Dear Older Self,
You have seen it up close and personal. You know the ways that alcohol abuse and alcohol dependency can rob people of their sanity and their lives. You know how it can snatch them away from you. And you know the stories of many other people who have lived this tragedy with family members and loved ones.
You have watched as loved ones have lost their careers, their marriages and their contact with their children because of the devastating effects of alcoholism. Everything that mattered most in their lives was destroyed, yet they continued to drink.
Alcohol is one of the most frequently abused substances in our world. It is legal and relatively available. It is socially acceptable to use and even to over use. Too many children have lost a parent because of alcohol. Too many parents have lost children to its destructive power. Too many siblings have lived estranged from each other and too many marriages have come to an end because of addiction to alcohol.
You have also seen how alcoholism impacts people in the last season of their lives.
You know that for some people alcoholism develops for the first time in old age. The losses that are a part of aging can increase the risk for alcohol abuse. After retirement, after the loss of a spouse or when faced with declining health some people begin to drink and are unable to stop. You witnessed the consequences when you worked in a geriatric substance abuse treatment program. You met people who had started abusing alcohol as a way to numb the pain of their grief and loneliness. And you witnessed how difficult it was to treat both the addiction and the serious medical conditions which their newly acquired alcoholism had caused.
You also know that for other people drinking has been a long term problem. It has robbed them for years of meaningful relationships, of a clear mind, of health and of sanity. Remember your friend who told you the story about going out to dinner with her elderly parents? Both of her parents drank heavily at the meal. After dinner her father insisted on driving them home. When your friend took the car keys and insisted on driving for her safety, for her parents safety and for the safety of everyone on the road—her Dad yelled at her: “I have been drinking and driving for decades! You should know I am good at it by now!”
And remember your family member who returned to abusing alcohol after he lost his wife? He became verbally abusive as he drank. As a result, it became very challenging to help him with his growing needs.
Alcohol abuse is riskier in old age than it is in younger years. According to the International Center for Alcohol Policies (icap.org) older adults are at greater risk of experiencing negative health effects from alcohol. They are more likely to be taking medications that will interact in harmful ways with alcohol. And they are more likely to to metabolize alcohol in ways that result in higher blood alcohol concentrations.
Just as no one is too old to become addicted to alcohol, no one is too old to get help. Everyone deserves to live a life of sobriety and serenity. No one needs to live their final days in ways that create this kind of suffering and destruction. There is real help available. Recovery is possible.
So, dear older self, please give your friends and family permission to let you know if they are concerned about your alcohol intake. Please listen to them if they share concerns with you. If you are drinking and other people are saying that it is causing problems, just stop drinking. If you cannot stop and stay stopped, it is a sign that you need help in order to stop. When a substance or a behavior is causing you problems, and other people tell you that it has become a problem and you are not able to quit you are caught in an addiction.
No one intends to become addicted. It isn’t what anyone wants. Almost always people feel ashamed of it. But it does not make a person ‘less than’ to be addicted. It simply means that help is needed. The good news is that help is available. There are things you can do to regain sobriety and serenity in your life.
If you are caught up in alcohol addiction, it is important to consult with a medical professional. You may need to go into a detox center to safely stop drinking—just stopping on your own can be dangerous. And you may need support to help you stop—the kind of support offered in Alcoholics Anonymous. Showing up for meetings and working through the Twelve Steps with a sponsor can bring gifts of sobriety, serenity, renewed physical health and transformed relationships.
In these final years of life it becomes clearer that each day is precious and that each relationship is a treasure. Choose life. Let go of abusing alcohol and embrace sobriety—do it for yourself and for all who love you.
This meditation is taken from Notes to Our Older Selves: Suggestions for Aging With Grace by Juanita Ryan and Mary Rae. You can get a copy at Amazon.com