For all of its devastating repercussions, alcohol really is soothing and medicinal in many ways. We alcoholics use booze to alleviate stress, to dampen anxiety and to silence our chaotic, swirling minds. But alcohol can do more than that. It can make congestion tolerable sooth a cough and wash away the pain of fever and body ache. Even while alcohol is slowly destroying our lives, it can feel like a miracle in a bottle.
I am sick. It is no wonder, really. My wife and I just closed our whole grain bread bakery after fifteen years of baking bread for our Denver neighbors. Last week I only slept two or three hours a night. We had to tear down and haul to a scrap metal dealer a five-ton oven full of 2,700 gallons of insulation. The charred flour and insulation dust left our eyes and throats burning through the goggles and respirators we wore. It was by far the most harmful environment in which I have ever spent time, and I lived in it for the better part of a week.
Between sleep deprivation and a toxic environment, illness was inevitable. I don’t get sick often, and I am not very good at it. As an active alcoholic, I would medicate illness with a couple of glasses of vodka on the rocks. The booze would ease pain and coughing, and help me give my otherwise restless body the down-time I needed. My wife would look at me in abhorrent disgust as I would slug back a couple of drinks to, very effectively, self medicate.
Now that I no longer drink, the perfect cold and flu remedy is no longer accessible. Just as I have had to learn to navigate emotions such as sadness and anger without washing them away with alcohol, I now have to rest and hydrate and wait for my body to legitimately recover. I hope I hurry up. I have a lot to do.
In the meantime, I have received a lot of emails in the past week from people who have suffered from addiction and mental illness – both the afflicted and friends and family members. The stories my readers have shared are both unique in specific detail and exactly the same in pain and anguish. My readers resonate with my story, and I can feel the agony in the words they share with me.
Just like healing from flu symptoms requires rest and patience, healing from the pain of addiction, suicide and mental illness requires honesty, humility, vulnerability and a willingness to recover. I am thankful to the many readers who have shared their stories – shared their pain – with me over this past week. I pray this open communication can be a part of their healing process.
Alcoholism is the largest, most widespread and deadly epidemic of our own human invention and proliferation. The lines that separate addiction from mental illness and suicide are almost indistinguishable. And the cure for all of it is within our grasp. The cure can be found in full-throated, honest conversation.
I urge you to share your story with me. Feel free to post in the comments to this blog. If you are more comfortable sharing privately, please send me an email message about the impact addiction and mental illness has had on your life. I can’t solve your problems, but I can listen. I can absorb some of your pain. I can understand and relate. And I can help you transition a story of anguish from the past into hope for the future simply by hearing you – by believing in you.
I’m feeling better even without my 80 proof liquid medication, but I’ll still be taking it easy for a few more days. Now is a great time to share with me your story while my dust-flu recovery continues. Maybe you are very open about your pain, and sharing with me will be no big deal. Maybe you have kept your secret locked deep down inside and sharing it will be cathartic and relieving. Either way, please know we are in this together, and I am eager to listen.
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