Saturday, January 5, 2013

Why It's Hard, And Why It Isn't

Thank you, everyone, for your supportive, compassionate and encouraging comments on my post yesterday.

Even though I believe so strongly that in order to combat the stigma of alcoholism we need to chip away at it through the power of truth, story and example, clicking "publish" on that one was the hardest thing I've done on this blog.

I'm not immune to thoughts of insecurity as it pertains to the stigma.  I made the choice to be open about my addiction and recovery, and I did it knowing that if I was going to be honest, it had to be all the way, even if I relapsed one day.

Far easier to have the ideological thought in my head than to face the reality.  I knew that I didn't have to be public about it until I was ready, and I wanted to use this as an excuse to perhaps never write about it.  I admit I didn't want to, that I fought it, and it took the prompting of people who know me well to open my heart and mind up to the idea that I could write about it someday.  I just thought that someday was going to be further off.  I woke up yesterday morning and knew it was the day, for reasons I don't have to understand.

The comments you leave supporting me help countless others who are reading, and seeing firsthand that it IS possible to get help and encouragement if you're honest first to yourself (this can be the hardest part) and then to others. It's the community that supports me on days I don't think I'm going to make it. It's the community that welcomed me back from my fall, and if I didn't have that community to go back to, clear my slate and my conscience with the truth, I don't know that I would have made it.

The stigma is still out there, strong as ever. After a hard post like that, I have to put my chin up and go out and do my normal activities and try not to wonder who has read it, whether or not they are judging me. Recovery starts from the inside out; if I let other people's opinions of me control how I feel about myself, it will lead me right back to the darkness.

Then yesterday, the news story of the man who was duct taped by fellow plane passengers to his chair because he was drunk and disorderly (click on the link to read one of the stories) broke with this viral picture:

He was, apparently, drinking the duty free alcohol he bought after passing through security, the seat back pocket in front of him full of nips. After four hours, he because violent, disorderly and threatening.   The picture above is the result.

Passengers declined to comment about the incident after disembarking, and so no charges will be made against the man (who is named in several news articles).

The thing is? I identify with this man.  The only difference between him and me is circumstance.  When I was active, this could have happened to me (I actually had the thought that getting your booze in the duty free shop was pretty clever... other alcoholics in recovery (and out of it) will have had this thought, too, when they read the story).  This is what an untreated alcoholic look like.  Most untreated alcoholics suffer silently in their homes or on bar stools, and when something "juicy" like this happens, and the hurtful comments start, all the silent sufferers go a little more quiet.

I don't know where to begin, really.  What would I have done if I were on that plane?  If I had witnessed this?  I don't know.  Mob mentality is a scary thing.  I do wonder about the people who were supposed to be in charge, what the rules are, etc.  But I wasn't there and I'll never know.

Reading this story in several news sources, something scares me more than the way this man was treated.  The comments about "drunks", "booze hounds" and "getting what he deserved".  There was even one police authority who was quoted in a reputable news source as calling the man a "typical drunk".

Alcoholism is a disease, and its primary symptoms are behavioral.  I'm not saying we excuse the behavior - there have to be consequences - but I long for the day when the mob mentality doesn't collectively rub its gleeful hands together and lump all drunks into one big horrible stereotype.  It's no better than any other form of bullying or racism.

I see a sick man who needs a lot of help in this picture. I see the system built to protect unruly passengers from themselves and each other failing.  I see people putting him down to feel better about themselves.

It all makes me sad, and it's why hitting publish is hard.

There is so much hope, though. Hope through your comments, through the supportive community evolving at Crying Out Now and the Booze Free Brigade.  Through the brave stories women are telling on The Bubble Hour.  These are all shining examples of people busting through the shame to help themselves heal, and to show others that the stereotype is wrong, that alcoholism can strike anyone.

Through the power of story and identification, we can help people who have never been touched by alcoholism - directly or indirectly - understand this disease, humanize it, put real people behind it.

This is why I'll always hit "publish".  This is why your comments are so important. You are on the front line of helping people get past the stigma and shame and get help.

Thank you.


  1. If this man had drunk no alcohol and choked the woman next to him and screamed the plane was going to crash, would you feel differently? Why does HIS choice (though I know most alcoholics will claim it isn't a choice) to engage in ALL the behaviors - the drinking, the abuse of others both physical and verbal - get a pass because he "may" be an alcoholic?! As your post seems to suggest. Nothing says he's an alcoholic. Its one flight. One set of behavior but you've already jumped to "he's sick and can't control himself and needs help" and frankly, Id be MORE upset if anyone had choked another person and no one had done anything to assist the victim. And the victim is NOT the restrained man. This is why I've stopped, for the most part, reading your blog and commenting. I don't think admitting you are an alcoholic releases you from making good choices and not abusing others. I just don't accept it as an excuse for bad behavior. At all.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Nina, because i know a lot of people share your opinion. Including me. Maybe I didn't write this clearly enough, but I do NOT think antly drunk person or alcoholic should be excused from their actions. Accountability for the wreckage you create while drinking is ESSENTIAL. Jail time, restraints, whatever it takes. Every person who commits the kind if actions he did while drinking should face the full penalty of the law. I was disappointed no charges were pressed b/c without consequences people stay drunk, or sick, or whatever you want to call it.

      What bothered me was the vitriol and sterotyping of drunks - most people who exhibit this extreme behavior are alcoholically drinking, but you're righy I don't know if he is or isn't. What i do know is insulting people who drink too much harmful to the thousands of people who WANT help but are scared of judgment and so they stay stuck, silent, and eventually something horrible like this happens.

      My mission is NOT to say "we can't help it, we're alcoholics". My mission is to put a very real human face to this disease so people see "sick' people and not "bad" people.

      If you don't get help and do awful things then you should face every consequence that comes your way.

      I hope you will keep reading and commenting because I value your perspective very much.


    2. Sorry about the typos.. using my thumbs.... :)

  2. Last thought, i promise. The system failed everyone here. The passengers shouldn't have had to do anything. They should have been protected.

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  4. I'm a recovering codependent, so I don't relate to the picture at all, don't see myself in it.

    But I do see my dad. He was a functioning alcoholic and a former POW, self-medicating with booze for PTSD, no doubt, before that was even a medical diagnosis. He never drank without getting sloppy drunk and he often got violent, once threatening the family with a knife, firing a gun in the house another time. He broke my arm when I was just four years old. The police were summoned several times to break up the fights between him and my mom. My worst memory of those fights is of him throttling her. I thought he was going to kill her with his bare hands.

    So when I read that this man was trying to choke the woman next to him, I have a pretty visceral reaction. I say THANK GOD the passengers were able to subdue him and secure him with the tape! I don't think they treated him poorly, at all, given the level of violence he displayed. What a frightening flight that must have been for EVERYONE on board.

    The journalism and esp the comments about the story probably do reveal the general lack of understanding that alcoholism is a disease, but what I'd like to add is that it is a FAMILY/CULTURAL disease. The alcoholic suffers grievously. To varying extents, SO DO the people who live and work with him/her. Even sometimes, as in this case, some random woman who had the terrible misfortune of being seated next to him on an airplane flight.

    The ill effects of alcoholism reach far and wide. The alcoholic is not the only one who suffers or needs help. In many families those who are trying to cope with an active alcoholic member (or with having been raised by one ... or both) are the ones exhibiting the craziest behaviors.

    I wanted to see this man's eyes, so I found a pic in which they are not blocked out. He does, indeed, look sad, so fearful, so humiliated. I do feel sorry for him. But we don't know his whole story or where it goes from here. We do know that hitting bottom can, ultimately, be a good thing. Maybe because of this sad incident he will finally get the help he desperately needs. We can hope and pray that is the case ... and in solidarity with him, renew our own commitment to our own recoveries.

    As always, Ellie, thanks for sharing.

    1. Liz -

      I love what you have to say - your perspective- and thank you for sharing some of your own story to help us ALL better understand all the different points of view. The case of whether or not the duct-taping was right or wrong could be debated forever, I think, and I feel badly that the passengers had to make that call, because it had to be gut wrenching to do that to someone - even someone being violent. But the people on that plane needed protection, bottom line, and they ARE an analogy for the family members and loved ones that suffer greatly when around an active (especially violent) alcoholic. If the alcoholic never faces consequences - sometimes they need to be drastic - it's unlikely he/she will get help.

      BUT- there is a new phenomenon out there, one I witness everyday with the emails and stories I get here and on Crying Out Now, of people (mostly women) who really want help and are terrified because the public's visceral response to the word Alcoholic (especially people who have suffered at the hands of an alcoholic - and I understand why it's the hardest for them to understand). The internet is providing a space for people to seek help and identify with people who are just like them, which helps them help themselves, to get the support they need before something like this happens. So the whole point of my post was not to say he should or should not have been treated the way he was (I honestly don't have an answer to that one) but that the comments left at the various news outlets were SO hurtful to the people out there who want help but now feel even more scared to go get it, to tell someone they have a problem. My hope is to provide insight into the fact that seeking help doesn't have to mean you'll be judged and alienated, but that there is a community of people who can help you, and that the general public can even be supportive, as is demonstrated on my blog all the time.

      I really appreciate your comment, truly. This discussion is SO important!


  5. I call alcoholism an addiction, not a disease. I left AAA because I interpreted their speeches as "We can't help it, we have a disease." And like many who left AAA, I believe that moniker insults people with cancer or diabetes, actual diseases.

    From Bill W.: "We have never called alcoholism a disease because, technically speaking, it is not a disease entity." So I'm not sure how the We Have a Disease movement got started.

    That said, I do believe all addictions are a nightmare for those suffering and for those who live or interact with them.

    The man on the plane reminds me of that other guy on the plane, the one who sat next to the model and tried to pick her up. He was married, said he wasn't, and he was drinking. After a Google search, she discovered he claimed to be sober. She tweeted all this out and I don't know what happened to him or his marriage. But she did the right thing because of "consequences." It's the only way to wake someone up. Most of the time.

    1. Thanks for your comment, too, Suzy, because I know the disease concept is controversial even within the recovering community.

      It started because it was recognized by the medical community as fitting the criterion for disease - I learned all this in rehab (they even showed up where in the diagnostic manual it appears). BUT - I agree that it can be used as a loophole to escape consequence, which is deadly to an addict. Consequence is usually the only reason someone finally agrees to get help.

      I believe it is a disease - like an allergy - because my body responds COMPLETELY differently to alcohol than other people. My response to the "disease or not" argument is this:

      "My alcoholism isn't my fault, but seeking help and my recovery are my responsibility".

      Thanks again for your comment. Maybe that have a program for people with a AAA obsession? :) -xoxo

    2. Why pick on a perfectly helpful auto assistance association like AAA?
      They never blamed me for any of my breakdowns!
      They just wanted to help me!

  6. I just realized I said I left AAA. And not AA. Obviously I haven't been to a meeting in a very long while! Also, I might be a little bit in love with AAA!!

  7. People say a lot of stupid, mean things when they comment on the internet. Ever since the internet became available to the average joe and jane- people have been making crude comments because they can-without any consequence to them. My son suffers with addiction and yes - YES- it is a disease. Anyone who wants to argue that point can debate it with the medical professionals. What I can't stand is the name calling.

    I think some of that comes from those who have addiction in their families. They are hurt and angry. Some of it comes from ignorance. They've heard others say it and don't think twice about repeating it. Some of it comes from their own poor self esteem. But when I hear it being said from someone who should know better, that really bothers me. Think of other conditions and diseases in the recent past and the names that were inflicted on people who had Down's Syndrome, for those who were deaf, or had epilepsy. Most people would be horrified if any one called a person who had any one of those conditions a name. But people don't think twice about calling someone a drunk or making fun of them, or abusing them.

    Our society treats drunkenness as a rite of passage, a way of celebrating any manner of occasion from weddings to ST. Patrick's Day, getting a job, losing a job, what have you. There is alcohol at festivals, fairs, sporting events and other family functions. Our society glorifies alcohol and drunkenness in the movies, on TV, and in the music we listen to. And yet when someone suffers with Alcoholism, it is somehow their fault ? When in reality it could have been any one of us. No one knows if they will become an alcoholic until they are an alcoholic. Their are people who abuse alcohol and can stop. And then there are those who become addicted - some can stop - some can't. No one can say they are a better person because they aren't alcoholic but they could call themselves lucky.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Bev. I particularly liked this:

      "Our society treats drunkenness as a rite of passage, a way of celebrating any manner of occasion from weddings to ST. Patrick's Day, getting a job, losing a job, what have you. There is alcohol at festivals, fairs, sporting events and other family functions. Our society glorifies alcohol and drunkenness in the movies, on TV, and in the music we listen to. And yet when someone suffers with Alcoholism, it is somehow their fault ? When in reality it could have been any one of us."

      This is a process of educating each other on differing points of view about disease vs. not a disease, etc., and some of these debates aren't win-able. BUT I hope we can all agree that stereotyping, personal insults and closed hearts and minds will get us nowhere. From either side of the spectrum. I love this comment thread because it's a respectful sharing of opinions, and any discourse is progress, in my opinion. Thanks again for your comment.


  8. Ellie - I just read both yesterday's and today's post. I like what you say so much because you don't stay stuck in one place for long; you continue to grow in compassion, courage and integrity, and you make yourself vulnerable enough to share so much of that with us all. I'm sure you beat yourself up plenty about your relapse and about if, when and how to make it public here; I'm relieved that you did so and hope you have released completely any lingering self-condemnation... I am sure sharing this so publicly ultimately makes you so much stronger. In fact, somehow... I think it makes me stronger. Truthfully, I don't know how you do it; you have more humility and courage than I, but witnessing your strength (vulnerability) is a challenge to me to grow as well.
    About the plane guy... I so agree with your response to Nina... we can hold people accountable for their behaviors AND be compassionate in doing everything in our power to encourage/facilitate an alcoholic/addict to take steps toward recovery. They are not mutually exclusive. Thanks for opening this dialogue.

    1. I think all I really needed to say was this, from your comment:

      "About the plane guy... I so agree with your response to Nina... we can hold people accountable for their behaviors AND be compassionate in doing everything in our power to encourage/facilitate an alcoholic/addict to take steps toward recovery. They are not mutually exclusive."

      As usual, your insights are so valuable (and concise!) and I sincerely appreciate your support of me and your words of truth and compassion. Thank you.


  9. I used to think that alcoholism - or any addiction - wasn't a disease, that it was a choice; I thought addicts CHOSE between their "poison of choice" and the ones who loved them and chose their addiction. every. time - that it proved that the addict didn't really love his loved ones. I did it because it was *easier to believe that* - to close myself off - than to face the truth that the active addict couldn't help being addicted. I NEEDED someone to blame; my anger needed to have a focus, someone on whom I could wreak emotional vengeance. I WANTED it to be my loved one's fault. When I started understanding the process of obsession, the mechanism of addiction, was when I realized that Every Person on the face of the planet is Addicted. The substance or the stimulus is different for everyone but the Obsession is there, seething beneath the surface, waiting for the right (or wrong) circumstance to burst out of its cage in mystifying and uncontrollable force. With my loved one, it was alcohol - with others, it was sports, or cleaning, or food, or TV, or attention, ... or a combination of those and/or any number of other things. Addiction is a disease. It's a disease because it's uncontrollable once triggered. It makes the papers when it's drugs and alcohol, that's all.

    Did that excuse his (or does it excuse anyone's) behavior? No. Definitely not. But it does explain it. As for the people on the plane, people do what they do to protect themselves. They did what they had to do to ensure the safety of that woman and of themselves. Granted, the gagging might have been a bit much, but ... okay, it was a decision made in the heat of the moment.

    The saddest thing is when people do what I did - blame the one with the disease for having the disease (notice I didn't say for his behavior: it's easier to blame the person because then the blamer gets to feel superior!) and then lash out at the whole group out of the actions of the ones that make the headlines. Thousands more don't get any publicity, but their addiction is just as real - those who sit alone in closets, drinking or shooting up or whatever - those who have too much because once they have one, they can't stop no matter how hard they try, and who come home (if they're lucky: miraculously in one piece) and sleep for hours upon hours on the sofa, not violent but just ... absent, hollow, unengaged in life. Because of the reactions of people who think like I once did, those same people hesitate to get any help because the terror of more condemnation is greater than the deathly-still desperation into which they slip, ever so slowly, leaving themselves and their families in turmoil, anger, pain and hopelessness.

    There is hope and help. For ALL of us who suffer...if we'll only admit we need it.

    1. Judy - Thank you for your comment, and I really value your perspective from someone who has (sadly) experienced the worst of this disease first hand. You are so articulate in the way you explain the conflicting emotions, and the path you have taken to try to understand, to open your heart and mind and find the compassion that should be at the heart of all the suffering of others. Thank you! -xoxo

  10. I understand what you are saying and unfortunately CAN relate to the man on the plane as well. I am still drinking currently but have tried to stop. One of the reasons being that I became violent during a drunken episode and didn't remember anything due to a black out lasting many hours. I have gone to counseling for a couple of years and cant even talk to the counselor extensively about a couple of violent episodes I have had while being extemely drunk which truly horrifies me. It is so far from my character when I'm NOT drinking. It is a terrible secret and I DO fear judgment even from a counselor in a professional environment, let alone family and friends whom I would NEVER share this story with.
    You are right about the scenario on the plane keeping a person from getting help . Especially being a woman it is even more of a stigma if one behaves belligerantly and violently while being intoxicated.
    Of course I don't justify or agree with anything the man did while drinking on the plane. I enjoyed reading your blog tonight.
    Take care,

  11. I understand and when I see the picture of this poor man it's sad. However, after 9-11 and the tragic deaths of so many innocent people that day I also feel for the airline passengers who were on that flight. He was duct taped but he also made it off the plane alive. Think about the poor woman he tried to choke and the other people on the plane. I just don't think after 9-11 airline passengers are going to tolerate this kind of behavior whereas perhaps before that day people would have reacted differently.

    He got off the plane alive - yes he also lost his dignity - but he did get off alive and hopefully can get some help.

    As for your honesty - as someone who battles addiction I'm glad you wrote about your relapse. The longer I try to walk this path I realize we need honesty. I don't need Superhuman - I need human with honesty, faith and compassion.

  12. One last question......who carries duct tape on a plane?

    1. One story I saw said that the airline has it and plastic ties onboard for just this kind of incident.

  13. A very good friend of mine is an onboard air Marshall so there IS a plan in place. It's unrealistic to think we can have one on EVERY flight though.
    I also have a good friend who is a pilot for a national airline. And all I can say is don't assume they have given the flight crew tools to "disable" anyone who is a threat to a flight after 9/11!

  14. Wow -- two very brave posts! The first was personally courageous; the second showing your courage to take a controversial position on a public news story. I share your discomfort with what happened to the man. I don't know how I would have felt if I were on the plane; but seeing the end result and reading the comments against the man make me feel a bit nauseous. Perhaps the more empathetic people just don't comment as much?

    And on your personal post: It must have been scary to admit to your relapse. But, of course, the people to whom that relapse really effected already knew and have already forgiven you. It's that fear of the mob reaction that can be equally scary. I admire you for facing it head on. It's something I very much struggle with in my life!

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