Yesterday, I picked up a friend at the Fort Lauderdale Hospital. He was just released from a 30-day alcohol rehab program. He has been in a few alcohol rehab programs throughout the years, but he swears this one will be his last. He desperately wants to be sober. Drinking has cost him a lot: divorce, supervised child visitations, sexual dysfunction, friendships, jobs. You name it; he lost it.
In his heyday, he was a tough guy. He grew up in Brooklyn. He learned his father's auto-mechanic trade—and learned how to drink just like him, too. His father was physically and emotionally abusive. He wanted his son to be a man and he beat it into him, every day.
My 38-year-old friend, despite his abusive treatment, wouldn't hurt a fly. Somehow he escaped the cyclical, generational curse that is so noticeable in alcoholic families. Sure, he has scuffled, brawled and thrown a few punches, but not as an adult. He is highly intelligent, articulate, solicitous of others' opinions and makes friends easily. Everybody likes him, and they should . . . until he starts drinking.
My friend is a good and decent man, but he can't hold a job, can't maintain a relationship and can't stop the demons from flooding his brain cells with memories of his brutal childhood. Somehow he has managed to collect disability, has an overextended caseworker and is examining his past in group therapy. He is a scarred and scared man. But there is hope. And that's all my friend has.
Unlike his previous stays at treatment centers, this last rehab has forced him to confront his emotions, the source of his troubles. He was panicky and terrified of what he would find. He was gregarious and could help others with their problems, but now he had to be introspective and look deeply into his own soul. I did not envy him.
Alcoholism is a debilitating disease that incapacitates the person's physical well being. It is a permeating, malignant disorder with tentacles that burrow far and deep into a person's psyche. And this can have a deleterious effect on the person's employability and manageability.
The literature indicates that alcoholism is best described as a disease, not as a vice, the result of bad choices or character, or a sin. The concept of disease means alcoholics can change their behavior and be cured. Alcoholism produces the traits of depression, dependence, criminality, inferiority, pessimism and aggression, not vice-versa. There is no such thing as an "alcoholic personality." Once alcoholism ends, so do these offensive characteristics. Recovering alcoholics are no more depressed, psychopathic, pessimistic or selfish than the rest of us.
Since alcoholics may have missed 20 or more years of their life, however, they are often less grown up in work, in emotional life and in relationships than others their age. How the shop or business manager can be effective with recovering alcholics in the workplace is the topice of next month's column.