Sometimes the power of a bad example is as powerful as a good example. I’m thinking of Kim Richards, one of the housewives on The Housewives of Beverly Hills.
My daughter got me hooked on that show when she came home from college on winter break. There was a time – not too long ago – when that little intellectual dilettante in me would have dismissed such a show as a complete waste of time only to be watched by the mindless, vapid masses. Thankfully, I shut that little dilettante up and now I’m watching all the re-runs – thank you very much.
Watching Kim’s slow, self-destruction over this last season is good for me. I am, like Kim, am a single, somewhat middle-aged, mother whose child has grown up. We are both trying to keep our hair blonde and minimize our wrinkles. I am not going to pronounce Kim an alcoholic, but let’s just say there was a day – before I got sober 13 years ago – that I would have partied with Kim in a heartbeat.
I am a dual-diagnosed alcoholic. Alcoholism is not my only mental illness. I also have hypomania – bipolar II – which I fueled for years with drugs and alcohol. Now, 13-years clean and sober, the memories of the drama and chaos that were my life when I was drinking are a faded. I am at the point in my sobriety when many recovered alcoholics begin to believe that they have licked their “alcohol problem” and can drink again. That’s where Kim comes in.
Kim’s behavior – even when she is NOT under the influence – reminds me how I used to think, behave and rationalize away all the stupid, thoughtless, self-centered and self-righteous stuff I used to say and do in my drunk years.
I had forgotten how much chaos we bring into other people’s lives. We’re late. We don’t show up. We cause a scene. We look like crap. We pick inappropriate people for our relationships. We hurt our family and we damage our kids. We blame it on everyone else. When Kim missed her flight to Hawaii for her brother-in-law’s birthday, then missed the boat for a day of sailing once she finally got there, she shrugged it off: “Everything happens for a reason.” Yeah it does, but it never dawns on us that the reason is our drinking.
When her sister, Kyle, confronts her about it several weeks later, Kim – looking totally wasted – gives her sister the old “Hey, I can’t live up to your expectations of me! I’m sorry I can’t be like you!” There’s also the old “Hey, you’re the one who is upset. I’m fine. Get over it.” Then there are the flat out lies: Kim drinking champagne in the back of a limo, then 10 minutes later telling another one of the housewives that she’s staying sober.
Oh man, that was soooo me. Kim makes me appreciate my sobriety. I watch her relationship with her sister disintegrate, just like mine. I watch her make poor choices in her relationship, just like me. I watch her and realize how staying sober has been the best thing I could do for my depression and bipolar. I don’t look down on Kim at all. But for the grace of God…you know?
Sometimes I want to grab her by the shoulders, shake her and tell her to sober up. I want her to know how great her life would be if she would just surrender, listen, take suggestions and ask for help. Find a good therapist. Find a good psychiatrist. You can do this, Kim. Just remember, you are setting an example and the power of a bad example is just as powerful as a good example.