated like I was a disaster, I became that. I learned to fend for myself as my family fought and fell apart around me. And as I grew I never had the capacity to excel, to bring myself up, to rise. Because I wasn’t allowed, there was a boot there on top of me everytime I tried to lift my head, keeping me from getting too high. Making me stay at the bottom, moving failure to failure, never aiming any higher than survival, meeting terrible people who used me.

I’m not doing that anymore. I’m not going to be the underdog anymore. I’m not going to be on the sidelines and clinging to the bottom anymore. I’m here, I deserve to be here, I’m not taking failure as my reality anymore. I’m raising the bar. I’m leaving that old mentality behind–the idea that I can’t do anything. I’m getting out of here. Escaping. Joining. Cutting the ties. Pulling my head up, breaking away. Standing up, standing on my own, not being dragged down, or mistreated. Biting back, walking away, saying no, saying when, being in charge, taking the reins, taking control, being in control of my life.

This underdog mentality has permeated everything. It’s prevented so much, and allowed so much to happen that really shouldn’t have. It’s brought me to strange places, so many random places, and people, the undersides of things. I’ve seen the undersides, and for that I’m thankful. I’m thankful to have seen the whole picture. To have seen both sides of people. But I’m ready to move on, and I don’t care who comes with me. I’m in it for myself now. No one yet has shown me that they’re here for me. I’m still on my own, so I guess I just am meant to walk alone, for now anyway. So fine.


You are not what you have put on you

You are not what you’ve had put on you, what was placed on you before you knew it was happening.

It was so unfair.

These clothes were placed on you while you were so small, they loved you and thought you needed them. They were scared too.

But you kept these clothes on that maybe weren’t the right ones, because they were someone else’s guess, or ideas for you, or what they thought was best.

They became comfortable so you kept them on. You didn’t know what other clothes felt like, or what you would look like in them. You accepted the clothes you were given. Because you didn’t have a choice at the time and then they just became who you were.

But they’re not and they never were, and as you get older maybe these clothes get too small for you, they become more and more uncomfortable, and you start to look around and see that there are all sorts of other types of clothes that you never imagined, and you begin to think that maybe you might like to try on something different.

But it’s scary, because you don’t know how you’ll look in these other clothes, how they will feel, if you’ll be able to breathe in these new apparatuses.

And also, you know that for a time, after you take off the old outfit, but before you can get this other one fully on, because you don’t even know how it will fit, you’ll be naked. And that is terrifying.

But maybe this feeling, this feeling of having nothing on, is something that you want to try just once. You want to live without anything on for just a moment and see what it feels like, to move without encumbrance. And maybe you like the feeling and you just hang out like that for that for awhile, daring anyone to say anything. And maybe there are a few raised eyebrows and someone even does say something, but you find that you don’t care, and that feels pretty good, too.

And you try on a few things, here and there, and things that you don’t like, you take off, and things you like, you wear for awhile. But you take your time. And you find that this ability to try on what you want or to wear nothing at all, it’s your choice, and you enjoy the freedom.

The people that put those first clothes on you, the clothes that protected you for so long but also hid you and obscured your view and started to even choke you after awhile, those people are gone, they’re long gone.

You are not what you have put on you.





After you go on for awhile and meet people and lose people and lose yourself and find yourself and do some things and lose yourself again and maybe lose everything…eventually you must come to a place where you’ve rubbed up against the walls of the world enough, of your life, that things have chafed away enough that you can move around a bit freer, unencumbered by so many extra layers that you put on when you were younger as protective armour.

With all these layers gone you experience the world more fully. You carry less, you are able to deflect more without this buffer around you muddling things, slanting, making you question yourself, making you squint just to see who you’re talking to.

Now it is just you and this clear abyss around you, shining, exchanging, standing, moving. Not afraid or hiding just quietly being, out there, standing on the edge of something and not looking away, or inwards, or to another. Just looking.


Meditation on turning 39

I don’t even know what I’m feeling really. This is the first birthday in memory, maybe ever since childhood, that isn’t fraught in some way. The biggest stress in my life right now is upstairs neighbours who are occasionally noisy. Being nervous about my life’s dream coming to life; about being live on the radio. But I fantasized about that for years, thought longingly about it, did a crappy internship in Berlin at a jazz radio station just to be NEAR radio. And I transfer my stress onto things that should bring me joy. This is my greatest stress right now, this joy that is in my lap. And when I look at it it’s easy to see that it’s fear of failing that is the real stress. Of course.


This year, my last year in my thirties, is about reaching goals. Or setting new ones. But leaving the past in the past. Enough years have been spent dragging those past hurts along with me, wearing them like some armour. I refuse to bring that weight into my next decade, into the next stage of my life.

I accept what has been for what it was, and I let it go. I accept what is, too, what is out of my control, and what I can control.

Most of all, I will no longer accept negativity in my life. Negative people who want to bring me down. Negative situations. And my own tendency to put a negative spin on things. I will no longer entertain things, people and thoughts that don’t serve me.

I have been in hiding my whole life. I now vow—or vow to try my hardest to—as I enter the final stretch toward my forties and “real” adulthood, to just be myself. Unapologetically, unflinchingly, relentlessly.




November smoke

he left me in november when the smoke was rising from the forests and fields, when the smell of burning branches filled the air and your lungs were always a little heavy…..such cold air as we trudged through snow fallen woods and walked the streams already frozen over, little tracks of animals going off in every direction.

i remember my dog then, young, bounding off in search of killing and running back to sprint alongside us for awhile before disappearing over a drift again, we would walk side by side, sometimes holding hands but mostly not, remarking on this or that feature of the near landscape, he pointing out a beaver lodge, me rejoicing over birdsong…..but he left me in november.

we had spent all spring, summer, and some of that fall in each other’s worlds, but we would not finish that autumn as lovers. winter would find me lonely.

he came from a small, weird family and lived in a trailer twenty feet from his parents’ house, within earshot of their continued battle in the place they’d been since marriage.

he worked with his father, a bad alcoholic. his job was keeping the business afloat while his father gambled and drank away the money they had made during the oil boom in the eighties and nineties.

he lived and worked there within striking distance of his crazy parents on one side, drinking, yelling, and on the other, his old grandma who called him a loser and his brother, who sponged off his grandma but was married, a morbidly obese man of fifty who spent his days watching the television and eating fast takeaway food.

the craziness of his upbringing expanded from there, to the bipolar aunt, her scared husband and mentally handicapped son who lived in a trailer nearby that was literally rotting into the ground; he told me of a hole in the bathroom floor that you could look through to the stinking ground underneath; the smell, the mould and the worsening tilt of the entire thing; the family trying to get her to leave, going as far as buying her another trailer, but she refusing to leave, dragging her family into the ground with her.

then the uncle who lived in town, the tiny town in northern alberta, he also an alcoholic, who lived in an apartment with all the windows covered over with tinfoil that he never took down. he was elderly, alone, most famous for eating some sort of stinking, gelling-over stew that he kept on his stove for god knows how long and would just keep heating up, over and over, turning the burner on when he got hungry and horrifying whatever visitor had decided to kill boredom for an hour by calling on the crazy old uncle in his cave, bringing him a six pack of beer or a bottle of rye.

but he somehow stayed alive, this repugnant mix of fermenting food and cheap alcohol somehow keeping the old man halfway-upright for half of his remaining days on this earth as he shambled between two or three places and drank his time away in a terrible apartment block on a blank back street of a nowhere town.

then there was his mother’s sister, who died when she fell drunk into a snowbank while having a smoke outside a grande prairie bar in the middle of winter.

but my favourite story that C told me about his family was the one about his uncles, the “bush uncles” as he called them: two old swedes who had wound up in the back woods of northern alberta in the fifties, living together in a shack made of salvaged boards, through which C’s father said you could see the bright shining northern stars at night.

they kept wasps, true story, there was a wasp’s nest in the ceiling of their little shack, that they said they kept to keep other insects away.

when a stranger arrived at the shack the wasps would swarm around them, sniffing, sensing like a million little dogs, sensing danger or not then they would swarm back into their nest.

the uncles never got stung. they were famous once, were on the news once when an edmonton reporter got wind that there were two old men living in a cave together. turns out one of them had developed cancer, had a tumour growing on his head. they had somehow found a cave in the wilds near their cabin that had a clay inside that they believed would cure the brother of his tumour; they were living there, squatting next to a river in a cold, damp cave, two elderly men dressed in decades-old clothing, slathering one of their heads with clay; the reporter went out and interviewed them, and C has the tape somewhere, of this footage that made the evening news, two crazy old men in the woods that were somehow left to their own devices though he can’t remember the end of the story, he believes that the brother just died. i don’t know what happened to them.

i had never met any of these people because he would never let me near them. i knew and so did he that my fascination with this clan of losers, eccentrics and fuckups would turn to horror then revulsion if i ever witnessed the actual tragic sadness that was his family close up.


moving alone

moving alone is lonely work. packing up one’s life, all your little belongings, all your sad memories in boxes, building the boxes and then filling them up with your possessions. you hold them and stuff them in, you arrange them in such a way giving attention to some items and others haphazardly stacking, risking breakage.

you keep going until it’s all done, stacked or piled up in dusty boxes and bags, sneezing because you haven’t cleaned, scared, nervous, wishing you could just be excited.

wanting this to be over and missing the whole experience again as it’s eaten up by your fear, gobbled up and there you are again thinking back and wishing you’d enjoyed it more…one more chapter of your life closed, another begun, seemingly always randomly, still haven’t figured out that sacred pattern that you used to be so sure was there, but now you’re not so sure because as you get older things stop being as magical, or you’re just not buying it anymore, or you’ve forgotten how to look for that, that feeling that you used to get all the time, that something was just around the corner and you had all the time in the world to find it.

another chapter ending, and you feel the book closing, the pages drawing together. and you try to find the thread of the story, where the plot is going, but the truth is you never knew about that, you were always making it up as you went along and not doing a very good job of it. but you kept trying and it doesn’t get easier, it seems like it should get easier but it doesn’t. it just doesn’t. so you pack up one more time, all your belongings one more time, into the boxes, into the bags, the things you’ve been moving from place to place for what seems to be your entire life. and you hope that this will be the last one for awhile, for a long time. that this will be the place that you can stay. that will be a home. because it’s been a long time since you’ve felt that. a very long time.