December 4, 2021

Alice in Wonderland is a sweet story, isn’t it? A lost girl stumbles down a rabbit hole and befriends creatures in a fantasy world. A children’s film made by Disney, oh sweet Disney.
But do you know what’s really happening behind the scenes. Alice has schizophrenia and experiences extreme paranoia and denial. The Mad Hatter has bipolar disorder and experiences episodes of  post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The characters are on LSD which ends up affecting their mental illness to a large extent.

But did viewers pick up on these behaviours. Think about it. Many actions have  hidden secrets and meanings behind them. A sweet Disney movie can actually be quite sinister.

Alcoholism works in the same way. We watch these people, but it’s not until we dig a little deeper that we see and understand the bigger picture. The signs of alcoholism can be tricky to see and can sneak by if we turn a blind eye.

Sometimes we are in denial of our addiction just like Alice was. And sometimes we are in denial as bystanders. But bystanders are affected as well while watching loved ones suffer, whether that’s through anger, self-hatred, sadness or self-blame.

Alice In Wonderland is a film with lots of meanings and hidden messages. The main point, however, is never judge a book by its cover. Never think you or anyone else is living in a perfect world. Always be aware of your surroundings. You never know the complexity behind someone’s life and what they are going through.  

According to a national survey on the prevalence of drinking, alcoholism is a disorder that affects nearly half of the world’s population at some point in their lifetime. Alcohol alone counts for nearly 3.3 million deaths worldwide every year, according to the World Health Organization.

To look at this from another perspective, alcohol-related deaths make up nearly six per cent of all global deaths per year. Of those 1.9 per cent are in Canada. In 2018, alcohol misuse in the United States alone cost approximately $249 billion, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.  

Alice Kronburg of Owen Sound, Ont., knows only too well the rabbit hole alcohol can draw you into.

Rewind to February 2014.

“I was a freshman in high school that year,” Kronburg said.  
“To say the least my life before February was pretty damn good. I had all my friends and not a care in the world. Little did I know my life would change forever once February came to an end.

“Myself, my mother, and two siblings, who are both younger than me, moved out of our house of 10 years. Mom said she needed time away from Dad for a little while, and then one day I saw the divorce papers. As my eyes began to fill with tears I confronted her and asked why. ‘Alice, your father is an alcoholic, we had to leave,’ she said.

“At the age of 14 I was unsure as to what that meant and how to feel, never having a sip of alcohol in my life and not knowing the effects. I didn’t know how to think or feel. We never saw Dad after moving out. He would call and so would we but we hadn’t seen him physically until Christmas Day.

“A day I will remember forever is the last day I saw him alive. He welcomed us all in with love and hugs, but I noticed almost instantly how much he had changed physically. A semi pro, healthy looking athlete at one point now looked lifeless, skin to bone,  pale, and slurring his words.

“Thinking it was just the seasonal flu I said nothing and minded my own business.  We didn’t speak much to each other. We stayed for about two hours and left. December to February I still don’t know what he did every day. He quit his job and ordered alcohol to the house every day, as me and my friends would walk past my old house on the way to school and watch.

“I tried not to think of it during these months but it began to consume me in every way possible. Me and my father would have brisk conversations but he would just blabber on about things and make no sense. I would tend to ball my eyes out after talking to him, as it began to click. Alcohol had taken him from me.

“That carried on until February 26, 2014. It was one of the best down to earth conversations I’ve ever had in my life. He told me how proud he was of me and how he always will be. He said he’s going to sober up so we can come home and be a family again. He told me how much he loved me, a four-hour phone call that left me crying in hopeful and happy tears for a new beginning.

“February 27, 2014. I’m on cloud nine right now knowing my family will be one again. I’ve just finished soccer practice and want to bake some cookies. My mom dropped me off at home and told me she was going to go see my father who was apparently attempting to be sober.

“Everyone was beyond happy and proud of him. Myself and brother and sister laughing together while baking cookies and watching Ellen. About an hour later we heard a knock on the door, my grandpa.

“Curious to why he was at the house I asked of course. ‘Your mother’s at the hospital with your father. Don’t worry, let’s just clean up and get you all tucked in.’ Is he OK, what happened? I asked. ‘Let’s just get you all in bed,’ he said. Of course I was concerned as to why my father would be at the hospital, but then thought positively and realized it was probably just to help him become sober.

“That night was one of the most peaceful sleeps I’ve ever had in my life. The calm before the storm. The sudden moment that destroyed me. The sudden moment that changed my life forever.

“The next morning I woke up early. I had a snowboard trip to Blue Mountain with my high school. Feeling unbelievably happy once again I walked into my mother’s bedroom. Doing so I saw my grandma asleep on the couch in the loft. Strange I thought to myself. I entered the room to wake her up. I was excited to know how the talk went with Dad and when we would move back.

“Smiling and happier than ever, I was ecstatic. ‘How did the talk with …’ She cut me off at that moment before I could say the word, ‘dad.’ She looked awful, eyes bloodshot, puffy, pale, and chilled like she had seen a ghost.

“Before I could say anything else tears began to fall. ‘Alice, your dad is dead.’ I stared at her for a minute straight until I realized what she had just said. ‘NO, what do you mean, why would you say that. NO.’ An instant state of shock, disbelief, pain and sadness instantly consumed me and stabbed me in the heart.

“Denial, pure denial entered my mind. I carried on my day, got ready for Blue Mountain. My mom asked me if I was sure of going. I was. I went, not thinking once about the news I was told. It hadn’t hit me until I arrived at my high school on the way home from Blue Mountain that day.

“As I got off the bus I saw my mom, sunglasses on, for it appeared she had been crying all day. That was the moment the shock had left me and reality began to kick in. I began to cry. I began to scream. I let the grief overtake my body after trying to avoid it at all costs.

“When I arrived home flowers, gifts, chocolates boxes surrounded my house. People I didn’t know kept dropping things off for us.The news had travelled too fast and then it became even more real. He was gone. Dead. A spirit. A guardian angel.

“My psychologist says I was in a shock so deep that my organs could have failed and sometimes I wish they would have so I could have been with my father. You probably have a lot of questions for me. How did this happen? My father died trying to become sober so that he could get his life back.

“An alcoholic of five years, he decided to cut alcohol cold turkey. His body couldn’t handle the sudden withdrawal. He died of a seizure, dead a few minutes before my mom had found him. The hardest part to think about is what could have happened if she arrived earlier, in time.

“Addiction is a monster, my absolute biggest fear. Addiction destroyed me, addiction destroyed my family, my childhood, my happiness, my innocence. Addiction took my life the way it took my dad’s.

“I’m not sure who addiction destroys more, the addict or the bystanders having to watch the addict suffer, knowing there’s not much that can be done to help.

“My father was one of the most amazing people on this planet. He was so successful and determined. He was surrounded by love, and had his whole life set out for him. He had it all. Everything he wanted in life he had.

“Addiction can take over and destroy anyone it wishes to, no matter what the situation. And then when my dad’s father passed away and he couldn’t handle the pain, little did he know addiction was around the corner waiting for him and history would repeat itself.

“ I  became Alice in Wonderland. Lost. Stuck in a fantasy as shock and grief stayed with me and played with my mind over and over again. Replayed memories one after another cycled throughout my mind again and again and again.”

According to Statistics Canada, 19.5 per cent of Canadians 12 and older are considered heavy drinkers.

And, according to an article on the HuffPost, a study by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) found Canadians drink more than 50 per cent above the global average. It also stated that alcohol is the third leading cause of the global burden of disease and injury.

Addiction is one of the scariest mental illnesses in psychology, said Sandy Ringwald a retired psychologist from Toronto, Ont,. who mastered in addiction psychology.

“There is a reward factor that comes into play, creating patterns in the brain. These patterns make the user rely on the substance being used, which is why most alcoholics who get off the bottle will relapse at least once in their lifetime.”

As much as it may seem that alcoholics are OK with being alcoholics this is not the case. Usually denial is a key factor. They do not think they are drinking too much and believe their behaviour is normal.

Addiction not only affects the addict but bystanders. Family members, spouses, partners and friends tend to become so emotionally detached from reality when constantly watching these behaviours. They can begin to mock these patterns of addiction in other ways. A bottle of wine every night becomes “normal” and from there it escalates, Ringwald said.

“How did alcoholism affect me? I ask myself that question everyday,” said
Benjamin Webster, 27, of Guelph. “I grew up in a family of heavy drinkers, but at the age of 16 that seemed normal.

“A bottle of wine each night. Seven tall beers or six shots of hard liquor. Now I know it isn’t normal. It wasn’t until my second year of attending university that I began to realize it was taking over my life.

“I would crave it in my lectures, sometimes even missing them to go drink with my friends. Excessive drinking seemed normal until it became a hobby.

“I ended up failing all my classes second year. Drinking was all I could focus on. I was too drunk or hungover from the night before to attend my classes. For me alcohol was a learned behaviour that affected me throughout my life.

“It is so important to be educated on mental illnesses like these so you can understand what is too much,” he said.

According to a report from the National Addiction Centre, among the behavioral traits parents can pass on to their children is a predisposition toward alcohol abuse and addiction.

Although people can inherit alcoholic tendencies at a young age, there are also susceptible people who can drink responsibly or will never touch alcohol in their life.

The report goes on to say, ‘There isn’t a single gene responsible for alcoholism. There are hundreds of genes in a person’s DNA that may amplify the risks of developing an alcohol use disorder. Although in cases where it runs throughout family history it is more common.”

The report also goes on to say that, “Genetic makeup only accounts for half of the equation. Genetics are a major role but environmental factors are as well. Some people are more sensitive to stress, making it harder to cope with unhealthy relationships or fast-paced jobs and lifestyles. Some people experiencing a traumatic event may turn to alcohol as a self medicator. Mental illness increases the likelihood of developing alcoholism by 20 per cent.”

Maya McConnell, 41, of Hamilton, is now seven years sober. She said, “I could have lost everything. Everything. My kids, husband, job and most importantly my life. I think the scariest part was how fast it consumed me. I struggled with anxiety for the majority of my life. It would come and go.”

Children are often eyewitnesses to alcoholism, damaging them as well. Photo by Madison Kroner/Spoke News

“The scary part of alcoholism is it doesn’t just go away magically. I knew that I needed help but I was afraid to ask, afraid to disappoint the people I love. It is so easy to let this destroy you and a thousand more times harder to pick up the damage.
“This not only affected myself, but everyone around me. I think that is the part that is often forgotten about or missed. It made my daughters depressed when they would come home from school, to see me laying on the couch with a bottle of vodka. Watching them cry, knowing I was the reason, impacted me so deeply. I knew I had to change. I started with meetings and programs. It takes time. But I finally got my life back.

“All it takes is one small incident and you could relapse after being sober for years. This is a real issue that affects millions. The stigma around recovering alcoholics needs to be discarded because it affects people who know they need help,” said McConnell.

According to the Alcohol Rehab Guide, “Over the past several decades, many studies have focused on the causes and risk factors associated with alcoholism. While there is not an exact formula to depict a person’s drinking habits, data has shown that alcohol abuse is influenced by a variety of factors. However, alcoholism is a disease that does not discriminate and can impact anyone – regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, body type or personal beliefs.”

The report goes on to state, “Alcohol dependence can form quickly and aggressively, or it may surface over a longer period of time. Regardless of when or how a drinking problem starts, there are plenty of treatment options available to help get your life back on track.”

Different psychological factors may play a role in increasing the chance of heavy drinking. Everyone handles different social situations in different ways. People who have high anxiety and depression and other mental health conditions are more likely to develop an addiction towards the substance.

In these situations alcohol is often used to suppress emotion to relieve emotional pain. Over time the body becomes dependant on the substance. It is believed that over 43 per cent of American families have been exposed to alcoholism, says Alcohol Rehab Guide.

So who can we blame? No one. You heard that right, no one. The only thing to blame is a sinister monster called addiction.

 No one wants to be an alcoholic, no one strives for that. Commonly you hear degrading comments like, “Call me an alcoholic,” or “I’m a certified alcoholic and proud of it.” Comments like these are considered funny. However, alcoholism is no joke, killing more than 4,000 Canadians each year.

The stigma around alcoholism and addiction needs to be destroyed. In pop culture alcohol is glamourfied to the sense that you can’t have a good time unless you are wasted.

You are considered a”‘loser” if you don’t go out every weekend and get drunk. If you have only one drink and get drunk you’re a “buzzkill.” When will we understand this is a real issue affecting millions. Alcoholism destroys the people we love and care about.

Actor Anthony Hopkins, who is an alcoholic, said: “If you are an alcoholic or drug addict, we flirt with death. We pull ourselves to the brink of destruction and if we are lucky we pull ourselves back. We all have that in us.”

We all have the inner control within to change if that is our desire. Alcoholism is a monster. Alcoholism destroys. Alcoholism removes all innocence. Alcoholism is pure evil. When discussing this topic it is essential to remember the victim is not the only victim of addiction. The people who love this person are too.

There is a lesson to be taught to all. A purpose, a desire and a will to just maybe change someone’s life so they can become sober. You can’t blame the addict. Only the substance.

Addiction is a sinister type of hell. It takes the souls of the addicts and breaks everyone’s hearts around them. Addiction doesn’t magically disappears, it haunts you. It craves your attention. Deep and dark, it takes you down the rabbit hole.

At the end of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,  she begs herself to wake up. While doing so she is being chased by the Queen of Hearts. Alice wakes up with a thump as she returns to the “real” world.

Once awake she is reminded of the past. But she moves forward, walking off into the sunset with her sister. The key point is to always remember the light during your darkest moments. Alice woke up; so can you.

A deadly drug. Photo by Madison Kroner/Spoke News

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