Lotta Dann is a woman I admire who writes a blog called Mrs. D is Going Without. She has also written a book by the same name. She and I got together (from across the world – she’s a New Zealander) to talk about why we have decided to come out of the closet as named alcoholics.
Mrs. D: What made you decide to come out from behind the protective cloak of anonymity?
Marilyn: Happenstance. That’s how I ride (and it’s at least a part of the reason I became an alcoholic in the first place). I started Waking Up the Ghost as a daily journal to self-police my sobriety. I posted it to various social media sites so my friends could read it and comment. I was a sneaky, isolated drunk and it seemed the best way to get all my dirty secrets out, once and for all, was to write them down. I write better than I speak, and a blog was the natural medium for me. Even my best friend was shocked by some of the things I disclosed. She had no idea how desperate and sick I had become.
A lot of what I wrote went directly to my personal Facebook and Twitter pages with my name on them. It’s only recently I have established more professional, Waking Up the Ghost sites, so my anonymity was never an issue. I was out of the closet from the beginning.
As things happen today, my blog posts just began to flourish. There was a car-crash curiosity. My friends emailed meaningful posts to other friends who were struggling, our local newspaper and television stations got wind of it, people shared the blog on their social media sites, and so on. I started to get comments on the blog from professionals and from strangers who were suffering. It was a little disarming to realize that there were people who were counting on me for a daily pick-me-up or a laugh or an allegory. It’s only recently I’ve began to consider the WHY of what I’m doing. Why would I expose myself and my family to extreme scrutiny? Why do I feel compelled to disclose so many painful memories to the world wide web? And why do I identify myself by name, with photos?
You wrote the blog: Mrs. D is Going Without for some time without disclosing your name. Why did you decide to come forward publicly and on national TV no less?
Mrs. D: So this is interesting. Our approaches from the get-go were quite different. You ‘outed’ yourself to friends and family from the outset as a tactic to keep yourself honest. I absolutely did not do that. My blog was a big secret. I told friends and family I was giving up drinking, but I didn’t tell anyone (aside from my husband) about my blog until after at least a year off the sauce.
My blog was first and foremost a private tool for me to keep myself honest and stay on top of my thoughts as I underwent a massive life change. It was only after I had a year and a half of solid sobriety under my belt – by which time my blog had gained many readers, and I was receiving lovely feedback – that I considered telling people in my ‘real’ life about my Mrs D blog.
Around this same time I started feeling very strongly that I had a good story to tell. Not only all that I had learned about alcohol and myself, but what amazing support there was available online. I wanted more people to know! So I pitched the idea for a book to a publisher, they said yes, and suddenly I was faced with the reality of coming out of the closet (so to speak) with my sobriety story and my full identity. I suspected the book would get a lot of publicity in New Zealand and sure enough, local TV, radio, magazines and newspapers all latched onto my story as soon as the publishers began drumming up publicity for me.
I was really, really, really nervous and vulnerable about doing all of it. But ultimately I did it for one reason and one reason only. I wanted to help other people. I wanted people who weren’t already participating in online recovery to know that they could find amazing support through the internet, safely and anonymously. And I wanted them to know that they were not alone, that there are so many of us out there that struggle to control alcohol (I was certain of this because of all the feedback I was already receiving online). So I almost felt in outing myself that I was ‘taking one for the team’, because without some of us being brave and fronting up as being in recovery, addiction will continue to flourish in the dark. And we can’t have that!
How much does the feedback you receive online help you with your recovery? How much did a desire to help others factor into your decision to expose yourself so openly? What sort of vulnerabilities do you suffer from being so honest about your sobriety journey?
Marilyn: Let me start with the second question first. Honestly Lotta, I was so messed up when I quit drinking, I didn’t think of anything but myself. I needed to save myself. My motivation to help others came later, organically.
I am a loner. I was raised in a family where no one ever spoke of feelings. Feelings seemed too painful or too glorious. I have always discounted friendships and proffered help, and proceeded on my own – very Germanic – to deal with problems unemotionally. Other than my children and a chosen few, I never let anyone in.
It was only after I surrendered to my alcoholism that I was able to accept and relish the help and loyalty of those friends and family who had always been there. The fact that I have rekindled old relationships and garnered newfound ones as a result of Waking Up the Ghost is a revelation. I am touched every day by the outpouring of support online. When times get rough (as they still do for me) I remind myself that there are people who love me and count on me to be sober. It is vital to my recovery.
As to vulnerability, I have led an “interesting” life and I have always proceeded with the understanding that, “they’re already talking about me…” My behavior had been so outrageous, a sobriety blog seemed tame. I already figured out that those people who loved me would continue to do so and that they were happy I was finally dealing with my problems.
My only concern when I came out as an alcoholic, was that my children not be embarrassed or hurt by it. I write almost daily. I cover topics from the scholarly to the mundane and I try to find the humor in what is oftentimes an excruciating situation. A year and a half into my sobriety (and eight months into the blog) I believe I am out there exposing myself and the disease of alcoholism, so others don’t have to.
How about you? You have small children. And do you think there is anything negative about exposing ourselves as alcoholics? After all “alcoholics and anonymous” go together like “gin and tonic”…
Mrs. D: I love that you are grabbing your life by the balls and turning it around – accepting help, letting people in and dealing with emotions. Yay! And it’s so great you share online so that others can learn from your journey.
I can’t see any negatives for my family or me in exposing myself as an alcoholic. It’d be far worse for my kids if I were still a practicing boozer with my disease rapidly progressing (as it was when I gave up) and my outward and public displays of drunken sloppiness getting worse and more embarrassing. So I’ll never feel bad about them having an openly alcoholic mother. Anyway – I’d rather think of myself as an ‘alcoholic in recovery’, much cooler! I’m pretty convinced that my sons are going to grow up in a world where it is far more common for people to be open about the fact they don’t drink because they can’t control it.
I think the tide is slowly turning on alcohol and over the next decade many more people are going to start being more open about struggling with it. For goodness sake there are thousands and thousands and thousands of people all around the world that struggle to control the drug of alcohol!!!!! It seems crazy that we live in societies that recognizes this on one hand (all medical and emergency response professionals shout from the rooftops about the harm caused by alcohol) yet pretend it doesn’t exist on the other (booze is sold widely and marketed freely with little regulation).
This aside, while convinced the tide is slowly turning, I will defend until the day I die anyone who decides to keep their alcoholism private and to stay anonymous in recovery. Do whatever is right for you in order to keep yourself sober. Being a recovery poster child (If that’s what I am?!) does come with it’s downsides. At times I second-guess myself, at times I feel vulnerable and exposed, at times I just want to crawl under the bedcovers and hide. But like I said before, I’ll take these hits for the team, because I want to reach others who are locked in a boozy hell and help them get free. And writing helps me stay on top of my brain. It keeps me sober. It’s a two-way street.
What concerns do you have regarding your kids? How much do you hold back about yourself in your blog?
Marilyn: People tell me all the time they admire my honesty. I think I am not honest enough. I’m working on that, because I feel the deeper I dig, the more people I touch. There are some subjects I am afraid to broach. I was single through the worst ravages of my disease, so there were men – bad men who took advantage of my vulnerability. And there were run-ins with the police. And a host of regrettable decisions too painful to share quite yet.
I don’t write Waking Up the Ghost to shock, or to entertain per se. God knows I’ve been outrageous and entertaining enough for a lifetime. I do hold back those things that seem unnecessary or fodder for curiosity seekers. Certainly anything I might glean from an AA meeting or other outreach group is filtered. I try to talk about what I am feeling in the moment, share vital information and tell cautionary (oftentimes funny) tales.
Like you, I think my worse, drunken behavior was more embarrassing to my children than anything I write now that I’m sober. They are in their twenties, so they were old enough to see me fall off a bar stool more than once… Their support and pride in my sobriety is something I would never risk jeopardizing. Even to produce a fantastic blog post.
Recently I got a message from a reader who told me she thought I was too “enthusiastic” about my sobriety and that I should remain anonymous in all media – including the internet. She referred to the AA Big Book and indicated I could impact the organization by being too forthcoming. I have never positioned myself as a spokesperson for any program, so I was taken aback. Dare we broach this subject?
Mrs. D: I think we just have to respect others opinions and respect their right to air them on our public blogs if they feel the need. But also respect our right to delete them if we think they’re too mean or snippy. I respect other people’s rights to do whatever they want with their sobriety, just as I respect my right to do whatever I like with mine. I’ve ended up being a visible person in recovery, and I’m comfortable with that as it appears to be helping other people as much as it helps me. And if I’m happy with how I’m traveling in sobriety – then all is ok in my world! If I ever stop being comfortable being open about my addiction and recovery, then I’ll retreat from the internet and live my sober life privately. Only time will tell how things will go for Mrs D!
How do you feel about the comment that was left to you? Has it changed how you feel about blogging and being open?
Marilyn: It’s funny – at first I was incensed. It was the only semi-negative comment I’ve ever gotten. I thought, “I’m not a spokesperson for any organization, and certainly not AA so how can I harm it? It’s like saying the Coca-Cola folks will be impacted if I extol drinking water after a run, for God’s sake…”
But I reread it with a clear head. There are no demons – we are all trying to get through the night (and day) without the booze, and she deserved my full attention… Her concern was for the AA tenant that one must be anonymous in media; falling off the wagon as a vocal proponent could negatively impact the organization’s reputation. I get that. And that is not germane to what we do. She signed her message: A NEW SOBER FRIEND, so I think we’re cool.
The bottom line is that we are doing something important. And delicate. I get messages every day from people who are suffering and looking for a kindred spirit: from people who read what I write and take it to heart. Speaking out about our addiction and not being anonymous, IS brave. And conversations like this are vital to keep us on track.
Cheers, Mrs. D. It’s been a pleasure meeting you. And thank you.
Mrs. D: And cheers to you Marilyn! I raise my glass of delicious non-alcoholic punch to you!