Let us start out by being honest – after all, it is one of the cornerstones of recovery, right? Okay, since we are being honest, let me just say that there are some people who aren’t supposed to be alcoholics. Yes, I realize that addiction does not discriminate and it affects people of all genders, ages, races, sexual orientations. However, I fall into two categories of people who are just somehow supposed to know better (and be better) than to fall under the clutches of addiction – I am a mother and I also a high school teacher.
Gulp. Swallow that one.
Let me let you in on a little secret: teachers drink – a lot. A lot.
They drink a lot just like doctors, lawyers, therapists, construction workers, postal workers and pilots. However, for some reason, people tend to take special issue with the fact that I am a teacher and an alcoholic. I realize that it is my job to take care of and nurture children that their parents have entrusted me with. That moms and dads (and other caregivers) drop their favorite people in the whole world off at a building to be taken care of by people like me who love children and want to help them grow and develop into wonderful members of society. That is a big responsibility and believe me, I understand.
For some reason teachers are believed to be larger than life, saint-like (except when it comes to school report cards and high stakes testing, but that is a completely different article). When I was in the midst of my addiction, I was also in the classroom. I was teaching high school students the concepts that I knew and loved, but I was also fighting a battle for my life. Not that I need to explain myself, but I will say that I was never under the influence at school. That doesn’t mean the effects of my disease did not spill over into my ability to do my job. It was becoming apparent to those around me that something was wrong, but no one at work knew the truth.
When I finally decided that I needed to go to treatment (after many months of resistance and attempts to control my drinking), I had to request a leave of absence. I came clean and told my principal what I had been dealing with and I was surprised at his reaction. He was extremely kind and supportive and told me that his father was an alcoholic who never quit drinking. My boss helped me navigate Human Resources and ensure that I had all the necessary paperwork to get my leave of absence approved. Then he said something that shocked me “I wish you luck and hope for your recovery. But, I wouldn’t tell people in the community because it doesn’t represent our profession well.” Think about that one for a minute.
I am writing this after several years in recovery but those words he spoke to me still echo in my mind. I know that my boss was trying to spare me more pain, but what he was doing was actually perpetuating the problem. The more people keep addiction quiet and concealed, the more the stigma continues. I am not saying that I need to announce to my students or their parents that I am an alcoholic, but I do not need to be ashamed of it. If someone knows I am an alcoholic, so be it. It is my choice whether I tell people or not.
There are people that I work with and in my community that know I am an alcoholic. How do they know this? Well, first off because I have chosen to tell them that I am in recovery. One of the other reasons people know is because I have met them in the 12-step rooms! Those of us that have attended those meetings can tell you that you see people from all walks of life, including professions like teaching. I have met current and former students, parents, friends, neighbors and even co-workers. Not that I would ever acknowledge who those people are to anyone outside the rooms, but still, it was nice to know that I am not the only one.
I am a recovering alcoholic. I am also a mother AND a teacher.
I have struggled with addiction for most of my adult life and for the first time ever, I realize that my experiences are a gift.
I fought hard to stay alive, to get sober and to be the best me I can be. I have been able to stand up in front of 300 people and tell my story through addiction and recovery and I enjoyed it so much, I did it again. Standing in front of complete strangers telling them the dark corners of your addiction journey is not all that bad, in fact it could have been much worse. Remember, I work with teenagers.