Advocacy For What's Really Wrong With Me

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You know I worked for the church for 10 years, right? As an upstanding, knowledgeable Bible scholar and educator? Capable of organizing massive youth trips funded by millions of dollars and hundreds of volunteers? Addressing congregations of over 2000 members on a regular basis? Teaching at seminaries? Speaking at the national level to groups of youth workers? Publishing curriculum with the most respected Christian publishing company in the United States? I was kind of a big deal. And I threw it all away to drink. Weird, huh? And had I, or any of the people I worked with, been more informed about alcoholism, I might not have gone as deep into my addiction and I might not have been asked to leave my job when I finally asked for help. And I might not have continued to live in the shame of my addiction well into my recovery, no matter how hard I tried to shake it. Could have beens and should have beens really don't belong in my life today, but hope for the future does.

Advocacy is a big deal to me. I used to do advocacy work all the time - for the kids that I worked with. I visited schools, juvenile justice institutions, community organizations, wherever I needed to go in order to get kids the kinds of services that they needed. Whether it was providing evidence in abuse cases, going to court for CHINA verdicts, speaking at health and wellness events, giving voice to youth concerns in a world that doesn't give women, much less children, a venue for understanding, petitioning community organizations to step up and provide food or shelter or counseling or whatever it was someone needed. And usually, the reason people weren't providing those services was because they either wouldn't or just simply couldn't see the need until it was pointed out. So, I pointed it out. I had a reputation for being kind of a bulldog. Because when it comes to kids, I will not back down. I lost some of that when I started drinking and since then, I have had to focus so much on my recovery that I don't have the confidence at the present moment to stare down the need and then start squawking. I'll get it back. Of that, I am certain. My passions run deep. I didn't lose everything in my battle with alcohol. Mostly just time.

So when it comes to advocacy, I know what I'm doing. Except when I'm asked to do something about educating the community about alcoholism. That's a new one. I'm very open about my addiction. I don't pretend that it didn't happen and I'm very candid about what indeed, did happen. It was sordid and ugly and some would call it embarassing, but I'm not ashamed of it. I know that my story is not any worse or any better than anyone else's. It's just the facts. When I talk at a meeting about drinking in my closet, wondering how and when I was going to be able to find the courage to end it all, we all start laughing. But normal people don't think that's funny. It was horrible, and now it's not. And I can only hope for it to improve as the days turn into weeks, months and years. It really is a miracle I'm alive today. And relatively happy. And sane.

I have recently come to find out that there have been people in the faith community watching my recovery. And they want me to start talking about it. Advocate for awareness. Train pastors and lay people about the signs and symptoms of addiction. Talk to youth groups about underage drinking; about loss and shame and guilt. My initial reaction to that email was rage. I rarely get angry. In fact, Carolyn tries to make me get angry all the time, but it's just not a comfortable feeling for me. It's too frightening. But I recognized that flash. That hot faced-how-dare-they-fucking-hypocrite-assholes flash. I mean, the church fired me. Not this particular one, but the church as a whole - like guilt by association? Plus, I felt like they were spying on me somehow. How do THEY know I got sober and stayed that way? Yeah, that's how irrational I got. And I'm still not ready to respond.

I laugh at myself sometimes about all this. I mean, once it was decided that I was no longer a candidate for the crazy hospital? I thought it would be a good idea to be a voice for NAMI, since technically I didn't fit the criteria for any of the psychiatric diagnoses they used to give me to explain away my alcoholism. I thought that speaking up for the mentally ill could be my new crusade, because let me tell you. When you're mentally not with it? You can't HANDLE things like bills and insurance and making day to day decisions. I remember telling the crazy hospital billing department one day, "I was inpatient at the psychotel and you want me to be able to handle all this insurance bullshit without completely losing my marbles?" She kind of agreed. But guess what? That's not my place. NAMI is the voice for the mentally ill and I never WAS mentally ill, I just masqueraded as someone who was in order to cover up my drinking. And now that someone wants me to be the voice for what's REALLY wrong with me? I shy away from it?All I know is that once I make up my mind one way or the other, there will be hell to pay. Either for me or for the advocacy of alcoholism.

10 comments:

Jeff D'Antonio said...

Personally, I think you have a lot of worthwhile things to say, and you would make one hell of an advocate for people who need a voice.

You've been there. I've been there. You know exactly what people like us need when we're in the middle of that tangled mess trying to get out.

But what do I know? I'm just a recovered addict who really could have used a voice like yours back in the day.

SoMi's Nilsa said...

I'm hearing your voice grow louder with this post today. =)

One lesson I was taught at work a long time ago has stuck with me for many years. I apply it not only at work, but in the grander thing known as life. And that lesson is, don't complain about the problem unless you're prepared to offer a solution.

Clearly, there was and probably still is a problem in the Church with recognizing alcoholism and learning to help those in need. You recognize that. Heck, you lived it. Now, wouldn't it be amazing if you could be part of the solution? That is, when you're good and ready.

Bob said...

you were betrayed and abandoned by "the church" - the place where you obviously had much more than a job - it was a vocation, no? The very people you expected to support you - christianity is all about love, forgiveness, and acceptance - didn't.

your anger is more than understandable. But I would think it is important for your continued recovery to find a way to forgive them, even though (or especially because) they couldn't forgive you. You need to resolve this. It will allow you to respond to those who have reached out to you, to find a way to help those who could really use your expertise - your help - your advocacy.

just a thought.

Jen said...

We need to do what's right for us when we're ready for it, on our time and terms. No one else's agenda will do but our own. You'll do what you feel is right for you when you're ready, there's no pushing it. For now I have to say though, you would make a great advocate for your sake and other's.

buffalodick said...

I don't think much about people who have lost faith in me. They were just parasites, clinging to someone smarter, more fun, or who they wanted to be... These types are always judgemental- your weakness or failure is what they wait for. Do not value them beyond their worth, as they really aren't important to you growing, evolving and becoming who you are...

Dingo said...

I think it's bullshit that they kicked you to the curb and now they want to use you. But I guess those are my own issues with the church. You will have to decide when, where, and under what conditions you want to share yourself and your experience with others. Whatever you decide to do, I know that there will always be people for whom you are an anchor and an inspiration. It doesn't have to be with the church.

Sparkling Red said...

I agree with the others; it would be awesome if you could be a part of a change for the better. It's easy for us to say. I hope you find the internal resources to face this head-on, however it works out.

melissalion said...

You are advocating. This blog is advocacy.

Sue Ellen Mishkey said...

I second the post above mine

JoLee said...

Do you know how much I've learned from you just by reading this blog?