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It’s easy to be an alcoholic in America. Just about everything social involves the sauce. Tailgate party? Pre-gaming! Brunch? Mimosas! Lunch? Bring on the pints! Dinner? You mean cocktails, henny!

So it’s one thing to say, “Well of course I get my drank on!” and imbibe like “normal people” my age … which is basically daily, whether a glass of wine or three at dinner or a half-pint of Jameson afterward. But it’s another thing to say, “Of course I’m an alcoholic!”

It’s completely and utterly taboo.

Once you open up that can of worms, people see you differently. There’s a weakness about you. Instead of, “Oh, that’s Greg enjoying a Jack and Coke at the office party,” it’s, “Jesus. Greg’s an alcoholic. He can’t even cut it out for one night?”

But for me (and for other folks who haven’t come to terms with what that means) it’s an absolute truth that wearing your Scarlet A (for Alky) without doing everything in your power to fix it is seen as an obvious flaw, a liability. Not quite as sad, but still disheartening is that well-meaning people think they’re enabling you by having a drink with you when, in reality, you’d have one anyway.

But I’m “functioning,” as some in our drinking community say. I get my work done. I balance my Jekyll and Hyde. It sounds pretty easy, but it’s a complete bitch. You basically live your life in one big hangover and pretend you’re cool. That’s kinda like having the stomach flu, but whistling and giving presentations like you’re in tip-top shape. Not easy.

“So just stop drinking.”

Do you know why we can’t just “stop drinking”? Because coming off alcohol is a dangerous bitch, too. It’s fatal, if you’re far enough into it. Let me describe what happened last time I tried that without medical assistance.

It’s yet another night — the third in a row — that I haven’t touched a drop, and the third night in a row where I haven’t slept. A literal delirium sets in to where I’m seeing shadows of short, cloaked women pacing my living room. I can’t get comfortable on the couch and random song jingles and banging sounds that aren’t real keep my nerves jolting spasmodically. I toss, I turn, I’m sweating, I’m crying, I’m angry, I’m losing it … all in the same minute. Then the hallucinations come back and there are black pigs trying to jump on my furniture. That’s pretty much the only distraction I get from the physical agony, the slight sitting up for the terror and semi-amusement of shadow-pigs. I smell like hell, a strange, chemical-sweat that I can’t name. I’m trembling in the heat of my apartment, hoping the toxins are pouring out, but somehow freezing through a fever. My digestive system is wrecked and I can’t seem to manage even the simplest things over the next work week, like mixing a protein shake when I manage an appetite, or form coherent sentences when someone calls. It’s hell and it doesn’t stop until I cave. And I had to cave; I couldn’t handle it anymore. A pint of vodka and I was back on track, depressed and hating that I gave in, but now able to cook and form complete thoughts sans hallucinations.

But I’m “functioning.” I have a full-time job and I own a home and a car. I know how to refrain if I’m on a business lunch and someone offers to buy a round, because I know where that leads. Some might not consider me a true alcoholic because I play my cards close and know when to hold them, but they’re woefully mistaken. We just know how to hide.

There are many, many like me out here who sneak under the radar because it’s easy to conceal — just decline the nightly staff outing and drink at home. But I beg of you: The next time someone has the gall and the trust to admit to you that they’re an alcoholic, please don’t start with the judging or the sadness. It’s a mental impairment with physical symptoms and lots of us out there are on a mission to quit. Promise.

In the meantime, don’t feel bad for having a beer with us, and don’t think you’re going to send us on a spiral into non-functioning territory. Not all alcoholics are alike and if we’re strong and self-reflective enough to let you in on our secret, trust that we’re making our own decisions in spite of you. Just enjoy a decent night with us as we’re choosing to do with you. No judging.

We got this. Kind of.