Courtesy of Jill Di Donato
10 Things I Want My Kid To Know About Being A Functioning Alcoholic

by Jill Di Donato
Originally Published: 

Dear Future Child: You come from a long line of functioning alcoholics. Although this might be unpleasant for my kid to hear one day, it will be the truth, and speaking the truth to a young person is everything. Partying with hot models and actors might be part of my past, but it comes with a price. I'm not sure painting a "glamorous" look of what my former life used to be is one of the things I want my kid to know about being a functioning alcoholic.

I don't want to give my future child the impression that being alcohol dependent is a way to live. I want more for this kid's life. My life was never in shambles because of my drinking — I never as much got a ticket let alone a DUI for my boozing ways; I never physically hurt anyone as a former functional alcoholic; I never got reprimanded by professional contacts and I doubt any of my former bosses knew I had a problem. Still, I did limit the potential I had for happiness by abusing alcohol; this I know is true. As a former anorexic/bulimic, smoker, and Diet Coke head, I've lived with all sorts of addictions. I think I'm one of those people who is prone to addictive tendencies. Booze is just one of many things I've been drawn to, and it wasn't until I was ready to stop drinking that I was able to, well, stop drinking.

I've spent a good deal of my adult life in therapy, including Cognitive Behavioral, Freudian analysis, Psychodynamic, and a 12-step program. All of these modalities helped me get to the root of why I needed to use alcohol as a crutch. I don't want my future kid to suffer like I did, so I've decided that I'm going to be as honest about my past — showing the good and the bad — so my kid knows things about being a functional alcoholic that I did not.

Being A Functional Alcoholic Might Be Linked To Genetics

Alcohol abuse is based on many factors, including genetics. Because I've struggled with drinking as a functional alcoholic, and so have both my parents, having a kid with the drinking gene is likely.

My parents always drank, but I can't remember my parents being drunk, per se. I do, however, remember the fighting, the yelling, the name-calling. It was only until I was in treatment that I realized these were signs not only of discord in my parents' marriage, but also of their mutual abuse of alcohol.

I want my kid to know that abusing alcohol comes in many forms, so I'm going to be open about our family history so that my kid can make informed decisions. But more than that, I want to remove any secrecy about what it's like to abuse alcohol, because secrecy about drinking never ends positively.

There's A Difference Between Using And Abusing

Psychologist, Dr. Stephen Mason told Psychology Today that there's a difference between using and abusing. For me, toeing that line has always been difficult, I think, due to my addictive personality. There's a part of me that wishes I could be a person who can enjoy one or two cocktails without fear of spiraling out of control. And certainly, in my life, there have been many nights when I was able to do just that. But what about those nights when I couldn't be that person, and wasn't that person?

The disease is bigger than me, which is why I rather not put my sobriety at risk for the buzz from a glass of Pinot Grigio, or the salty deliciousness of a dirty martini. It's taken me a long time to accept this knowledge, and to live it. I don't know what the future brings, so I'm going to be mindful of my addictive tendencies and respect them, one day at a time. I want my kid to know that about me, so he or she can be proud to call me a parent.

Functional Alcoholics Abuse Alcohol, But Discretely

The world we live in today is filled with booze. Drinking appears glamorous; it's a way adults unwind after a long day; it's a way we socialize. But for every woman who can put a few back at happy hour, there's another one who's struggling in silence to stay on the "right side" of drunk.

You see, for me, there'd come a point in my drinking when a switch would flip. That's the only way I know how to describe it that makes any sense. I would become another person, and a person who wasn't able to take care of herself. This thought both frightens me and keeps me sober, because I know I'll wake up with regret if I drink. On the plus side, waking up after a sober night leaves me regret-free. Dear Future Child: I'll always be a functional alcoholic, even if you never see me imbibe. I know that sounds strange to wrap your precious head around, and some day, I'll explain it to you.

Functional Alcoholics Might Not Realize They Have A Problem...

Because alcohol is a lifestyle staple for many adults, it might be hard to diagnose your problem with drinking. It's so easy to say, "Hey, do you want to meet for drinks?" But drinking isn't the only way adults can socialize. Hanging out with my sober friends is a blast and, as a bonus, I feel like our encounters are filled with greater authenticity.

So, I want to make sure my kid knows that functional alcoholics, who by definition are outwardly thriving, might not know their drinking is cause for alarm.

...Or They Do Realize The Problem, But Sidestep It

Because I'm super ambitious, and have a pretty good sense of self-worth, am resilient, and don't like to rely on other people — in fact, I've been a person lovers, friends, and family have relied on — my drinking problem went ignored for a long time. In fact, I was the only one who knew the severity of it, and how drinking eroded my self-esteem, filling me with shame.

I knew, in my inner-most core, that being ashamed of my behavior is a sign that there's a problem, even before I'd read any Alcohol Anonymous literature. If you're truly addicted, and by that I mean reliant on alcohol, you're going to want to do everything in your power to hang on to your crutch. Including sidestepping treatment.

Functional Alcoholics Might Blackout

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), blackouts are not the same thing as passing out cold from having one too many. Blackouts occur when alcohol affects the chemistry of your brain in a way that causes you to engage in functional behaviors that do not form memories. Too much alcohol (it can be any type) consumed too quickly shuts down the "circuits that involve the hippocampus, a brain area which plays a central role in consolidating memories for what happens in our day-to-day lives," noted the NIAAA. In other words, if you blackout, you will never remember the events that transpired during your blackout. Essentially, it's like they never happened.

The outstanding autobiography, Blackout, by writer Sarah Hepola discusses the phenomenon of blackout drinking in a way that will leave you speechless. Required reading for my kid when he or she hits their teen years? You bet.

Binge Drinking Might Be A Form Of Functional Alcoholism

Binge drinking, when you consume five or more drinks in one sitting, is a form of alcoholism for some people. According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, binge drinking isn't interchangeable with being alcohol dependent, in most cases. However, for some people, like me, binge drinking made me a functional alcoholic. My binge drinking disrupted my life, ruined relationships, and made me miss opportunities, which according to Medical News Daily, are signs of addiction.

Binge drinking is getting a lot of media attention of late, as is the whole notion of "bingeing." It's not normal, however you slice it; it's a symptom of excess. Dear Future Child: I don't want you to want for anything, but there will be times when I give you a hard "no." You might not like me for it, but it's called setting boundaries.

If You Feel Shame From Drinking, You Don't Have To Live With It

As aforementioned, shame is not a normal feeling, though the word is used on the regular these days. What is shame? Brené Brown, a scholar, TED Talk speaker, and researcher literally wrote the book on shame, and is the authority on how to squash shame by speaking back to it.

Brown's work helped change my life. When I realized that shame is not normal, but rather a disease of the soul, I was empowered to take back my life and my dignity. When I realized that shame is lethal, and had the courage to look at the behaviors that underscored feelings of shame, I was able to excise it from my life. Like all humans, I'm a work-in-progress, and I want my kid to know that about me, too.

But Being A Functioning Alcoholic Is Nothing To Be Ashamed About

Yaas, girl, (or boy) yaas, really.

Seeking Treatment Can Change Your Life, For The Better

It took me a long time to get there, but I'm here and in a place where I feel in control of my drinking. Part of being in this place and gaining that control is knowing that there's no guarantee I won't be a functioning alcoholic again.

Ever since I wrote my first article about living life as a functional alcoholic, I received messages from all kinds of people — friends and strangers — who thanked me for being so honest and brave. People have opened up to me about their problems, and confided that they relate, but aren't ready to give up drinking just yet. Those messages have helped my recovery by making me proud of something I was once so ashamed of. I too used to be adamant that I wasn't ready to give up drinking, but rather continue to manage it. But guess what? It's a whole lot easier to manage your drinking without a glass in hand. Dear Future Child: No matter what, I'm always going to be there for you. Know that. Always.

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