In Praise Of Anonymity 3/15/18
When I first started making 12 step meetings I was very doubtful about the idea of remaining Anonymous. Why should I start now? I was the kind of person that drank grown men under the table I was never shy about my drinking and really could care less what anybody thought. I was good at my job even though I was always slightly hung over from my nightly quart of rum. And I was skeptical whether anybody would notice or even care.
To my mind my level of work was on the fast track. I was as good as anyone else at the job and better than most. I had no doubt that I was in line for promotions and the sky was the limit. In my mind it made no difference that I was a hard drinker. In fact no one had the nerve to even mention it. Except for a stranger who rode the elevator complaining loudly that I stank. I didn’t know him so I didn’t care.
When I finally stopped it was for the most girly reason. I fell in love with my fellow barfly who was also my supervisor. After a brazen six-year affair which demolished what was left of my marriage. He left me for a crackhead who would let him move in. I never realized how much pain and humiliation it caused me to be publicly ditched.
All I knew was every time I got hurt liquor was involved. Bad men, bad choices burning bridges with my arrogance, I couldn’t tolerate food and every morning consisted of a breakneck race to the bathroom to puke up bile and old rum from the night before. Sitting in bars meant that other barflies men and women tried to pick me up and cursed me out when I drank up their money and went home alone. And he left.
When I stopped everybody from family members to former supervisors to my bootlegger noticed the difference. Even strangers who lived in my neighborhood stopped me to tell me how much better I was looking. Eventually my ego began to recover, and I began to think of sobriety as one more step to achieving my goal of becoming a manager, a director, a commissioner…my own god?
Well whatever I was think came to a crashing halt when, after five years into sobriety I was diagnosed as being bipolar. What?? Me???
My intense emotionality (I was always desperately in love with somebody). What does risky behavior mean? I like to think I’m spontaneous, like blowing a lot of money or having sex with whomever? And unusual behavior (doesn’t everybody hear the people in their head shouting at them when its time to get up? Or calling their name really loud at their desk…No? And I still struggle with oversharing when I’m talking really fast skipping through a lot of different things (why can’t you people keep up?)
You need to understand I thought it was all you people who had the problem. I drank to take the edge off. When I spoke to my older sister about the idea that my doctor wanted to put me on medication she begged me to take it stating that my family knew something was wrong with me but they didn’t know what.
Despite what my sponsor said I proudly announce myself as a bipolar alcoholic anytime I shared it any meeting no matter what anybody said.
How naive I was
Like the first people in AA I found out once you obtain a label and it's attached to you invisibly suddenly you are subject to whatever prejudices, mythologies or issues that others may have with drunks. It inevitably becomes part of your interaction with them. Sometimes you can tell they see an uncle or friend who ruins family gatherings when they look at you. And it doesn't help that any people who watch tv detective procedurals give you the fisheye [as my father used to say] because you know that every serial killer on television is bipolar and alcoholic so it's as if they're waiting for you to suddenly burst out with a machete in the middle of a staff meeting.
Paradoxically bosses love bipo alcoholics, between our delusions of grandeur, inflated ego during a manic episode, we can, be pushed into being high functioning and productive until the inevitable crash. I worked with social workers I mistakenly expected more compassion and tolerance because of their training and experience. In fact, that was rarely the case.
People were polite enough and pleasant when there was extra work, but any special assignment or promotions that would bring me to the attention of higher-ups never seem to come my way. They felt they were doing me a favor by hiding me and an out of title job where I got to explore my ideas and be productive without annoying people. Any assignments I had to represent the agency outside were passed to other the more stable co-workers whether it was their job or not.
I realized that the concept of anonymity had never been about me hiding my sobriety or alcoholism but about allowing people to see me as a regular person and to evaluate me on face level without the usual bs. And being able to move through life without the stigma.
I'm admittedly a little self-centered and dense about things like this so it was slow dawning on me that it did not matter that I had a doctorate [I do], it did not matter that I had put together a solid amount of work and innovations at the agency where I worked for 20 plus years. I could suit up put on lipstick and go to work and there was still going to be some people who would not trust me with a paperclip.
I found that my friends from 12-step programs really did turn out to be my tribe and a place of refuge from the nonsense. And there were relatives who cheerful welcomed me back into the fold. Today I'd like to think that I have built-in armor and I'm comfortable around normies but some days they get on my nerves because I feel like the only difference between them and me is that I went to the doctor and got a diagnosis and got help they did not and they're still home driving their families and co-workers crazy.
Out of necessity I became a poster child for mental health and sobriety commonly referred to as dual diagnosis. It helped me push past people's attitude to embrace my new reality and accept that they were always going to be people who just didn't like people like me. I still think its funny when people kept talking at you as though if they said the right set of words you will suddenly be struck normal whatever normal means. I had to embrace my mix of issues and disorders and gifts to make a new thing.
As much as I enjoy being outrageous and the center of attention I had no desire or interest in spending time talking to normies about how it felt to be me. I did my work when I had bad days I excused myself and went home early. Recovering and learning to manage a brain that operates very much like a pinball machine on good days. Learning what to say and what not to say as no normies are so easily upset I generally avoid discussing crime shows and what the criminals did wrong. On the other hand, I tended to be very calm when interviewing clients that had various mental conditions because I was not committed to an idea of what was the right way to think. It is an ongoing process. I saw coworkers that had never gone to the doctor to discuss their thoughts, so they were not unlabeled not well. I’ve learned to pick my moment. It might be best to confine this to a need-to-know basis
It when you have an invisible illness on bad days people say stupid things you learn despite EEO laws some folks will cut you no slack when you have a mood swing. They may not be able to fire you but they doesn't mean they have to make it pleasant. Some will torture you out of your job with contradictory orders, cut off lunch breaks and impossible deadlines. I learned to walk away and take care of me.
I learned to take concrete suggestions. I learned there were certain foods I needed to stay away from caffeine, processed food and sugar. And I learned to walk away. In 12-step terms we called it removing yourself. It is important to know when it's time to remove yourself. When the rage hits, when I do not medicate properly or when someone simply won't drop it when I asked them to. I remove myself because sometimes despite all the medication and prayer and friends and support it's simply a bad day and I just need to be away from irritating situations. I
It took me years to find that there are some people who have known me from childhood who love me who have seen all my scars and all my insanity and all my behavioral problems and whatever else and will still come and when I call if I need help. That helped me let go of the people who aren't like that. People judge each other every day even the so-called normies and it's entirely up to me whether I would associate with them or not. My labels do not necessarily correlate be allowed to do in life just as my sex or color not determine who I am. I have learned that feeling bad or having physical pain today does not justify me beating up on anyone who's in my path.
I learned to let your doctor be your doctor. Random people decide to explain to me how certain diet or deliverance any number of other things are the answer to their perception of my problems I have learned to listen make eye contact and while they're talking simply say thank you i’ll think about that and remove myself.
I have been sober for 23 years diagnosed and medicated for17 I'm sober, relatively happy, found a quiet place to live next to a lake because i’ve learned that the jangle of cities is not good for me I'm retired and no I don't want to go back to work to anyone and I found and reaching out fulfillment reaching out to my fellows to let them know we will survive this.
Still working on the anonymity thing. Ah well progress not perfection.
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