‘Don’t talk, don’t trust, don’t feel’–the stigma of addiction

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following first-person account will be the start of a series of articles about addiction, recovery, and the particular challenges rural areas face in awareness of the problem and providing access to treatment. The name of the author has been changed at his request. 

After reading about the death of Laurie French in the Sept. 16, 2021, edition of the Herald Times it triggered a need in myself to maybe help others in the road to recovery from addictions. I have spent the last 50 years in recovering from addictions and feel i can shed some light on the problem and solution.

So, my name is Alfie and I am an alcoholic.

I would like to share my experience, strength and hope in describing what alcoholism is and where it originates and where it lives.

I guess the place to start any dialogue is at the origination of the disease in my own life. I was raised in Rangely in the 1940s and 1950s. My father was a raging alcoholic and my mother drank also and was more of an enabler type woman. During that era Rangely was a booming oil town. The main street was dirt and mud. There were several bars on Main Street. The Ace High Club, Headquarters, The Anchor Club, the Owl Club and Chucks. Every grown up I knew smoked and drank. The bars were packed on weekends and there were about eight men for every woman.  

It was the perfect breeding place for alcoholism as there were few other forms of entertainment. Bar fights were very common and there were some shootings. I remember a lot of battered women and one of my classmates drank herself to death at about 17 years of age. Most of my friends came from alcoholic family systems. My best friend’s sister shot herself at about age 20. I often wonder how many alcoholics are buried in the Rangely cemetery.

A friend of mine and myself stole a bottle of my Dad’s Four Roses whiskey and walked about a mile with the whiskey, matches and a couple of glasses and crossed the White River on ice. We sat under a bluff and melted snow for water and drank that bottle of whiskey. We were 12 years old. We both became violently ill and the whole world spun out of control. Needless to say, we were covered in vomit and wet. Upon my return to the house, my mom cleaned me up and I went to bed and my friend’s mother came out and picked him up. Not a word was mentioned to my dad or anyone else. 

This followed the “don’t talk, don’t trust and don’t feel” stigma that dominates alcoholic family systems.  I swore I would never drink again. Two weeks later I was drinking beer along with smoking driftwood I would find along the river and smoking coffee grounds in a pipe along with Bull Durham roll-your-owns.  I so wanted to grow up and be a man and gain my father’s approval. This started my relationship with alcohol and nicotine.

As I look back, I can see that this disease started prior to that first drink. In school I was bullied relentlessly. I was very small and skinny for my size and was subjected to constant ridicule by classmates and peers. During recess we would play softball. I would pray that I would not be picked last. It was a toss-up between the fat kid and myself. I was a bench warmer in sports because of my size and would pray every night that I would grow. I also prayed that two of the kids that bullied me would be killed. Coincidentally, one of them was killed a few years later in a car accident. That incited me to pray a lot more. 

The words skinny, scrawny and stork reverberated in my mind constantly. The abuse continued uncontrollably. School became an unsafe place for me and returning home to the sound of ice cubes hitting the glass and the smell of whiskey was a signal to grab a gun and get out of the house and go hunting.  My solitude came to me in nature. Even into my 50s I found myself still looking for that safe place and having that inner desire to move in with a family where I would find that safety that so eluded me.

My sister and I were sexually abused by a babysitter when I was five and she was eight. I had no idea how this would affect me later in life. Again, “no talk, no trust, no feel” applied to this event also.

At this young age, alcohol gave me a world I could live in. It took away my fear, anxiety, shame, guilt and I finally felt I belonged. Needless to say, I hung out with other kids just like me who drank and smoked and came from dysfunctional families. I can see it today with kids with tattoos and piercings just trying to fit in somewhere. Underneath this façade is fear and insecurity and a desperate need for love. In fact, I feel that this is not only a need for the adult children of addicts, but all children regardless of family situations.

I drank and smoked all through high school and college and did not quit until about age 33 when alcohol just quit working. No matter how much I drank I simply could not find the high. During this period I finally grew and along with it was a chip on my shoulder the size of a tree trunk. I became defiant, angry and resentful to any form of authority. I was charged with three assault and battery charges in a six-month period. The judge informed me that one more and I was going away for a long time. Being claustrophobic — which was caused by being held down and smothered by bullies — I knew I would go crazy locked up. 

Later on, when I was in court with my son (who is also an “alkie” now) the judge told me I was a bully. This infuriated me and all I could think of was how to do damage to his body physically. It was a hard pill to swallow. Finally I had to look at myself and my behavior. I had indeed become just what I had loathed in others. 

This is simply an example of how this disease started in me.


Special to the Herald Times

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