*By Mo Kim*
The facilitator arrived half an hour earlier than the rest of the support group members so that he could prepare the room for the session. It was an alcoholics’ support group. He brewed a jug of coffee, arranged the chairs into an intimate circle then adjusted the lighting to a comfortable hue. He knew from experience and from the training he had received on how to conduct a support group, that such seemingly trivial matters foster intimacy, trust and an easy feeling, all which work wonderfully well for a support group. After his preparations, he took his seat and patiently waited for the members to come in. The only blemish to the amiable expression on his face was a scarcely noticeable frown, the cause of which was the arrival of a new member into the group, a member who was in her final year of study at a certain university. He secretly hoped Debra, the new member, would not upset the group dynamic, for he had gone to great lengths to instill a sense of trust into the group, and people are generally unwelcoming to change.
All members having arrived, he opened the meeting by welcoming them. The sweetly deep tone of his voice, the softly pleasant expression on his face, his gentle use of gestures and his amiable posture were all noted by the members, and it eased them into the group so that each experienced and appreciated a distinct sense of belonging. The facilitator then explained to them the rules of the group: that no member should call upon any other member to contribute, that only first names may be used and that even though they were going through similar problems, names of medicines and doctors should generally be avoided, as one man’s medicine may be another’s poison. He then opened the meeting to any member who felt ready to share, carefully avoiding looking at Debra who sat next to him, so as not to make her feel pressured to contribute, even though it was her first day.
Mark went first. He shared that it was his first time to stay away from alcohol for three months straight, ever since his addiction to booze roughly three years ago. Debra noted that he took great pride in his achievement, and even greater pride in sharing it. The scars on the corners of his lips were almost healed and the slur on his speech was scarcely noticeable. Clearly he was determined to kick his addiction. When Mark said that he drew strength from the group and the various coping mechanisms his fellow members used, Debra knew that she was in the right place, for he said with such a steady voice that she couldn’t help but be moved. The facilitator was thus a little surprised when Debra offered to share next.
“Hi. I’m Debra. I’m an alcoholic.”
“Hi Debra,” came the sweetly welcoming response.
“I’ve been sober for five days now for the first time in one year, “went on Debra. “Before that, I was a teetotaler. I wouldn’t touch alcohol with a ten foot pole. Yet within a few months, I was chugging booze like my life depended on it. “ Here she let out a nervous chuckle. The facilitator saw through her disguised nervousness and, gently placing a hand on hers, told her she was doing great.
After a short pause, Debra narrated how it all started. She said it still surprises her how what began as an innocent experiment turned into a full blown case of overuse and dependence. Her friends invited her to a party one Friday evening, saying that of course drinks would be served, but she need not drink if she didn’t want to. Yet even as they granted her that petty freedom, she detected undertones of charity in their voices, as if they were disappointed she never drank and were forcing themselves to make do with her queerness, as she felt they saw her abstinence from alcohol. Tired of being “queer” and of disappointing her friends, she turned up for the party and took her first sip. It tasted foul, like the devil’s pee. She wanted to spit it out and go back to drinking simple water and lemon tea. But, alas, her friends. They were all so excited with their new gal, so beaming with pride that she swallowed the bitter pill. Thus many Friday nights after, she accompanied them as they went out to have fun. By degrees, it became a thing.
Her boyfriend, however, was not thrilled by the new Debra, to say the least. The only pleasure he allowed himself was an occasional extra lump of sugar in his tea. Thus he saw Debra’s new ways as bordering unrestrained extravagance and spared no words in condemning them. He occasionally threatened walking out of the relationship if she did not change. Scared of being dumped, Debra tried to stop drinking, for he was devoted to her and, leaving aside his intolerance of her Friday nights out, he waited on her hand and foot. Yet even as she tried, she realized she could not succeed. The harder she tried the more entangled she got. For addiction is a dangerous thing and trying to quit cold turkey often makes things worse. Thus by degrees, her innocent Friday nights transformed to span the entire weekend and occasionally weekdays.
She got behind in her studies (predictably) and was often attacked by terrible mood swings, which she counteracted by more drinking and deftly excused them by saying it was her time of the month. She often drank in secret to deal with terrible hangovers. The very friends who initiated her into the drinkers’ club were concerned about her drinking and bid her take it easy on the bottle. However, this annoyed her. She drank even more, so that in a short while she drank every morning to steady her nerves and every night to fall asleep. Her doting boyfriend could not endure her anymore: he actualized his threat and left her. She then realized that she had to do something about it all.
One night she was so guilty about her addiction and troubled by an almost overpowering urge to drink, she could not fall asleep. Neither could she drink, for she was thoroughly ashamed and desperately wanted to quit. Thus she popped sleeping pills hoping the comfortable womb-land of sleep would offer her some escape. Yet she still tossed and turned, for sleep would not come no matter how hard she closed her eyes. With nothing left to do, she took a generous swig from the bottle she had hidden in her closet. Sleep came at last. And what sweet sleep it was!
Next thing she knew, she was on a hospital bed feeling terribly confused, groggy and unwell. Tubes were running into her nose and her arms and machines were beeping around her. Her boyfriend was seated beside her, and on seeing her awake, asked her what on earth she was thinking mixing sleeping pills and alcohol. Then it all came back to her. Her boyfriend said he had come to pick his things and seen an empty bottle lying on the floor and sleeping pills all over the bedside table. Knowing full well what had transpired, he rushed her to the hospital, just in time to have her stomach pumped and a detox procedure initiated. The doctor said that had he been a few minutes late, she would have suffered permanent brain damage, had she survived the pills in the first place.
There and then she quit. “I submitted to a month in rehab and here I am.”
She looked around to see that all about her were staring in rapt attention. She felt distinctly, almost inexplicably relieved after opening up in such fashion, for their gazes were not judgmental but sweetly encouraging and comforting. Indeed, tears formed in her eyes.
The facilitator spoke thus: “Thank you for sharing Debra. Your experience was no doubt harrowing and you’re strong to have gotten out of it. It will not be an easy journey, but we will be here for you whenever you need us. My experience was similar to yours. What worked for me was choosing my friends wisely, avoiding occasions that tempted me to drink, spending much time with people and little time alone, dedication to a wholesome activity and the integration of the spiritual into my life. Needless to add, this group has been a constant source of motivation and strength.”
The other members shared and the meeting was closed. Debra was more than happy she found such a group and realized for the first time in many, many months, she could not wait for the rest of her life. Full of joy and gratefulness, she called her boyfriend on her way home.
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