"I decided to check in for treatment, like you suggested," my friend Diane told me over the phone, her voice noticeably tired. "I'm all packed, but I still don't understand why I can't take perfume with me." I pictured Diane's flawlessly made-up face and stylish haircut, signs of a woman who appeared to have it all together, not a serious alcohol addiction. She had two children who sang in the children's choir at church and a husband who chaired the missions committee. I knew my response to Diane's comment would painfully highlight that she wasn't packing her bags for a ladies' retreat.
Gently I explained to my friend, "The treatment center doesn't allow perfume because it contains alcohol."
Diane sighed, then whispered with aching uncertainty, "I guess I'll see you when I return next month."
I'VE HEARD this anguish many times before in my counseling practice. As the women who come to see me wrestle with their addictions, they ask: "How did this happen to me?" "What will my friends think?" "What will my church think?" "Am I as alone as I feel?"
When I too was caught in the destructive throes of alcoholism years ago, I asked these same questions. On my first visit to a counselor, I sat on a brown leather couch across from a man in a purple shirt, hoping for help and caught in a trap: I was desperate to drink, yet desperate to stop. How could I tell this stranger a secret so intimate no one but my husband knew? A collage of incongruous images flashed through my mind: trash cans crammed with vodka bottles, canned foods packed for the elderly; lubricated arguments laced with hateful words, Sunday school lessons articulately delivered. I saw a life splashed with alcoholand immersed in the church.