Living With Polio

Part I — Opening the Door; PART II—The Rest of the Story

Nancy Baldwin Carter, BA, M Ed Psych, Omaha, Nebraska, is a polio survivor, a writer, and is founder and former director of Nebraska Polio Survivors Association.

Part I — Opening the Door

The subject doesn’t come up much. Not many in the post-polio community seem to want to talk about it.

…Even though the American Medical Association declared it a disease well over forty years ago, in 1966.

…Even though the prestigious medical journal, JAMA, published the results of a two-year study that says it’s a “primary, chronic disease with genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations.”

…Even though this disease is often progressive and fatal.

By now you may have guessed—the subject here is ALCOHOLISM.

Sounds serious, doesn’t it. Knowing this, would we still rather not talk about it? Would we prefer to pretend there is no problem? Are we so steeped in ancient myths of shame and secrecy that we can’t bear the thought of facing the alcoholism reality?

Of course not!

We’re talking about it because the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that people with disabilities have an even greater likelihood of having alcoholism than the general population’s risk of at least 10%—perhaps as much as two to four times greater. That includes us—nearly 800,000 U.S. polio survivors, as many as 20 million worldwide.

We’re talking about it because the alcoholics among us are our spouses, our children, our parents, our siblings, others we love—maybe even you and me—all people with a treatable illness who can find help.

Turns out alcoholics aren’t necessarily people who end up lying dead drunk in the middle of the street—or bums living under the bridge. Could be they’re doctors or carpenters or waitresses or men of the cloth. Some only drink periodically. Others don’t drink in public. Alcoholism doesn’t seem to care. Alcoholics are unalike in so many ways. But the one thing they all have in common is an obsession for drink that eventually leaves them afflicted in mind, body, and spirit.

Alcoholics, perhaps unaware of all the consequences of excessive drinking, may be ruining more than relationships and self-esteem with their boozing. Alcohol takes a terrible toll on the body. It is, for starters, an irritant and a depressant. The list of medical conditions caused or worsened by alcohol is alarming. How about anemia, cancer, heart problems, diabetes, epilepsy, liver disease, kidney disease, pancreatitis, esophagitis, bleeding disorders—plus a long catalog of others. We’re talking major physical illness here.

PHI’s Handbook tells us that certain non-alcoholic polio survivors, who might otherwise drink socially with little problem, should avoid drinking alcohol because of potential problems with swallowing and breathing. Those with post-polio weakness should know that drinking alcohol can impede judgment and coordination, increasing the possibility for accidents.

A lot of denial runs through an untreated alcoholic’s head—in fact, denial and its partner, distorted reality, are outstanding symptoms of alcoholism. Such alcoholics find themselves torn apart inside, as A.A.’s basic book, Alcoholics Anonymous, puts it, left to face “the hideous Four Horsemen—Terror, Bewilderment, Frustration, Despair.” They may be consumed with feelings of sadness, guilt, and uselessness. Often the disease takes a frightfully hopeless turn.

We’re way beyond thinking of alcoholism as a “moral weakness”—we simply don’t buy that nonsense anymore. Alcoholism is an incurable disease that can be managed, offering alcoholics who are serious about recovery a life of freedom from alcohol. There is hope. There is a way.

Today over two million recovered alcoholics live productive, fulfilling lives through using the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous. They made the decision to seek sobriety on their own and discovered the same path followed successfully by millions of others over the past 75 years.

A.A. is here to help.


Interested in knowing if A.A. is for you? Click onto Is A.A. For You? on the official A. A. website and answer questions that will help you decide.

For much more information, click here: Official A.A. Website

To find an A.A. meeting, click here: How To Find an A.A. Meeting or turn to Alcoholics Anonymous in your local yellow pages.

PART II—The Rest of the Story

“It was one of the most popular displays we ever had,” the librarian said. “People couldn’t pass it by. They were drawn by a framed round mirror a local Al-Anon group hung in our tall glass case. In an arc at the top of the mirror were the words ‘YOU CAN SEE WHAT THE DRINKING IS DOING TO THE ALCOHOLIC.’ And at the bottom it read, ‘BUT CAN YOU SEE WHAT IT IS DOING TO YOU?’ Many stood quietly looking at their image in the mirror for a long time. I wondered what they were thinking.”

Al-Anon—the flip side of the Alcoholism coin. Al-Anon is not about the drinker. People in Al-Anon are those whose lives have been deeply affected by someone else’s drinking. That “someone else” may still be drinking or longtime sober; a family member or a friend; drinkers now in their graves or someone in the kitchen this morning. What matters is that this individual still suffers from contacts had with the drinker, regardless of when they occurred. And this individual could be any of us—polio survivors are not exempt.

Sometimes it’s difficult for people to recognize that we, ourselves, need help. Answering the following questions can give us a clue to what the face in the mirror reveals: Do you search for hidden alcohol? Do you pour alcohol down the sink? Do you cancel plans because the drinker is unable to participate? Do you make excuses to cover up for problems caused by the drinking? Do you have money problems from behavior caused by the drinking? Do you think that if the drinker stopped drinking, your other problems would be okay?

Any of this ring a bell? Those answering “yes” to even one of these questions usually find themselves easing comfortably into chairs at an Al-Anon meeting.

“I was slow to talk myself into trying Al-Anon,” says one member. “I thought if the drinker in my life cared enough about me, he’d stop drinking and everything would be fine. I thought I was the sane member of the household. Why would I need help? I couldn’t convince myself that my upset stomachs and feelings of anxiety were connected to my husband’s drinking. But others kept suggesting I try Al-Anon, so even though I wasn’t exactly sure why, I finally decided to give it a shot. How could it hurt? Guess what I found there—me. And with that, a life of blessed serenity. I never would have dreamed this could happen.”

Another member speaks up: “I tried counseling, therapy, treatment—I was still a mess. Al-Anon was my last resort. Right off I saw that this wasn’t happening solely to me, that I wasn’t the only one without a perfect life. Al-Anon showed me I’m not a victim. I have a right to be happy and have a good life no matter what else is happening around me. I like feeling better about myself. I love the new-found freedom. I will never forget one day, after I’d been in Al-Anon a few months, when I was driving my six-year-old daughter to school. She looked over at me for a minute and then asked the most joyful question: “Mommy, why are you smiling?” How long had it been!

If you’re still wondering about you, drop in at your local library and read merely a chapter or two of Al-Anon’s basic book, How Al-Anon Works for Families and Friends of Alcoholics. If you don’t see yourself on these pages, Al-Anon may not be for you. But if you’re there, well. . . .


For more questions designed to help decide if Al-Anon is for us—click here: IS AL-ANON FOR ME?

To learn more about Al-Anon—click here: HOW WILL AL-ANON HELP ME?

Click here for AL-ANON FACES ALCOHOLISM 2011, a marvelously informative publication provided in its entirety on the official Al-Anon website.

Many more insights on the Al-Anon program can be found on their website. Click here: OFFICIAL AL-ANON WEBSITE

To find a meeting, click here: HOW TO FIND AN AL-ANON MEETING, or look in your local Yellow Pages under Al-Anon.

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