cautionary tales.

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So here’s what happened.

My beloved was standing at the stove, cooking our breakfast at 7:00 A.M. on Sunday morning because apparently I’m the kind of person who has a beloved and lets someone cook for me and enjoys waking up very early – even on Sunday mornings. I was relaxing, drinking coffee, and scanning news headlines (and by news headlines, I mean Entertainment headlines). Suddenly and loudly, I gasped and exclaimed “WHAT?!” which caused my beloved to nearly send scrambled eggs all over the kitchen floor.

“What happened?! What’s wrong?!” he wanted to know.

In fairness, my reaction was probably a little over-dramatic. But what happened was this: Nelsan Ellis died. He was 39 years old.

If you’re not a True Blood fan, you’ve probably never heard of Nelsan Ellis, but I’m a True Blood fan; more specifically – a Lafayette Reynolds fan. I adored Lafayette in all his hooka-fabulous glory…and Nelsan Ellis was the actor who delivered Lafayette to my living room and buried him deep in my heart.

Image result for lafayette gif

I was crushed by the news of his passing.

“Heart failure?!” I muttered, scanning the article aloud. “How does a 39-year old die from heart failure?”

My manfriend responded, “How do some of these athletes and young kids die from heart problems? I guess nobody knows when it’s their time. And I hate to speculate, but a lot of times, deaths like that involve drug or alcohol damage.”

Nelsan Ellis wasn’t Kim Kardashian famous so the details of his personal life were never front-page news, but I’d never read anything to suggest he struggled with substance abuse. Maybe it was just bad genetic luck, I thought…I hoped.

And then Monday happened. His family released additional information regarding his death. The following is an excerpt from an online article:

Nelsan’s father has bravely agreed for me to share the circumstances of Nelsan’s heart failure. Nelsan has suffered with drug and alcohol abuse for years. After many stints in rehab, Nelsan attempted to withdraw from alcohol on his own. According to his father, during his withdrawal from alcohol he had a blood infection, his kidneys shut down, his liver was swollen, his blood pressure plummeted, and his dear sweet heart raced out of control.

On the morning of Saturday July 8th, […] Nelsan was pronounced dead. […] Nelsan was ashamed of his addiction and thus was reluctant to talk about it during his life. His family, however, believes that in death he would want his life to serve as a cautionary tale in an attempt to help others.

Upon completion of the article, I felt a kinship with the gone-too-soon artist. I know what it’s like to feel deeply ashamed. I know what it’s like to feel controlled and gripped by substances you desperately want to escape.

And then I became furious.

Furious with our culture…with an alcohol-centric society…with ignorance…with the multi-billion-dollar-a-year alcohol industry…with commercials and marketing campaigns and “but first, wine” quips…furious with our healthcare system for failing to properly educate people about the dangers surrounding (EVEN MODERATE) alcohol use…furious with myself for not being louder or more resolute in my beliefs.

I couldn’t help but feel that we, as a society, were to blame for Nelsan’s death and the millions of other drug-related deaths which occur each and every year…largely unacknowledged…mostly swept under the rug…happening only to those of us who make it into the “other” category, the problem drinkers and users.

Nelsan’s family hopes his death will serve as a cautionary tale. It won’t. It can’t possibly – not in a country and culture that so thoroughly celebrates and incorporates booze into the fabric of our lives.

There exists an invisible line and we’re aloud to consume alcohol, an inherently addictive substance, as frequently as we please: in large and dangerous quantities, at family gatherings, in public spaces, in the company of children, in photos on social media accounts, with glasses raised and eyes glazed…as long as we don’t cross the line into “problem” territory.

If, per chance, your biology reacts to alcohol or other narcotics the way it’s designed to react (i.e.: to become addicted), you’re fucked.

To “come out” as someone who struggles with substance abuse is to pick up an almost unbearable burden of shame and embarrassment – to know most people will believe something is wrong with you or that you’re lacking self-discipline or sick or irreparably broken.

We’ve been brainwashed into believing there is such a thing as “normal” drinking. And we let people like Nelsan and myself do battle against a behemoth in silence, in hiding, drowning in shame, desperate to avoid the pity and stigma.

The first few months after I quit drinking, I kept quiet for fear of failing. Then I got loud. I got super excited and said things like, “I’m three months sober!” and watched my mother cringe. She didn’t want me to make those kind of proclamations; it wasn’t something she wanted broadcasted to family members and friends. She believes, like we’ve all been taught to believe, being sober is something to keep close to my chest – if not hidden altogether. Because it’s something I should be ashamed of. Like I failed at “normal drinking” somehow.

And THAT’S exactly what killed Nelsan Ellis and millions of others. It’s exactly the kind of mass-cultural belief that will continue killing our people.

Sober family, here’s what I recommend we do: LET’S GET AS LOUD AS WE’RE COMFORTABLE. I can’t tell you how many people, upon learning I don’t drink alcohol, approached me with their own drinking stories, questions, and requests for guidance. It’s scary to “come out” as HAPPILY and PROUDLY sober, but you know what happens when you do? You kill a little bit of the stigma…murder it right there in its tracks. You become blazing truth; a beacon of light. And Lord knows the world needs more truth and light.

Last night, I sent a screenshot of the article regarding Nelsan Ellis’ death to my sweet manfriend with the following message: “You were right. The actor I was telling you about died from complications associated with alcohol withdrawal. Man alive, I will never stop being grateful to be free of that shit.”

Onward and louder, loves.

xo

Also – because she fucking nails it, all the time:

goodone

 

 

 

 

 

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19 thoughts on “cautionary tales.

    1. Eloquent or profound language is eluding me right now, so I will simply say thank you! Thank you for sharing this piece and for sharing the passion behind it. I am flattered…and I also feel bolstered by the response and kindness I’ve received from your readers and this community ♥

      Liked by 1 person

  1. This is exactly what has been on my heart as of late and thank you for expressing it so beautifully. “Coming out” is a vital part of recovery: our own as well as others. A big hug and thank you to Findingasobermiracle for reblogging- so glad to discover your blog BrittanyBare!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you. Found your blog Through ‘findingasobermiracle’. I’m now 35 months sober and still have much to learn in the feeling ashamed and shining my sober light department.
    The comment from a GP once on my drinking and not quitting was: “So because you are ashamed of your addiction you do not seek help to stop it?” really opened up a tiny, tiny window for me to escape the rotten drinking situation I was in. It gave me a few seconds to really see the construction in which shame was keeping me down and addicted. But still. It is difficult. I guess I need to update my last blog post with this newly found insights. Thank you.
    xx, Feeling

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Feeling – Congratulations on 35 months – that’s HUGE! ♥ I often wonder if a large percentage of people who struggle with drinking are also the people who, for whatever reason, seek perfection…who try to please others and maintain impossible standards. It seems as though ‘shame’ always hit me harder than it hit others…it felt more devastating, more paralyzing. Which, of course, only served to increase the shame, which increased the drinking…and on it went. I’m learning to deal with the shame – sometimes taking a few steps forward and a few steps back. The comment from your GP made me laugh – the irony is somewhat comical in hindsight. I’m so glad to have connected with you. Keep on keepin’ on, friend ♥

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Seeking perfection. Check! I’m thinking seeking perfection is my way of saying “When I am perfect you (parents) have nothing to comment about anymore and you will love me.” With the sad addition: for who I am. :-(. Things to work on. 🙂
        And yes to the negative spiral of shame and drinking and shame and…. pfew. Glad we got out. 🙂
        xx, Feeling

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Drives you a bit crazy, doesn’t it?!? Feeling as though you know something the rest of the world refuses to know? Like we’re the lucky ones in possession of a best-kept secret. Keep spreading the good news, girl! I continue to enjoy following your journey ♥ xo

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Penelope! For your kind and encouraging words. When I felt most alone, I consumed memoirs as if the pages were air and I was running out of breath. Feeling LESS alone was imperative for my waking up…and I hope by sharing stories and connecting with people in this community, we can all continue to make others feel less alone. Cheers to you and your beautiful recovery ♥ xo

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is an amazing post and thanks so much for sharing it 🙂
    It is like this giant “unspoken” in many rooms – why the hell should we be ashamed by:
    1. getting conned into thinking drinking is cool
    2. naturally getting addicted – because it is addictive!
    3. going is alone trying to get off the stuff – looked at by others as a fuckup because, as you say, we can’t drink “normally”
    This has now made me super fucking furious!
    More so, how many others are going to follow this amazing artist’s footsteps? So many, … too many.
    Michelle xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. LOVE your passion, Michelle! Thank you so much for reading and sharing your oh-so-true thoughts. Happy to know others are out there raging in the name of killing stigma and ignorance! ♥ xo

      Like

  4. Brilliant. My husband is a recovering heroin addict and I suffered in silence and shame for so long. I couldn’t begin the healing process and support his recovery until I started talking honestly. Stigma is a painful lonely place and doesn’t aid in recovery. Love this post. All the best.

    Liked by 1 person

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