Sticks and Stones

Labelling human beings is not good. Once you have been pigeon holed by society it is extraordinarily difficult to rid yourself of that tag and carve out a new definition of who you are.

In the early weeks of my new teetotal life I came to the conclusion that I was ‘an alcoholic.’ I remember clear as day admitting this terrible truth to myself, something I had been shying away from for years, and finally, crushingly, wearily nodding in quiet acceptance of the fact that I was diseased and would forever be a troubled soul who needed to rebuff all temptation of alcohol in order to avoid the dreaded relapse.

ot_sticksstones

My self-esteem was at an all-time low back then. Labelling myself ‘an alcoholic’ only added fuel to the fire as the word evoked feelings of failure and weakness. I was consumed with a sense of powerlessness but plodded on regardless with my desire to live in sobriety, hoping that eventually I would feel something more than abject misery.

As the weeks turned into months I changed my perspective and I now look back on my drinking years as a couple of decades in which I drank way too much and was most definitely dependant (emotionally and mentally) upon, and probably rather in love with, alcohol. When I stopped drinking I experienced no physical withdrawal symptoms, merely a tough internal battle to rid myself of the mental cravings and urges that I had relented to for so many years and were therefore pretty difficult to overcome. For a fairly long period, maybe a year, I also had to discover who I really was beneath the booze, learn to deal with my emotions like a grown-up instead of pouring anaesthetic liquid down my neck at the slightest sign of trouble, overcome a multitude of regrets and develop interests in activities other than boozing in order to fill my time.

In weaving my way through the jungle of emotional baggage I’d acquired as someone who drinks too much, I slowly became a non-addicted human being, free of dependencies on any mind-altering substances, just a regular person who sees life through the untainted lens of sober vision. I dropped the notion that I was and always would be ‘an alcoholic,’ as the idea that you are suffering from an addiction when you haven’t touched the substance in question for two years and have absolutely no desire to ever do so again just seems plain weird.

I am in no doubt that if I had a drink then I would be back where I started from pretty quickly, but in the same way that someone with a nut allergy would avoid nuts like the plague but never label themselves a ‘nut addict’ for doing so, I cannot conceive of being an ‘alcoholic’ purely on the basis that I know now that alcohol and I do not mix, and will never do so.

If you have recently begun living (or are considering doing so) a healthy alcohol-free life then I would avoid labelling yourself ‘an alcoholic.’ It is a damaging term that is rife with negative connotations and which often sparks off prejudices that are difficult to fight, particularly when you are already at a low ebb. Referring to yourself in that way can also help consolidate the idea that you are powerless to a disease, when in reality you are master or mistress of your own destiny – YOU can decide to stop drinking, and in doing so you will learn to overcome the mental or emotional dependency that you have on alcohol.

In the end, ‘alcoholic’ is just a word so ask yourself the question of what’s more important; an arbitrary collection of letters or having the best possible chance at living happily and free of a dependency on anything, but you?

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11 thoughts on “Sticks and Stones

  1. Hi Lucy, I know exactly where you’re coming from!! Maybe it’s up to us though to start changing the way the world sees alcoholics who no longer drink, ie. in long term recovery? There is a lot of misunderstand about alcoholism and especially life in recovery, which is why what you have done and are doing with Soberistas is so special and fantastic. Recovery life is largely unreported about in the media, only the depths of despair are plastered all over the tabloids and magazines, but I believe that’s exactly why we need to sign our light bright so it allows other to do the same. It’s giving people optimism and learning that there is another way.

    HOWEVER, we wouldn’t have found this magical new life if we hadn’t acknowledged and accepted that we do have an illness, and it is an illness … and that illness isn’t going to go away.

    Like you, I too know that if I drink again I will be back right where I was and am currently on a huge journey of self-discovery, which can be pretty hard at times!! I stopped going to AA a few months ago because I felt it was keeping me in the problem rather than empowering me to get on with my life and live in the solution and to be honest, it was making me miserable. I consider myself as someone in recovery now, I’m not alcoholic because I’m not drinking and I don’t want to sit in meetings where I have to say an affirmation each time I open my mouth that I am alcoholic. To me that is living in the past and the problem.

    I’ve been thinking about starting blogging about my experiences like you do and plan to start doing that shortly. Let’s not be ashamed of who we are, stand tall with our new found self-belief and own our stories.

    And thank you for being you, sharing so much, which in turn helps me and I’m sure hundreds, if not thousands of others. Much love :o))))

    • Hi Susan, thanks for your really lovely comments. I totally think you should start blogging – it’s very cathartic and it helped me so much to get everything out of me and into some kind of order. The wonderful support of people amongst the WordPress community really helps too and it’s just a good thing to do to talk to people in the same boat as yourself. Let me know when you start and I will follow!
      I know what you mean about acknowledging the illness thing and there is definitely something different about us addictive types…I just have difficulty with the whole disease thing because I believe in managing my own destiny and there seems to be a conflict in that with the notion that I have an incurable illness that I can merely hope to manage for the rest of my life. I guess I am very firmly in Jason Vale’s camp with this!
      Thanks for reading and for all your support on Soberistas – great to read that you are doing so well. Lots of love, Lucy xx

  2. I see things a little bit differently Lucy, but that’s the groovy thing about recovery is that it’s not a cookie cutter. I know a lot of folks have an issue with the word “alcoholic” and all that it denotes and connotes. There certainly is a lot of misinformation and perceptions about alcoholism and alcoholics. I get that for sure. But in a weird way, I like being an alcoholic. Not in having the illness – that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. But more accurately, I enjoy being a recovered (NOT cured) alcoholic. Being in AA has not only helped me with the drink problem, but has allowed me to live a life of spirituality which has permeated throughout all my affairs and areas of my life. Now, just because I have stopped drinking, I don’t see the need to drop the moniker “alcoholic” – that’s just my opinion :). it doesn’t define me as a person, but it;s a huge part of my life – my recovery. I spend much of my free time working with other alcoholics, on blogs, blogging, on recovery sites, writing for newsletters, speaking, at meetings, reading recovery, praying, meditating, connecting with my higher power, etc. I love it. It feeds the part of me that alcohol used to try and feed and failed. So it is tied, of course, to my alcoholism and since I have it, I am an alcoholic. If I take meds for schizophrenia or diabetes and the symptoms have left me, I am still diabetic and schizophrenic – I just don’t show the signs. But it’s still a part of me. I don’t go an introduce myself as such (ha ha), but it’s there.

    But I understand where you are coming from. As Susan said there, we still have to acknowledge that we have the illness and it isn’t going away, even if the symptoms do. And i guess that’s my take on it, in a nutshell (see how she said it so well and short, and I took forever in my blabbing to get to it…sheesh, I need to learn brevity!) I don’t know if calling oneself an alcoholic is damaging – we can’t control other people’s reactions. But I am certainly careful and picky about who I tell this too. My close friends and family know. My boss and HR know at work. And that’s it! Oh, and my doctor. If I choose to let more people know, that is my choice, of course. And frankly, most people don’t care 🙂

    Great post – good discussion topics in there! 🙂

    Blessings,
    Paul

    • Hi Paul – thanks for such an interesting response. It helps to read about different takes on alcohol dependency and beating addiction, as I’m sure you will agree. I’m a bit obsessive about it myself and am always reading books about alcohol addiction! I think we are fairly similar in our take on things – I know that my views on it all come from reading Jason Vale’s book, as well as the Jack Trimpey book, Rational Recovery, which I am currently reading – both take the view that you are master/mistress of your own destiny and that with a positive mental attitude you don’t have to consider yourself diseased for the rest of your life. I am working very hard to try and overturn the notion that living without alcohol is really awful (as I think some recovery programmes would have people believe) because I think if people realised how wonderful living soberly really is, they would be more tempted to get their drinking under control!
      Many thanks for reading and for your comments – have a great day 🙂 Lucy

  3. I agree with a lot of this Lucy – I find the label ‘alcoholic’ very off putting and I’m sure I would have got help sooner if the word didn’t conjure up images of the down and out drunk whose life is in the gutter.

    • Hi thanks for this comment. I too put off seeking help for a very long time because I didn’t want to be labelled ‘an alcoholic’ – and when I did attach that label to myself it made me feel even worse!! I think recovery should be about putting the emphasis on a positive sober existence, rather than a very negative, difficult-to-lose label like ‘alcoholic.’ I really appreciate your supportive words – thank you x

  4. craig wilshire says:

    Some excellent points made in this post. I wonder if you have ever read Back From The Abyss by Kieran Doherty. If you have an interest in reading about experiences with alcoholism and addiction you would most definitely take value from this autobiography. I read it last month and I must say it’s one of the most interesting reads I’ve had in years. http://capandbellspress.com/2013/05/back-from-the-abyss/

      • Hi Lucy – my name is Jessica and I work with the book publisher, Cap & Bells Press. I would love to send you a copy to read and/or review if you would like. If you are interested, please send me a note to info [at] capandbellspress [dot]com and I can get one out to you. Thanks! Jess

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