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Rethinking Drinking When Alcohol Is Everywhere

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By Michelle Smith, alcohol-free since 2016 and founder of Recovery is the New Black

“This cocktail’s on me,” the flight attendant whispered with a sly smile. On a recent business trip, the crew accidentally missed me during drink service. It was early, and I was so in the mood for coffee that I rang the little overhead bell. I requested black coffee. The apologetic attendant offered my row a complimentary alcoholic beverage to make good for skipping us. Two out of three made their selections: red wine and a martini. It was my turn, so I repeated: “Just a black coffee, thanks!” I had confused the attendant who responded, again with a smile: “What would you like in that – coffee liqueur?” I responded again: “Just the black coffee!” She raised an eyebrow before finally filling my cup.

Imagine if I had to refuse a cigarette three times – or even a donut – before someone accepted my choice. Crazy, right? But alcohol is such an ingrained part of our society, it’s common to feel pressure to drink.

We often mark occasions, happy or sad, with a drink in hand. For women, it’s often part of “self-care” or “me-time.” Manicures and mimosas, anyone? Baby showers … and Bloody Marys? Yoga and wine tasting? Now think about moms. Sayings like “when kids whine, we wine” reinforce drinking as a coping method, right up there with yoga pants, social media jokes, and minivans.

As my responsibilities as a wife, mother, and career woman grew, my drinking escalated slowly over the years from social and “fun” to private and scary. My husband would recount details from the night before that I couldn’t remember. I tried and failed to cut back – “only drinking on the weekends” or “only wine.” Anything to prove that my drinking was “normal.” Then came the morning I’ll never forget: I woke up in a hospital room. I had almost died from alcohol poisoning. At the foot of my bed was a concerned child protective services officer. I still remember the terror I felt about the possibility of losing my kids.

This was a turning point. I knew I needed help. But if I’m honest, there were other moments along the way when I could have listened to the concerned voice in my head. Things didn’t need to get so bad before I decided it was time to make a change.

I was diagnosed with alcohol dependence by a health care provider, and I’ve been alcohol-free since 2016. There are many different treatment options, but for me, my recovery journey has included in-patient treatment, participating in counseling and peer support meetings, and leaning on the support of family and friends. Today, I’m a speaker, counselor, and author with a mission to end stigma surrounding alcohol dependence. That’s why I tell my story. I “recover out loud” because recovery to me means being real and honest, connecting with people in long-term recovery, and being there for others starting their journeys.

During my recovery, I have learned that no one is immune to this disease. If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol, know that help is available. One resource I recommend is MyRelationshipWithAlcohol.com, where anyone can learn more about alcohol dependence, watch personal stories, or fill out a questionnaire to take stock of drinking patterns. There are also resources to learn more about how to talk to a health care provider.

September is National Recovery Month, and it’s a perfect moment to reflect on ways we can support people in recovery and stop the stigma which can prevent people from asking for help. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • “No,” is a full sentence. A person may not drink for many reasons – health, religious or otherwise – and none of these reasons are anyone else’s business.
  • Consider ways you may unconsciously “drink shame” people. Here are just a few responses I’ve heard: “Are you pregnant?” “Are you an alcoholic?” “You’re a wet blanket!” “You can have just one …” This language may seem innocent, but it’s potentially harmful to someone who is struggling.
  • Fortunately, instead of prying, we can be inclusive. Start by making a habit to serve alcohol-free drinks at your home, parties or workplaces.

I’m grateful to share my story of healing and hope, and encourage others to think about how we can help friends and family who choose not to drink. You likely know someone in recovery, even if they don’t talk about it. That’s why I do. Today my life’s work is to unite and uplift people choosing to live alcohol-free. I invite anyone who wants to rethink their relationship with alcohol to visit MyRelationshipWithAlcohol.com.

This article is sponsored by Alkermes®, and Michelle Smith has been compensated. Her story is personal and does not represent all people living with alcohol dependence. This is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Always talk to your health care provider.

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