I grew up in a house with a bar that spanned the length of the living room. I thought as little of the bar as I did of our couch, the coffee table or any other piece of furniture in the room. Granted, the bar had a mirrored front and a sleek wood top, which proved glamorous and alluring, but my parents weren’t addicts, they were partiers. When my husband and I had the opportunity to decorate our living room, we built a bar equally as sleek as my parent’s bar and it took up a good portion of the living room. I never thought about the message this sent my children or what I was unconsciously teaching them.
Entertaining one Saturday afternoon, a friend caught my eye. I watched him stroll to the bar many times over the course of the day filling his glass with scotch again and again. After about ten trips to the bar I lost count. I wasn’t concerned or shocked. The only thought I had about how much he’d consumed was, boy he can sure put it away.
This was a friend who’d been married for fifteen years, had five children, drank scotch straight from the bottle, often fell asleep in his clothes on the couch, and at times woke with no memory of the evening before. How is it possible that when he went to rehab, I was surprised?
I write about this now because I want to call attention to how unaware we are of the enormous and immeasurable ways addiction impacts our lives and how the values of our culture, community, family, along with our childhood experiences and our feelings of self worth play a part in how obsessions show up, sometimes unexpectedly.
I’m not an addiction expert. I’m a writer, a teacher, a mother, a woman living in a tight-knit community, who has witnessed the progression of something so alarming and prevalent it has become impossible to deny any longer.
In Connected: The Amazing Power of Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives, the authors claim that how we feel, what we know, whom we marry, whether we fall ill, how much money we make and whether we vote all depend on the ties that bind us. But Social Networks don’t distinguish between good and bad, so they spread happiness, generosity and love... but also eating disorders and alcoholism.
Tina Rosenberg’s book, Join the Club: How Peer Pressure Can Transform the World, argues that peer pressure can lead to acts of bravery or destruction (depending on the trend) and that through social networks we could transform the world. Rosenberg asks us to re-imagine social change based on the most powerful human motivator: our desire to connect with one another. And she refers to this phenomenon as the “social cure.”
I saw this happen firsthand.
When the man who drank scotch straight from the bottle returned from rehab, he surrounded himself with other recovering alcoholics and attended Alcoholics Anonymous, a social network. He lived according to the program, one day at a time.
But within our community, outspoken, he stood out until a few months later, another community member got sober. Together they seemed to stand taller than they did on their own. They made recovery look good. They didn’t talk about how much they missed drinking. Conversely, they spoke about the benefits of sobriety. They could participate in their own lives again, be reliable family members and concentrate at work.
Fun-loving and charismatic, they turned what was once perceived as shameful or undesirable into something that was not only accepted but respected; a loser move had become cool. They were a dynamic duo and were suitably named Batman and Robin - Caped Crusaders.
It wasn’t long before others recognized their serenity and wanted some too. I watched as person after person joined the bandwagon. Individuals who’d struggled, unable to remain sober, were finally able to stick the program. The group, attractive, grew. The social ties were spreading recovery.
A few years ago, we had a fire in our house and needed to redecorate the living room. This time: without a bar.