Body, Bottles Down, Issue: Birthday
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Masking It: The Night I Started Hiding Alcohol

After a six-month, self-imposed period of abstinence from alcohol, drinking crept back into my life — while I was in costume.

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(Photo Courtesy Susan Linney)

It was Halloween night, 2009. I was dressed up as a hippie, with a long, blond, knotty-dread-ish wig (topped with a colorful tam) and a floor-length, swirly patterned dress. My husband (then fiancé), Andy, matched me as my mate in his own wig and Grateful Dead tee, and we brought along my old Cabbage Patch Kid to complete our peace-and-love family.

I had also just completed a six-month, self-imposed period of abstinence from alcohol, which I was oh-so-proud of. The fact that I had been able to stay sober all on my own, without AA meetings, rehab, or ultimatums from loved ones, was a major accomplishment; one that I believe proved, once a for all, the thing I so desperately needed to believe about myself – that I was not an alcoholic.

So after dousing ourselves in Patchouli oil (the scent of which stayed with us for days — don’t ever do this as an adult human being), Andy and I were ready to attend a party that one of our friends was throwing.

But before heading out, as I continued to praise myself internally for six months of healthy, happy, I’ve-got-it-all-figured-out alcohol abstinence, I grabbed a vodka-filled bottle of Smartwater and stashed it in my hippie sack.

What can I say? I was in a party mood — perhaps inspired by my peace-drugs-and-love costume, and certainly bolstered by my (recently proven) ability to drink (or not drink) like a regular person. I just wanted to get a little tipsy and enjoy Halloween, which was well within my rights as an adult, right?

Maybe, if I had been willing to be honest about it. But in reality, I also wanted to keep up my “sober” status. Not because I had to, but because I wanted to. Because to my surprise, it turned out that people liked me better when I didn’t drink. My husband, my sister, my friends. The summer prior, people would often tell me how awesome it was that I could just hang out and have fun without alcohol – that they wished they could do it too — and that self-esteem-deprived part of me wanted to keep that admiration intact. Why give up being able to say I was sober if I didn’t really have to? It was just one night, after all.

ALARM BELLS! MAYDAY! BIG-RED-FLAG ALERT. And ironic how, even during a time of abstinence, I was still so seeped in alcoholic thought and reasoning that I believed I could create my own reality and will everything to go exactly my way.

This, I believe, was the beginning of my true descent into the seriously grave depths of alcoholism. I definitely drank too much in the past (I had already spent time in rehab a few years prior), but this was the beginning of the real madness. The crazy, deluded thoughts, the mad construction of alternate realities. I mean, I was carrying a bottle full of vodka yet insisting it was water. I was running around claiming sobriety while riding a pretty strong Ketel-One buzz. And it all seemed perfectly acceptable to me. If that’s not alcoholism, than I don’t know what it.

I wasn’t fooling anyone — except myself.

The craziest part? It worked, or so I thought. Nothing awful happened as a direct result of that night. In fact, over the next year I curbed my drinking pretty well, probably because I was so caught up in preparing for my wedding the following November. I did drink here and there, sometimes socially, sometimes in secret. But I remained “fully functional” and could go days, sometimes weeks, without a drink.

But now, when I look back, I see that Halloween night as extremely significant. It was the first time I thought to hide my drinking — a practice that would eventually become a way of life for me. Even more disturbing, I didn’t think there was anything wrong with it. I didn’t think it was “deceptive” or “wrong” or even “weird.” I was just having fun, kicking back in costume, on my terms and my terms alone. I thought booze was still a friend — something I had control over — despite the quite alarming fact that I felt it was OK to lie to everyone around me.

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(Photo Credit: Andy Kropa)

Nothing awful happened as a direct result of that night. In fact, over the next year, I curbed my drinking pretty well because I was so caught up in preparing for our wedding the following November. I did drink here and there, sometimes socially, sometimes in secret. But I remained “fully functional” and could go days, sometimes weeks, without a drink.

Nevertheless, when I look back, I see that Halloween night as extremely significant. It was the first time I thought to hide my drinking — a practice that would eventually become a way of life for me. Even more disturbing, I didn’t think there was anything wrong with it. I didn’t think it was “deceptive” or “wrong” or even “weird.” I was just having fun, kicking back in costume, on my terms and my terms alone.

When I think of the disease of alcoholism as an evil entity, which I almost always do, I think that perhaps it purposely gave me that inexplicable six-month reprieve to fuck with me. Addiction is, after all, a brain disorder in part, one that tells the afflicted that he or she is not, in fact, sick. It’s the only disease that tells us we don’t have a disease. It lies to us, IN OUR OWN VOICE, which is incredibly confusing and a huge reason why it can have such a masterful hold on its victims.

It’s also progressive, chronic, and extremely cunning. It let me have my fun until it found a time when I was truly vulnerable, truly cracked, to turn on me and take over. And along the way, it kept planting seeds, nurturing my brain with grandiose thoughts. My body may not have been physically dependent at that point, but my mind was well on its way to being covertly converted.

So that Halloween night, when I purposely concealed my drinking for the very first time, as harmless it may have seemed to me in that moment, it was all part of my alcoholism’s great, grand plan. It was setting me up and getting me prepped for the hell I was to pay not too far in the future.

Scary shit, indeed.

6 Comments

  1. Margie says

    Once again, you’re honesty plus your way with words (“covertly converted” – wow! ) have nailed it!

  2. Sharon says

    You are so brave & honest, Susan. And reading your raw, real life reflections on this awful disease are very illuminating and imagine very helpful to others who might also suffer from the same. There is great generosity in the way you share your personal journey.

    • Susan Linney
      Susan Linney says

      Thank you so much Sharon, for reading and sharing your thoughts. It means a lot for to me to hear, because while being open about all this stuff truly feels natural (and cathartic) to me — especially after so many years of hiding and lying — I still can’t help but get occasional moments of fear and doubt about it all. Which is natural, I suppose.

      Ultimately, though, I feel like I need to tell this story, and if I make mistakes along the way, so be it. That’s what life’s about and for so long I just remained frozen so as not to make any mistakes at all. At least now I’m taking some chances.

      Thanks again, Sharon!

      Susan

  3. Nice example of the way our thinking and acting gets distorted by addiction. The untold rationalizing addicts do is amazing.

    • Susan Linney
      Susan Linney says

      Thanks Marc! I still shiver when I think back at how self-centered and insane my thought process was — and still is, at times. Luckily I’m now learning how to better deal with and identify out my diseased voice, tell it to shut up, and turn my thoughts around. Or, someone will usually point it out to me STAT. 🙂

      Thx again for reading and commenting!

      Susan

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