People Like High-Functioning Alcoholics
People like alcoholics like me. You know, the high-functioning alcoholics. When the curtain pulls back, and they realize, high-functioning or not, an alcoholic is an alcoholic.
Then I went and got sober. How dare I do such a thing?!
When I was a high-functioning alcoholic, I wasn’t trying to fool anyone. Not on purpose, anyway. But I think people felt like I pulled the rug out from under them. They thought they knew me, but they didn’t. I was hiding in plain sight.
The Addiction Center defines a high-functioning alcoholic as someone who habitually drinks an unhealthy amount of alcohol while maintaining some level of professional and personal success.
Many of them are successful at work and home, and sometimes their friends and family don’t even know they have a problem.
I was a high-functioning alcoholic, and no one was the wiser. I hid it really well. I would have died if I hadn’t gotten help. If you have even the slightest thought that you or someone you love is a high-functioning alcoholic, please encourage them to seek professional help.
I recommend Online-Therapy.* Encouraging therapy is their first step in healing.
High-Functioning Alcoholics Expectations
I was horrible at life. Well, at that time, I was anyway. I wasn’t always terrible at it, but at that moment, I was, and I knew it. Somehow, I was able to hide that from people. Sometimes I could hide that from myself too. Sometimes.
It’s all about the expectations. I think the paths to hell are paved with expectations. Once people have expectations of me, I want to meet those expectations.
It’s the people pleaser within that wants to do that. And so I internalized those expectations, and they became my expectations.
You can’t change those expectations because you would be disappointing people. And then, because you disappoint other people, you disappoint yourself.
So it is a vicious cycle of expectations, unmet, met, and false variety. All of that contributed to my alcoholism.
It is estimated that about 20% of people who meet the diagnostic criteria for an alcohol use disorder appear to others to be highly functioning people who have successfully completed educational programs, maintain steady employment, and are well-paid.1
High-Functioning Alcoholism is a Skill
It needs to be said. Being a high-functioning alcoholic is a skill. It is tough to pull off, yet I managed to do just that for most of my life. So who is winning at life?? Oh, wait, I was not winning at life. Not back then, anyway.
Alcoholism, in general, is a slow-moving beast. Add to that the layer of being high-functioning, and it becomes even slower. So slow, in fact, even I didn’t see it for what it was. And no one else did either.
It does not happen overnight. It took years. I am almost surprised that it didn’t overtake me sooner. I had been drinking since I was thirteen.
High-Functioning My Whole Life
Over the years, I flirted around the edges of alcoholism.
You know something? That sentence right there is what I like to tell myself, but it’s bullshit.
I have been a high-functioning alcoholic my entire life.
I just like to tell myself that it was only in the last several years that my alcoholism got the worst of me when I was high-functioning, but I think alcoholism, high-functioning or not, eventually gets the best of us.
And it was getting the best of me, especially in the later, darker years.
Key to Being High Functioning
When I went for my colonoscopy (it’s that age for me), the doctor asked about drinking, as doctors do. So I told her about my 2.5 years of sobriety then and how long I had been an alcoholic (my whole life, BTW).
She looked at my face, and I knew she was looking for the signs of alcoholism – broken blood vessels in my face. I don’t have that. And she told me as much.
I knew she wouldn’t find anything because I used to run marathons and exercise religiously (the gym was my church people). I was counteracting the effects. I was stealthy.
Hiding the Bodies
The key to being a high-functioning alcoholic is never to show it. Being able to hide that takes years and years of practice.
Part of that practice is to know where to hide the bodies, so to speak.
You gotta hide that dead body like the cops are on your ass.
Because, in many ways, alcoholism is a dead body. It could be your dead body or someone else’s, but someone ends up dead in the end.
No matter who died, you have to keep that hidden.