Close & Personal: Dual Diagnosis

She was standing in the middle of Dixie’s living room when Molly and I walked in. She was holding a bottle of wine and made busy to get us some. “No, thank you,” I told her. She pushed. “No, thank you,” I told her again. She didn’t give up. Usually, just saying ‘no thank you’ gets the point across. But not this time. She tried to hand me a wine glass.

This was book club night, an evening with friends that, because I live quite a solitary life, I look forward to all month. I read the book for this month over a year ago and was sure I’d remember everything about it once the discussion began; I couldn’t have been more wrong. I couldn’t remember anything.

However, it isn’t the group I want to focus on, it isn’t the book or the eating or the yakking. It was this one woman, this pushy-with-alcohol woman, and myself. She is a summer person and neighbor of Dixie’s who threw the festivities this time and is someone none of us knew. In short, she isn’t from around here. She used the dreaded ‘C’ word to explain where she was from: California. Her nails were long and painted, her clothes immaculate, things that gave her away immediately. I won’t speak for my friends in the group but we are a somewhat motley collection of women. We live year around in a very rural Montana location; our clothes are usually not stylish, our nails aren’t painted. Not to say painted nails aren’t attractive but they don’t last long when gardening.

I moved out here in 1996 when my daughter was five years old. I was basically helpless in the face of hauling and burning firewood, snow removal, getting to the supermarket through a ton of snow, frozen/broken pipes. I tried to not ask for help. I’m not saying I’m oh so tough now but I have a better handle on the truth. And the truth is, I can’t fake it. I have to ask for help that, of course, allows me more lessons in humility, one of my life’s repetitive themes. And this brings me back to Book Club and the summer woman.

This woman’s body language, her speech and her actions spoke to me. Under her pushiness I could see a very uncomfortable, possibly shy person. She was pushing booze on everyone, including me, and wouldn’t stop. All of a sudden I heard myself say, “I’m an alcoholic and that’s why I don’t want any”. She stopped. But the damage was done. First, I forgot to say ‘recovering alcoholic’. Then, my mind began spinning and whirring the way it does when I reveal something about myself, something tinged with shame and stigma. My thoughts go into overdrive: ‘what if she knows I live with bipolar disorder too?’ ‘What if she knows I was once suicidal?’ ‘Oh man, I really am a mess!’ All these predictable thoughts crashed into each other inside my mind. I didn’t know this person at all and was now watching myself do a self-centered mini-putdown-marathon. I felt exposed and ashamed. I can get twisted up into regret more than I care to admit. It took me almost all evening to come back to my good mood. I saw clearly that this woman is an alcoholic. Why couldn’t I simply forgive her? I know from AA that an alcoholic has to bring him/herself to the table of recovery. There is nothing I can do but set a good example. Living with a dual-diagnosis (mental illness and addiction combined) feels too heavy at times and this was one of those times.

I’m not going to lie and say I’d like to meet up with this woman again but, observing myself during this book club evening was significant. Quitting drinking was the most difficult undertaking of my life. I hope that in the future I’ll be proud of what I have accomplished under the heading of dual-diagnosis. As far as the summer woman from California, I wish her well and thank her for the lesson.