As I mentioned yesterday, earlier this year I got a number of questions from a concerned fraternity brother about my journey in sobriety that I’d like to address on this blog. I felt the need to paint the picture of my college experience as background for this series of posts. I’m writing my responses to these questions, in hopes that others may learn from my experience, strength, and hope.
What should the Psi Chapter Alumni Association (hereafter referred to as we) be doing to help known alcoholics, those living with alcoholics, and those that will one day discover that they have the disease?
Well, this isn’t going to be easy.
First, I’ll interpret from the context of the email that my brother is asking specifically about alcoholics who are fraternity members, their family and friends, and other members of the fraternity when he references “alcoholics” in this three part question. Lets take this in steps.
What can my alumni brothers do to support known alcoholics in our brotherhood?
First and foremost, know that our alcoholism does not define us.
We have come to a realization that alcohol doesn’t mix well with our bodies. Those of us in recovery have made a decision to address this in one fashion or another. Most of us have chosen abstinence as the only way to address this completely.
Some of us (like me) are very open with our recovery. Because we talk about our journey openly some people may conclude that alcoholism is a core part of our being. And it is, but it does not define us.
Some of us are not open about it. That is a personal choice and does not indicate a discomfort with our reality. It simply means we have made a choice that it is a private matter and it’s not open for discussion with a wide audience.
In either case, we are the same people we were before we stopped drinking, just sober. We still like to have fun with our friends. We still like to watch Penn State beat the Badgers (Wendy, I know you’re reading) on the gridiron. We still like to go to the Penn State Creamery. We still like to eat wings. We still love to listen to live bands. We still talk a lot of shit. We’d love to go to Zeno’s with you, but we may chose not to because it can sometimes be hard to be around booze. We still care deeply about our Penn State experience and our fraternity lives.
See, that’s because there is more to our college and fraternal experiences than drinking.
So, what’s the best thing you can do to support us?
Stick with us, just as you have since we were undergraduates. Call us. Email us. Text us. If you must, Facebook us. Stay in touch. We need our friends. You were and are still very important parts of our lives.
However, understand that there will be times when we’re not comfortable. There will be times when we say no to an event. “No” is a complete sentence. Don’t push it if we say no without giving an explanation. Understand that when we say no, it pains us, but we know what’s best for us in our sobriety.
And one other thing, when you buy the beer for our tailgates, don’t forget to get some non-alcoholic beverages too.
What can my brothers be doing for people living with alcoholics?
This is harder for me to answer.
See, I’m the alcoholic, and while I live with myself, I don’t know what its like to live with an alcoholic. I do know that living with an active alcoholic is a special kind of hell. I do know that alcoholics who are active in their addiction are prone to wild mood swings, can be physically and verbally abusive, and generally make bad decisions regarding themselves and those around them.
Perhaps the best thing I can say is that people who live with alcoholics need support and love from their friends. They also may be open or closed about their situation. That’s a personal decision as well. Just as we may say no to things, a person living with an alcoholic may also say no without explanation. Once again, “No” is a complete sentence.
One thing that is vital is to understand that no one, and I mean no one, can force an alcoholic or an addict to change. That’s why groups like Al-Anon don’t focus on changing the alcoholic or addict. They focus on helping people to cope with things that they have no control over. There is nothing that we can do to change the alcoholic, but we can offer support and love to those living in that special hell.
Again, stay in touch with these people. Refer them to support groups such as Al-Anon. And, if the person living with the alcoholic thinks that it would help, encourage them to talk with us. We are happy to do it. We may not have answers and we can’t change the alcoholic or addict, but we can listen. We can offer hugs. And we can help them to make connections with others who are affected by another person’s alcoholism and addiction.
What can my brothers do to help those who discover that they are alcoholics?
Talk to those of us who are alcoholics. Let those of us in recovery know that someone is in trouble. We are uniquely equipped to relate each other. We understand things about alcoholism that you can’t possibly understand.
We know what it’s like to want to drink at 8:30 in the morning. We know what its like when we’ve lost control over drinking – when one leads to two and two leads to two dozen. We know what its like to feel angry when someone leaves a half empty drink on the table at the end of dinner. We know what its like to pour that first drink while thinking that its a really bad idea. We’ve been there, but more importantly, we know what it’s like to come out on the other side of that hell.
We cannot change the alcoholic or addict. We cannot guarantee that we can fix anything. But we do know that these promises of sobriety are true:
We comprehend serenity and we know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we have seen how our experience will benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self pity has disappeared. Our whole attitude and outlook on life has changed.
By sharing our experience, strength and hope with other alcoholics and addicts, we help them to see that there is an easier, softer way to live and in doing so we help ourselves.