My mom had taken the kids to her house in our minivan, so I had her car. It’s fun to drive. It has a fancy radio that brings in all kinds of stations. You know, it’s serious. Or Sirius.
I love to scan through the stations and usually I land on public radio. I love NPR. This time though, as I was scanning I landed on a talk radio show and heard a woman talking about how she’d gotten married and then four years later, her husband started drinking too much. She said he totally changed and she honestly hadn’t seen signs of alcoholism before she married him. Then I realized I was listening to Dr. Laura, which I don’t normally do. Like most people, I’m not a fan of listening to the self-righteous belittle and shame others under the guise of helping.
Because I’m an alcoholic in recovery, I didn’t turn the channel when I heard Dr. Laura start to chime in. But my stomach dropped in response to her reaction.
She interrupted the woman, Don’t use that word!
The woman had called alcoholism a disease.
It’s not a disease, Dr. Laura retorted. Then she went on with an ignorant rant about alcoholism being a choice, comparing it to cancer and diabetes. She used the line about a person with cancer not being able to quit having cancer. As if that’s proof that alcoholism is not a disease. As if every disease, in all of its multi-faceted and complex pain, is the same.
From her blog: “The concept of disease includes the obliteration of choice-making ability.”
Well no, actually. We have choice whether we have a disease or not. If we’re going to compare alcoholism to cancer, for example (which I think is ludicrous) then we can talk about the person with cancer having a CHOICE to seek treatment or not, just as the person with alcoholism has the choice to seek help, or not. You see, calling this disease a disease is not the problem. I have yet to meet a fellow alcoholic who says, “Oh well. I can’t help it. I have a disease, so I’ll just keep drinking.” What I have seen and heard (and experienced for myself) over and over is a person who can finally forgive themselves and therefore move forward in recovery, rather than blaming themselves and staying stuck.
(By the way, I would love to hear a debate between Dr. Laura and the wise, educated and experienced Hazelden staff.)
You would think by now someone with a Dr. in front of her name would be more informed. Instead she is using her platform to perpetuate the stigma around alcoholism, keeping people shamed and stuck in their addiction. Unfortunately, too many vulnerable people listen to her show for this to be okay.
There is most certainly a choice. I would not be sober without a night over three years ago in which I made a terrifying choice. But, my disease began within me long before the day I met the opportunity that grace provided me to quit. Just as my alcoholism was not of my creating, my quitting was not of my creating. Alcoholism begins with a disease and can end with a choice about that disease.
It’s that simple. Keep it simple, Dr. Laura.
If you struggle with alcoholism, I want you to know that there are genes that you share with me. It runs in families, in much the same way that studies have shown that diabetes and certain kinds of cancer run in families. I guess this makes us family and I’m honored to be here with you. I wish we shared something more like genes for a high metabolism or nice legs, but instead we share something that gives us the gift of an opportunity for growth in ways not possible within any other gene pool. Sobriety is magical, friends. And we couldn’t have it without our disease coming first.
It’s a painful gift.
The other day I was at my grandma’s house and she gave me a painting that was given to she and my grandpa many years ago. It was from some friends that got sober with my grandpa. What a magnificent gift. I will cherish it.
My grandpa had to make the choice to quit drinking. If he had not, we would have lost him long before we did, like my grandma’s dad, who died very young after years of binge drinking himself to death.
My dad grew up in a home where his parents had quit drinking when he was very young. They did not teach him that drinking is a way of life. Then I grew up in a home where my dad quit drinking when I was very young. Drinking was not a way of life. There was no choice made to drink on a daily basis. I did not witness any drinking at all in my family.
Then I started drinking and couldn’t stop.
I was the good Christian girl who led a squeaky clean life until I started drinking and then spiraled quickly out of control. I thought I was just weak. I thought that I was bad. I was so ashamed that I could not see my own behavior. I shut it off and numbed out and ran and ran and ran. I believed people like Dr. Laura and gave up.
Until I didn’t.
The night I quit drinking, I felt the presence of God in our bedroom. There was no shame or loud stomping demands. There was peace and a gentle nudge of my heart that felt like a drum in the best possible way. I was so scared to quit but I suddenly knew that I would not be alone, finally. And the first thing Ryan said to me when I spoke my full truth was, “It’s not your fault.”
The voice of God through my husband. Unconditional love. Grace. Mercy.
“It’s going to be okay. We’re going to be okay. I’ll help you.”
The voice of God through my husband.
This is what we need, friends. The Dr. Lauras of the world can be ignored and silenced. They are not a reflection of truth. Her way is not tough love that works. It is ignorance. It’s so sad that vulnerable people listen.
I have a disease. And much like the person who ate themselves into the diabetes that their genes had waiting for them, I have only found the strength to change this with help. We all need help to make the right choices in all of our diseases. We need to realize that choices don’t make diseases go away. We can’t do away with our genes. But we CAN make the choice to get help and then work on our disease for always.
We need the humble support of others and we need to change the station when we realize we’re listening to self-righteous and arrogant misinformation.
Dr. Laura, I’ll forgive you. You have a disease. The disease of Self. I hope you find your way to making the choice to stop spreading it.