When it comes to reducing the stigma of addiction and mental illness, we all bear some responsibility. It’s important to walk the walk as well as to talk the talk – or, in my case, to write these words: My name is Victoria, and I am an alcoholic.

It’s scary to write those words, particularly in a newspaper that reaches thousands. But that reach is exactly why I need to share this. Because if the funny young Maine Millennial can be an alcoholic, anyone can. There are people of all ages reading this who are struggling with their own addictions, and if you’re one of them, then I promise, you are not alone. (And if anyone I work with is reading this – um, please don’t fire me?)

Several factors led to me developing this disease. Genetic predisposition is one of them – relatives on both branches of my family tree have struggled with alcoholism. Mental illness is another – I have an anxiety disorder, and as anyone who has been on a first date knows, a glass of wine goes a long way to soothing jangled nerves.

The final trigger was my father’s death. He fought cancer for almost a year before he died, and I drank a lot of wine to cope with that. And it helped, honestly. I had to numb myself, smother the pain so that I could get through the nights. His death left a hole in my heart and I tried to fill it with boxed wine. Seriously, if there’s an unexplained drop in wine sales in Maine in the near future, well, I’m the explanation.

I have decided to quit drinking. I don’t like hangovers, I don’t like lying to the people I love and I don’t like waking up to realize I have bought $50 worth of cat socks online. (Although I have managed to never drunk text an ex, so at least I have that going for me.)

And this is where I am truly lucky: I have a good support system that will help me recover, because recovery is going to be an absolute bear. I’ve got a family who loves me, and two wonderful partners who will hold my hands and put up with my crankiness (I hope). I have health insurance (through my job, so, here’s to hoping my boss doesn’t read this), which has allowed me to access an amazing therapist and affordable medication for my anxiety disorder. These are resources that everyone should have; addiction is far too tricky and difficult to beat alone. Everyone deserves equal access to quality medical care.

Addiction is tricky. It burrows itself deep in your brain, hijacks your brain’s reward system and puts itself in there. It defies all logic – even if I know that drinking will have negative consequences, I still lift the bottle to my lips. People who have not experienced addiction, who don’t have the unlucky genes, cannot understand it, and I think that is part of why so many people feel that addiction is a moral failing or a lack of self-control. Lots of people can have one or two drinks and then just choose to stop. Others simply can’t. I simply can’t.

It’s going to be tough. So many social situations involve alcohol, and you don’t realize how pervasive it is until you have to stop drinking. The day after I decided to call it quits, I went out to lunch and the waitress asked me if sitting at the bar was OK. No, no, it was not. Temptation is harder to resist when it is literally staring you in the face.

My therapist once said to me that addiction is “a disease of loneliness.” By its very nature, it cuts you off from people as you spend time chasing down your chemicals, consuming them in secret and hiding the side effects. I may be an introvert, but I don’t want to cut myself off from people in search of the peace that I will never find in a bottle. I don’t want to bomb my liver for another 20 years. So I am reaching out. People need other people. We’re all in this together.

The hole in my heart is still there. I’m not sure what I’m going to fill it with. But I’ve got a boyfriend, a girlfriend and a cat. That’s my start. So you may feel free to toast to my health, but I will be toasting with a glass of sparkling cider from now on.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: mainemillennial

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