My oldest brother just passed away, he was an alcoholic for decades. He smoked too. He died holding his Chihuahua with his wife beside him. It was colon cancer that had metastasized everywhere.
So with a heavy heart I write this, and beg you to try one more time. Make the decision that you will slowly taper off and ultimately stop drinking. This is the best way to honor Danny’s legacy.
Today’s article is intended to help those who are alive and well, but struggling with the same secret Danny had.
By a million miles, he was my favorite brother of the two. When I was a little girl he was my hero, protecting me from my other sibling. In his twenties, Danny was handsome and charming, witty, intelligent and strong. He always had a joke to share and he loved music. He played it very loud on the vintage hi-fi console, which especially annoyed my my ‘book face mom’ who would holler at him as if she could obtain higher decibels than Stairway to Heaven, “Daniel turn the noise off!”
Growing up, he was like most guys, had a job, a girlfriend and many skills. He was a very hard worker. Then he fell on hard times in his 30’s and began drinking heavily. He became withdrawn, pessimistic, and more irritable with time. I still loved him, but more from a distance.
When I spoke to him last week, he said to me, “Suzy I don’t want to die.” I did not ask him this question out loud, but I wondered, “Then why did you slowly commit suicide all these years?”
I feel that there is always a new day, with the choice that can be made: Will I begin tapering off my addiction today or will I continue this path of suicide?
Because alcohol is encouraged in our society, we get the idea that it isn’t dangerous, but it is. It’s psychoactive, addictive and potentially lethal when misused.
There’s a famous quote by Henry Ford: Obstacles are those frightening things that become visible when we take our eyes off our goals.
My brother was a secret.
Not because we made him one. He simply felt shame and didn’t think he had much impact on anyone in his life. He didn’t want to ‘taint me’ or anyone else in our family, he said. Today, I want Danny to stand for something far greater than what he could conceive during his life. Maybe you’ll be inspired to heal yourself.
Here are considerations for when you’re ready to taper.
1. Denial. Looking in the mirror and accepting who we see is difficult if not painful. Denial is common in addiction and the person feels that their drinking is truly not out of control. They’ll often say they’re functional, they haven’t hurt anyone, or lost their job… that they don’t have liver disease or that they only drink socially. It’s frustrating to the rest of us to be told, “I can quit anytime I want” or “You’d drink too if you had my job” or “Quit judging me”, etc.
2. Supplements. My brother wasn’t very open-minded about holistic supplements, his doctors were not informed and therefore not supportive. They did not know that certain side effects can sometimes be mitigated by curcumin/turmeric when used in combination (talk to your doctor). Nevertheless, only alcohol soothed him over the years, he did not want sedating types of herbs. Getting someone sober is not easy, so I do feel that it might be helpful to try some herbs, vitamins or calming treatments (meditation, massage, acupunture, reiki, etc). As for supplements, sometimes niacin, GABA, L-theanine, lemon balm or magnesium can help. These balance glutamate or raise GABA, similar to alcohol, but they are associated with many positive attributes and no risk of addiction.
3. Withdrawal. Quitting “cold turkey” only works for a lucky few. A long, slow taper is best because it allows for GABA receptor down-regulation in the brain to correct itself. The brain does heal over time. It takes time.
But if you withdraw quickly, count on it… you will be drinking again very soon (but secretly). Riding out the waves of crave is key to getting well and it takes months, if not years.
4. Cheerleader. There needs to be at least one person rooting for you, by phone, text or physical presence. Alcoholics feel scared, alone, afraid and in pain. They are often overwhelmed and just need a cheerleader. They can also feel like they’re misunderstood, defeated and judged, so all you have to do is listen. Be kind and plant thought seeds of hope like a true cheerleader. You can be that for someone.
5. The recovering alcoholic must (repeat MUST) avoid drinking buddies. You will trip if you continue to associate with people who aren’t aligned with your new goal.
6. Stress. This is difficult to control in some cases, but possible. It’s all about choice.
Who are you aligned with?
Does he or she make you want to zone out and drink?
Maybe you are alone, or you feel terribly lonely in the relationship you have?
Perhaps your living circumstances are strained because you don’t have money for the gas heater, or you live in a trailer without heat?
Or you keep losing jobs and money is getting tight?
These types of stressors are difficult to fix overnight, but with time, and support from organizations and a cheerleader to root you on, these types of stressors can be lessened. Keep in mind attitude. Some alcoholics are by nature pessimistic and will find stress anywhere, and some alcoholics are optimists and don’t appear to get stressed out, even when they’re in dire straits. Attitude matters, and so does your disposition.
7. Recovery Centers. Becoming and staying sober is difficult, so look to established clinics and organizations that can help, as long as they are not too aggressive to medicate you with some other drug, and boot you out the door. AA sets the standard (800) 615-3851.
My friend Jess, I’m proud to say, is now sober 24 months. Every month he texts me his medallion and I celebrate with him. I am honored to be one of his cheerleaders. He did it with the help of AA and mainly because he chose to. He simply decided to quit drinking one day. Lots of people decide to do that. That’s not the hard part. The hard part is deciding to do that every single day!
Some people say their alcoholism is not a choice, and that they have a disease. Alcoholics can feel disempowered when they are told they have a “disease” because in America, this is how alcoholics are viewed in the conventional medical system. But let’s please be careful labeling now, because labeling a person who has a choice with a word that has such profound negative impact and produces internal feelings of victimization, sorrow and weakness… it’s can be detrimental to label them as diseased, especially since many may be on the verge of suicide. Maybe our conventional health care system requires it for reimbursement purposes, but again, alcoholism is not really a “disease” in my opinion because choice is involved.
A disease – in my opinion- is more like a genetic disorder or true medical condition, for example, cancer, kidney compromise, epilepsy, asthma and so on. You can’t wake up and make a choice with those.
So in my opinion, with alcoholism, there’s some choice with the condition.
One day, maybe today (I hope so!) you can choose to cure yourself of that, or not.
You would not be alone.
I would be your biggest cheerleader, even from over here. You can write me at [email protected].
Millions of brave people cure themselves every year. You just make the decision and you take steps to very SLOWLY TAPER yourself, and heal your brain (as it’s been damaged by alcohol), to heal your body, improve your diet, rework your lifestyle and develop better coping mechanisms. Then you put one foot in front of the other.
You keep choosing wisely, staying on a path like a horse out the gate…. blinders on… and you just keep pushing forward. That’s always your choice. And that sets you up to live your life to its fullest capacity.
I never thought Danny was diseased. I definitely feel the medical system failed him the few times he went into clinics for recovery. Too hard, too fast and too quickly booted out the door!
8. Quitting. I believe you can, and yes I know it’s hard.
Honestly, quitting is not the hardest part. Danny “quit” many times… the issue was staying sober. Sometimes that’s where supplements can help your brain transition from a terrible wave to a window of long-term sobriety. It’s how you adapt to a healthier lifestyle, little by little, that predicts how long you will remain sober.
Hopefully you can stay there forever. There’s a quote by someone unknown but it applies here: “If you’re going through hell, don’t stop.”
Danny never realized that we were all very proud of him every time he tried to quit. Recovery is the bridge between who you WERE and who you ARE. No one should ever get to the dark place where they feel they are too broken, too scared, too alone or too weak to hold on.
If you’re there, please hold on, you CAN make a change for the better. Someone needs you even though it doesn’t always look that way. Incredible change happens in your life when you decide to take control of it, and use the power you have to make changes and not give in to the crave.
Danny Gurvich is no longer a secret. He gave me an incredible 23 year old nephew.
Today I am celebrating the life of a very good man … and mourning his passing with you.
With love to my big brother… November 29, 1957 — July 11, 2017