Beer? What Beer?

“No.” I stretched and yawned. Then I remembered. “I had to tell them about the beer.”

“The beer?” She stood there with her hand on her hip. “What beer?”

“Come on, Mami, the beer,” I said. “He drinks a lot of it, you know that.”

“Because your father drinks a couple of beers you had to tell the doctor? I don’t understand that. He works hard. He makes a lot of sacrifices for you.” Mami started to put the pots in the refrigerator.

 

The above is an excerpt from my constantly revised manuscript. It’s an exchange between my protagonist and her mother, “Mami.” Because I work in Addictions, I’ve been privy to many reasons why a beer for some people just isn’t a beer. I don’t usually blog about it, but I experienced an occurrence recently that set me to thinking and blogging about “a couple of beers.”

Running late to a friend’s anniversary celebration the other evening, I decided to stop for a card and a bouquet of flowers to commemorate this special event. I chose the card quickly and picked up a lovely arrangement of bright orange happy flowers. I stood at the counter, waiting for the sale to be rung up. The grocery store owner is a fortyish beauty who was doing arm exercises-totally missing my ‘I’m in a hurry cues.’ I’ve shopped there for years and see her and her family often.

She told me about how she’d started to gain weight, standing at the counter for hours on end. Giggling, she told me she couldn’t stop eating or drinking. I commiserated, I too love to eat and drink. She said it again. The signal went off in my head. She’s talking about “drinking-drinking,” not just drinking. The store owner had no idea that I’m a nurse practitioner, that I work in addictions and know a thing or two about health. I sometimes whether I have a neon light on my forehead announcing what I do for a living because a lot of people reach out when I least expect it. It was then she admitted that she was so stressed that she drank a couple of beers every night to relax. Her stress level was high, with young adolescent boys she’s raising, a very busy store to run and whatever else she didn’t say during the five minute exchange. The other thing I heard from her was that she has high blood pressure and gets headaches. When she told me she drinks for the third time, I got her message.

My local store owner isn’t alone. This past week, I realized that during at least three psychiatric evaluations that the reason the folks came to see me was that they were stressed. That was their leading sentence. They all drank beer to cope. Some of us can drink-drink and some of us can’t.

My first suggestion to this woman who chose to confide her high stress level was to try relaxation techniques such as meditation instead. She had no idea what that was. I explained it. Secondly, I suggested she go for walks to de-stress. She remembered that she did that last summer with a friend and loved it. Apparently, she just needed a reminder. We talked about alcohol and high blood pressure not mixing. Talking to an objective person about one’s problems is another way to reduce the anxieties of life. That was one intervention she did on her own when she told me her problem before wrapping the flowers.

I’m glad I was there to help out. I didn’t have to take my prescription pad out or lecture her on the evils of alcohol. It’s not about that. Yes, some people need twelve step meetings but some don’t. A listening ear and a little education go a long way.

My friend loved her card and flowers. I’m glad that I’m her friend and that drove me to stop at the store and to be the person my other new friend needed.

The Nature of the Beast

Addictions brings up a multitude of opinions, thoughts, and ideas all dependent on whether one is actively substance using or reaching out to help someone who is in the throes of the disease. As a mental health practitioner in this field, I often believe I’ve seen it all. Then the rug is pulled out from under me and yet another thing is revealed.

Working with men who are grappling with varying degrees of addiction in a NYC shelter system has been ‘an eye opener’- no pun intended. I’m often shocked to speak with who I consider a geezer only to find out that the gentleman who totes his walker, has no teeth, and who doesn’t know who our previous mayor was, is younger than me. I’m actually the geezer but you wouldn’t know it on first glance.

Why do I bring this up? We all deal with addictions in some shape or form- unless, of course, you are the person in that Twilight Zone episode where you were actually living in a toy village under the supervision of a giant. Most of us have a sister, a neighbor, a husband or maybe even ourselves who are dealing with the decision not to pick up a drink or a drug. For many people the effects may be a lost evening- so what? We’ve all heard it and said it- “I work hard and deserve to relax.” The creeping thoughts of being late for work in the morning, the novel revision that goes undone “just for tonight” or the last couple of bucks spent on a six pack when your check hasn’t cleared may not be problematic-yet.

The tricky part is that the disease of addictions is progressive. The guy or gal I see in front of me at age 25 will look and feel a lot worse at the age of 55. There is no system that goes untouched by the effects of the disease of addictions. This is a malady that decimates one’s physical, emotional and spiritual life and any other aspects you can think of. Families and other relationships are ruined.

Yesterday, a colleague of mine was personally upset and felt a bit betrayed by one of the young men we’ve been working with. The release that marijuana, cocaine and pills brings is one that is hard to compete with. I reminded her that it is “the disease” that does this. I’ve spoken with several clients who were so upset when Whitney Houston had died. How could this disease take out this very lovely woman who was an icon, who had a daughter she loved desperately, and who seemingly had it all? I can only say the same way it would take out a 75 year old man who is living in a shelter, smoking crack with no one who can be named as next of kin.

I, too, get personally upset sometimes by people who continually relapse on substances. If I were a bank teller, would I be emotionally hurt by the guy who takes ninety percent of his savings out of his account? Would my feelings sting if I was a cashier and someone bought six bags of marshmallows and no sources of protein in their grocery shopping?

Doing my part is all I can do in the world of addictions. There is help out there for people who want it. Until they are ready, all I can do is to be at the ready, too.