soberfire

Archive for the tag “stigma”

What 18 Months Sober Looks Like

Later this month I hit the year-and-a-half mark.  It’s been interesting, adjusting to sober living. I knew it was necessary but thought it would suck. It doesn’t suck. It did for awhile, sometimes. I am happy to say very simply that this is a better way to live and I’m happier. It does not feel like a life of “doing without” like I thought it would. I have gained so much more than I’ve lost (and to most of what I’ve lost, good riddance anyway).

Am I grateful to be an alcoholic like some people in meetings say? Not quite, exactly. If I had a choice, I would prefer to be a person who could take it or leave it and have no issues with alcohol. But I’m at peace with what is, and the way my life has unfolded. And certainly many blessings have come from my recovery process. So here’s the news…

Work Parties

This week, I went to the annual dinner my employer holds for all employees and health care providers. This is the third year I’ve worked there and received an invitation.

The first time was six months before I quit drinking. I was on one of my many moderation plans at the time, this one entitled Special Occasions Only. I had decided in advance that I would not drink because a work dinner did not qualify as a special occasion. That resolve lasted all of five minutes after arrival. I told that story in this post.

The second time, at six months sober, I stayed home because I had so much anxiety around what to tell people. I was terrified someone would ask why I wasn’t having wine and I would stumble over the answer. It would have been easy to say I was on call, or on a Paleo cleanse, or some medication that interacts with alcohol. But I didn’t want to tell lies. Not that I’m a saint and couldn’t morally justify a white lie for such a reason, it just didn’t feel right to me. And for the life of me, I couldn’t think of a rehearsed answer that felt both true and safe to reveal.

This year, I decided to go. Because of the history of this particular event, it was a strange sort of milestone for me. When the invitation came, I realized that all the concerns I had a year ago are gone. I’m not shouting my sobriety status from the rooftops (yet), but my anxiety about someone noticing and commenting is all but gone. Ask away. I no longer give a shit—yay! I actually want to experiment with telling more people when it seems natural.

Soon after arrival, someone I work closely with told me several times that the wine tray was coming around. She didn’t even ask directly, and I could have just gone to the bar for my tonic water without saying anything, but I said “I don’t drink anymore.” She said, “Really, you mean not at all, not ever?” (Isn’t that what everyone says? So funny.) “Right, not ever. For the last year and a half.” “Wow, I didn’t know that,” she says. I could have stopped there, but I said, “Yes, well, I found I am a better abstainer than moderator.” Done. She nodded and we moved on. This felt right. The truth, without a big sob story or TMI.

Urges to drink:

I am astonished and thrilled to say that I had exactly three real urges/desires to drink in the year 2015.

  1. My best friend’s 40th birthday party, which was a weekend at a beach house. The main party for adults and kids was during the day on the Saturday, and a small group of close friends were invited to stay at the beach house Friday and Saturday night. All of said close friends are drinkers, of course. If it had been anyone other than my best friend, or if I really thought I couldn’t handle it, I would have skipped the overnights altogether and just gone on Saturday. I decided to stay Friday night only. It was hard. I really wished I “could” drink that night. I put “could” in quotes because I stay cognizant of my language around choice and free will. The fact is, I can drink anytime I want—no one is holding a gun to my head to be sober. It’s a choice I made and continue to make because I don’t like the consequences of drinking for my health and my life. But I digress. The point is, I did feel a little sorry for myself that I was drinking seltzer instead of IPA. Partly because of the people I was with, and partly because this would have been a relatively consequence-free, all about the fun drinking occasion. No worries about staying OK to drive, and no guilt because clearly drinking heavily was OK on a special occasion. I wouldn’t have even had to worry about my husband being pissed at me—he usually looked the other way on special occasions and vacations. Toward the end, these were the only times we could have fun drinking together. The toughest moments were in the late afternoon/early evening when everyone started bringing the booze out. After that initial part passed and the evening was well underway, it got easier. I even had fun.
  2. One night I was making dinner and all of a sudden, a white wine craving hit me very much out of nowhere. I did whatever the psychological equivalent of a double-take would be, it was so strange and random. I thought about what could possibly be causing this, because I was in a fine mood, but also not too happy, so the craving could not have been out of any urge to de-stress or celebrate. Then I figured out that it was a musical trigger. A certain Lyle Lovett song was on, and I realized that I listened to that album for many years almost exclusively while making dinner. And what goes with making dinner? That first wine of the evening. Once I knew where the craving came from, it disappeared.
  3. I went to a karaoke night with some people that I don’t know super well, so I didn’t feel completely at ease socially. I felt like a fish out of water once the booze started flowing and people started singing. It’s not even that I wanted to drink. I really didn’t. It was more a feeling that since I don’t drink, it sucked to be in that particular place at that particular time. I told my husband I needed to get out of there, like NOW. I cried while we were walking to the car, hating that I couldn’t loosen up in that scenario and lamenting my lost inner party girl. In retrospect, I don’t feel too badly about having a tough time in that setting since, let’s face it, karaoke wouldn’t even exist without alcohol.

That’s it! Three times in an entire year that it sort of sucked to not drink. I never would have believed it. This IS a miracle.

AA

I came to AA reluctantly and cautiously. I said more about that in this post. Since I found a meeting I like, I have continued to go about once a week. I skip a week occasionally now. Honestly, going to meetings doesn’t feel as important as it used to. I’m a busy working mom and it’s a challenge to build in time for any kind of self-care. On most mornings, making time for exercise, yoga, or writing is more important to my mental and spiritual well being, and therefore my sobriety, than going to a meeting. Still, it’s important for me to go on some sort of regular basis, to be reminded why I don’t drink.

I still maintain that AA is not the only way. Certainly, there is more than one way to unpack your shit and clean it up. I believe that any approach to recovery that involves active self-inquiry and reflection, rigorous honesty, living in awareness, responsibility for one’s actions, self care practices, and mutual support with others in recovery is a good approach. The dogmatic insistence spouted by some AA members that theirs is the only legitimate way to get and stay sober can leave people who can’t relate to the program without hope for recovery. Because of that, other options should be acknowledged and accessible. That said, AA is a great program for many, and it’s the one with the most readily available support and camaraderie.

Conversely, I agree with those who say that AA could be a great spiritual growth program for anyone, not just those with addictions. Step 1 says “powerless over alchohol.” You could substitute alcohol for just about anything to which you’re clinging. Many people are miserable because they make their happiness dependent on the behavior and decisions of other people. Such a person could do a 12 step program that begins with “I’m powerless over other people’s choices,” and take it from there. That’s just one example.

So it’s not the only way to recover from alcohol addiction, and it’s a great program for any life struggle, not just addiction.

What about the 12 steps? I did one through five formally with my sponsor. I did six and seven on my own, and I practice ten and eleven in my daily life. As for step twelve, I am not ready to sponsor another person, but I have been able to informally support a couple of people who have come to me for help. Eight and nine are still out there. I have made amends to the obvious people—namely my husband, and living amends with my kids by being more mentally and emotionally present for them. Thankfully, I am going to have to dig deeper to find other people to whom I owe apologies since I quit before I progressed to the point of making a huge mess of my life. But having done step four and five formally and being surprised by the richness of that process and how much had been forgotten until I really dug for it, I’m sure there is much to learn from doing steps eight and nine formally as well. I just need to get off my butt and make a plan with my sponsor to get started.

Meanwhile, I’ll talk about my experience with what seems to be regarded as “the big ones,” step 4 and 5 in upcoming post.

Family Life

My kids and husband no longer have to deal with my irritability due to hangovers—just my natural irritability 😉 Seriously, though, I am a much happier person and a happier mama. I’m still something of a hothead and I have to work on my yelling habit, but in general, I have a lot more patience and ability to set the tone for a peaceful, joyful household. When things are not so peaceful, I am much better able to find creative solutions and have faith in all of us to find our way back to harmony quickly.

I no longer struggle with knowing that my drinking behavior was at odds with my values as a parent, even if my kids didn’t witness what I was doing—yet.

I no longer have to subtly avoid and disconnect from my husband in the evenings so he hopefully doesn’t notice how many I’m having. If there is one image that proves to me I was drinking alcoholically, it’s me filling my glass to the brim and quickly drinking it back to the level it was when he stepped out of the kitchen for a moment. I never had secrets from him until the last couple years of my drinking. I’m happy to have none again now. And I am grateful that he no longer has to suffer from worrying about our family’s future.

I no longer have to burn up all my energy keeping my drinking under some semblance of control. I am able to be who I really am as a person and spend my time and energy on things that matter to me and others. Having a mom and wife who is happy, vibrant, self-actualized person—or at least on the path, for real now— is good for my kids and husband.

Friendships

Those who have followed this blog will remember the angst I had as my adolescent social anxiety and issues with belonging came rushing back full force with my early sobriety. I wrote all about that in this post. I’m glad I faced that head on and wrote in my journal and cried and really felt it all. Because it’s gone.

I’ve reconnected with a couple of old friends who I never lost touch with completely, but now we are much more involved in each other’s lives than in recent years. And I have a few new sober friends. I still have my friends who do a good bit of drinking, and that’s OK, too. They support what I’m doing and I have no need to try and influence their habits. Just a little, I miss drinking wine and getting wonderfully silly and sloppy in that special way with a couple of them. But all in all, it’s really OK that those days are gone. Good thing we did it to death 😉

Some amazing women have come into my life who are neither recovering alcoholics nor big drinkers. They are loving, funny and smart—living in awareness and continual growth. We support each other completely, whether we are falling apart temporarily or celebrating large or small successes, and all the ordinariness in between.

I know I was open to the arrival of these friendships because of the space that opened up in my life once I removed alcohol and its attendant baggage. It was also necessary for me to go through the residual, very old pain I was holding around feeling left out, needing the “cool kids’” validation of my worthiness, and feeling so, so lonely. I cleaned all that shit out, with patience and compassion for myself, and beautiful things have grown from that space.

Writing

Sobriety gave me my writing. It lifted the damper that alcohol placed on my creative energy. It gave me the motivation and, initially, the material. I started this blog first and soon found I wanted to write about other things, so I started another one—a non anonymous blog where I  write about whatever I like. Except my recovery, of course—for now.

I started this blog as a way to process my recovery experiences and connect with others. It turned out to be the perfect way to take my first baby steps into writing. Anonymity has been necessary for obvious reasons. It also allowed me to get my feet wet as a writer without too much ego involvement and vulnerability.

Starting my newer blog, on the other hand, was a huge step out of my comfort zone. I was a nervous wreck when I hit “publish” on that first post with my name on it. The good kind of nervous wreck, though. The kind of stomach butterflies that tell you you’re doing something brave that will grow you as a person. Thirty-odd posts later, I am much more accustomed to “putting myself out there,” but I still get those butterflies once in awhile. That’s when I know I’m taking risks with my writing and really giving something of myself.

Being more present and emotionally balanced for my family has been the greatest gift of sobriety for me. My writing is a close second.

Transparency

The last two topics bring me to this one. In my personal life, I have begun to share the fact that I found it necessary to quit drinking more openly. I would like to be open about this in my professional life as well, but other than the small steps I have already discussed, I’m not sure yet how careful I need to be around that.

I am clear in my heart about where I want my life to go, and that is toward living a transparent life, without secrets and shame. I do not want to compartmentalize myself, being this person here and that person there. Every day, I move more toward being not just kind of the same person, or mostly the same person, but the exact same person no matter where I am or whom I’m with. That’s the way I like it.

At first, I felt it extremely important, to the point of paranoia, to keep this part of my life private. But now I have come to terms with it and it has become the new normal. I can talk about it without crying. It’s a source of health and happiness in my life, not just “doing without.” So now, keeping it under wraps makes me feel split and hidden. I want to feel integrated and open.

I believe those of us who feel comfortable being “out” with our recovery status can contribute to reducing the stigma and shame associated with addiction.

This desire for transparency dovetails with my writing. I want to write publicly about my struggle with alcohol and my recovery, with my name attached. I’m trying to figure out whether my career in health care can withstand that. I am talking to people and considering it carefully. I trust that more will be revealed.

© soberfire 2016

 

 

Being Seen

When I was two months sober, I went to a meeting on a day of the week I don’t usually go because I wanted to get my 2-month chip. There I sat, feeling peaceful and calm, waiting for the meeting to start, when he walked in. Someone I know. He saw me, too, then quickly looked away and sat down across the room. Immediately, my heart started pounding in my chest, I felt my face flush, and I felt nauseous. Full-on cortisol flood. I whispered to the kind soul sitting next to me, “Oh my God. Oh my God. Someone I know just walked in. He’s sitting over there.” She saw my sheer panic and put a hand on my shoulder and said, “Well, after all, he’s here, too.”

It took me half the meeting to get ahold of myself, and a half hour is a long time to sit in a panicked state. At the time, I didn’t want anyone at all to know about me, other than the few very close family members and friends I’d told. I REALLY didn’t (and still don’t) want people from work to know. If the chips had been handed out at the beginning of the meeting, I don’t believe I would have been able to get up and claim mine. As it was, I had some time to decide. At first, I was sure I could not and would not. With some deep breathing and just hanging on for dear life, I started to regain my composure. Meanwhile, he raised his hand and shared, and I saw that we are the same. So when chip time came around, I stood up, and with trembling and tears in my eyes, I got my chip.

After the meeting, he came up to me and hugged me. I said “I almost had a fucking heart attack when I saw you.” He said, “Well, I almost had a fucking heart attack when I saw you. And in fact, until you got up to get your chip, I assumed you couldn’t possibly be here for the same reason as me. I assumed that since it’s an open meeting, you must be here with a friend.” We talked for awhile and he told me some of his story, and I told him some of mine.  He had been sober just a few weeks longer than me.

I was so glad he had shared in the meeting, and I had decided to buck up and go get my chip despite feeling so vulnerable doing it. If neither of us had done those things, we may not have connected at all, and we may have both left the meeting feeling uneasy and off-balance about being seen.

As I walked to my car, I felt grateful for the way it unfolded, and I thought, “No wonder I always liked that guy.”

© soberfire, 2015

Social Anxiety in Recovery, Part 3: Everything Old Is New Again

Soon after I quit drinking, I noticed a strange new development that I didn’t immediately connect with new sobriety. It is still ongoing, although I’m working through it. I am frequently overwhelmed with painful feelings of not belonging, not being chosen, not being included. “Will they like me?” “Do they like me?” “Look at that fun event they posted pictures of on Facebook, how come we weren’t invited to that?” “Oh, I don’t think she likes me.” “Nobody likes me!” I noticed I was feeling increasing angst over these questions and I thought, “WTF is this? Am I in junior high again?”

Why, yes, as a matter of fact, I am! I am 13 again. That’s the age I started drinking—my path to deadening the pain of not belonging, among other things. That 13-year-old girl has a lot of unfinished business. Now that I’ve taken away the anesthetic, she has stepped forward, and is insisting some attention be paid to her wounds.

I’m not surprised at all that old issues are resurfacing, but I am taken a bit by surprise that it’s manifesting as social anxiety. If you had asked me what my main problems were at that age, social difficulties would have been quite a few down on the list. So it’s taken me some time to begin untangling this.

At age 10, my family moved to another state and I had no difficulty making new friends.  Then, at age 12, we moved back. My old friends were at different schools, and I was the “new kid”  at the most torturous age possible.  I had no friends at all for most of the school year, no one talked to me, and I cried every night. It was bloody awful.

I finally started to make friends after running into a girl from school on the beach in another state during spring break. We bonded that week, and when we got back to school, I quickly assimilated into her group of friends. They were good kids and we really did have supportive, loving friendships, and I was so grateful and relieved. At the same time, I was still me–desperate for belonging and fearful of being on the outside again. I wanted to do whatever was necessary to fit in seamlessly. They smoked and drank, so I did, too. They never pressured me, per se. The pressure came from within me, if there was any pressure at all. I remember that when the first opportunities to drink with friends arose, I took them with no deliberation at all—there was no question what I would do.   I quickly learned that drinking made me feel less self-conscious and helped me forget everything except the fun of the moment.

Much happened to me and within me around age 13, most of which is beyond the scope of this post.  My friends were literally my lifeline, and in some cases, I was theirs. I believed I was nothing without them—that they were the only thing good in my life.  I was also consumed by feelings of not being good enough, fears of not being accepted, and fears of losing whatever acceptance I’d gained at any moment.  Despite the fact that this doesn’t match the current reality, these feelings are all coming back up now, I believe because I stopped drinking. The pain feels old and new at the same time, and it feels very real.

The current reality is that I have fewer friendships in my daily life than ever before. I grew apart from a couple of my close friends as we got married and had kids. A couple of others moved away, and while we keep in touch a few times a year, and we can pick up where we left off on the rare occasions we see each other, it’s obviously not the same. As for friends I’ve had for decades that I still see on a regular basis, there is one left.  And there is one other treasured friendship that is newer but solid. The others are tenuous. Months can go by before we see each other or even talk. It seems everyone is just too busy. These newer friendships tend to feel so promising and then they never seem to get beyond a certain point of very occasional get-togethers. I want more. Girlfriends, you know? Like I used to have, people who are part of your daily, or at least weekly, life.

I am beginning to wonder how my alcoholism has affected the role of friendships in my life. I have read articles like this one about the difficulty of growing new friendships at this age, and I know it’s not all about what’s wrong with me. But I can’t help but look around and wonder, where are my soul sisters? Where is my woman tribe? How is it that female friendships have always been so crucially important to me, and yet I have not managed to build a strong and lasting circle?   Was too much of what I have to give taken up by my alcoholism and all the energy it took to try and control it?

Besides being a fun drinking buddy, I have always been the friend who wants to talk about real stuff, and listen to real stuff, too. I know friends have felt loved and supported by me over the years, at least in large part. Since I’ve been struggling with all this, I have considered whether being an empathic person is an ego construct—some kind of story I like to tell myself.   But no–I know it is a genuine part of who I am.  Still, I wonder about the self-absorption that I am told is a hallmark of alcoholism. Is it possible I am not as good a friend as I always prided myself to be?

So, a perfect storm has gathered here. Very currently, I feel lonely for real community with women, and I’ve felt this way off and on for a couple of years. Now I add the layer of my recovery—this major thing happening in my life that carries a stigma, and my conflicted feelings about if and when to tell new friends, and how they might react. And meanwhile, the part of me that is 13 again suffers a preoccupation with belonging and inclusion that has the exact flavor and quality of that early adolescent age. Several times over the last (almost) 8 months, I have been racked with sobs over real or imagined slights and child-like feelings of being “left out.” It’s kind of embarrassing to admit that as a woman in her 40’s, but hey, that’s why this blog is anonymous!

All this adds up to feeling incredibly raw and vulnerable.

There are good things happening. I am blessed to have the close friends I do have. The get-together I was all nervous about in my last post happened last night, and it was lovely. I talked to my sponsor beforehand about all of this, especially the question of what to say about my glass of sparkling water instead of wine. She said, “Let’s put this into perspective. What’s the worst thing that can happen? Worst case scenario is…drumroll…they will think you’re an alcoholic!” That, along with several comments from readers here, helped me relax a bit and not take it so deadly seriously. One of the women did ask if I drink when she saw my Perrier, and when I said no, she said, “Really, not at all? Is that because you’re a better person than me?” I said, “Definitely not, I just discovered I feel better when I don’t.” Not the whole truth, but also not a lie. And that was that. It was a really fun night, and at the end, there were hugs and a heartfelt “We really should hang out more often.” I got a phone call today from one of them and a text from another about getting together again. And, I am meeting another new friend for coffee next week.

These things make me so happy, but I must be careful even about that. I must move beyond diving into tailspins called “What’s wrong with me?” if someone I like seems uninterested in a friendship with me. By the same token, I cannot depend on positive signs of new friendship to feel good about who I am.

Where is the line between healthy, natural desire for connection and community and neediness, desperation?   Wherever that line is, at the moment it seems to be a fine and precarious one for me. I do know which side of that line I want to be on. I want to come to new friendships from a place of genuine interest and caring for others, not out of craving for whatever emotional need friendships promise to fill for me.

Time to listen to the 13-year-old me, hear what she has to say, and discover what she needs in order to heal. As for this longing for more connection and community, I think I must first find that in connection with my own spirit, and with God. I believe the rest will follow.  This is my healing work.

© soberfire, 2015

Social Anxiety in Recovery, Part 2: What the Hell am I Supposed to Tell People?

I went to a work party about six months before I quit drinking. Nothing dramatic happened, but it stands out in my memory of drinking related episodes toward the end, when I was trying so hard to drink like a normal person. I was in the midst of one of my many moderation plans, and I actually thought I had it this time. This particular plan was entitled: “I’m removing alcohol from normal life activities.   I only drink on special occasions now.” And I hadn’t had a drink in a month or so, since the holidays! Success! See? No problem, I’ve got this drinking “issue” under control. Now, I knew I would want to drink at this thing—it was a work party, after all. But I was really trying to be purist about “special occasions only,” and decided before going that this did not qualify and I would not drink. That lasted less than 5 minutes. As soon as I walked in the door, a friend from another department bounced up to me and said, “Yay! We get to drink wine together!” I looked at her like a deer in the headlights and the poor thing was so confused, looking concerned and asking, “What’s wrong?!” I quickly recovered and determined that there was no f-ing way I would be stumbling over “Oh, I’m not drinking tonight.” And furthermore, there was no f-ing way I would be doing this event without wine, period. So I went straight to the bar with my friend and got my wine, and what a relief. Soon I ordered a second, and I was so pissed that they were serving those tiny wine glasses that actually hold 4 ounces. I forced myself to drink at half the speed I wanted to and tried to focus on conversation with my colleagues. After dinner, I went to the bar and got a third glass, wondering if anyone would notice that I was still drinking wine while everyone else at my table had switched to coffee. When I got home, I drank more, of course. After that, “special occasions” became ever more loosely defined, and I was back to my old habits in no time.

The same annual work party came around again recently, six months onto my sobriety. This time I skipped it, even though I love opportunities to socialize with the people I work with, and there aren’t enough of them. So why didn’t I go? It wasn’t because I was afraid I would want to drink. It was because I couldn’t think of a single thing to say that I felt comfortable with if someone were to ask me why I wasn’t drinking. My friend Joe says, “Just get a glass of something and carry it around. Nobody gives a shit what you’re drinking except another alcoholic.” Maybe. But still. I knew it wasn’t rational, to be that concerned about whether anyone would ask, and what I would say. I guess it’s because I really don’t want people from work to know, and I’m not a very good liar. The fear is that no matter what I say, they will see through me and know.

I don’t know what to say in lower-stakes situations, either. A few family members and very close friends know why I don’t drink anymore. What to do about the more casual friends and acquaintances I’ve drank with in the past? A few times, I have been asked directly and even probingly why I’m not drinking. I have said things to the effect that I’m getting older and I started getting headaches the next day after just a couple glasses of wine, so I experimented with giving it up and found that I feel better not drinking at all. I like how that all sounds, but it’s a lie. I have said I’m on some Paleo no sugar, no grains, no alcohol nutritional cleanse thing. Another lie. I’m a pretty up-front, straight shooting kind of person. What you see is generally what you get. Not now, not with this.   I really hate that. I want to tell the truth. I suspect at some point, I won’t care anymore and I will. But not for a long time.

There are the people I’ve met since I quit, and those I knew before but who never saw me drink. They are mostly other moms who I’ve only socialized with through kids’ activities during the day. No problem, unless you go to a mom’s night out or other evening occasion where there is alcohol. I may be getting to the point where I could actually say, simply, “I don’t drink.” Even a month ago, that felt like a joke. “I don’t drink” implies that I’m one of those bizarre people who don’t like the taste or (gasp) don’t like the feeling or something.   It’s hard to imagine saying it with a straight face.

The other day, I was talking with three other moms, none of whom know whether I drink or not. One of them was singing hallelujah about a recent article saying a glass of red wine is as good as an hour at the gym. I decided to take a stab at participating in the general banter about alcohol (maybe partly to feel them out, because I’m having dinner with them in a few days). So I said, “Yup, the trouble is, three glasses of red wine does not equal three hours at the gym.” Hahaha. Then the second woman said, “Oh, if I ever had three glasses of wine, I’d be so drunk, I’m such a lightweight, cheap date,” etc. And the third said she picks her calories and would rather have dessert than a drink (hmmm…another closet recovery person? I wonder). These are new friends. I have just barely begun getting to know them, and I have no idea what to expect at this dinner. Maybe I will to be able to quietly, simply, have my sparkling water. Or maybe I’m going to be in a position of having to say something about why I’m not having wine. I like these women. I don’t want to start new friendships with lies, or even half-truths. I also don’t want to tell them the real story.

What do you tell people? How often have people actually asked? How has your approach to this issue evolved since you first got sober?

© soberfire, 2015

The Other Scarlet Letter “A”

“Yeah, but am I REALLY an alcoholic?” “MUST I take on this label?” Those are the questions we wrestle with, especially the “high-functioning” types among us, right? I just read a great blog post from one such newly sober woman. Also, I just saw this video. I wish I’d seen it at the beginning of my two-year moderation odyssey–it would have been a lot shorter, I think. I identified myself as an alcoholic in my first post. That’s only because I wrote it several months into sobriety. Here’s what I wrote to my friend Joe when I first I reached out to him on day two:

“…Mostly I’m afraid of taking on the big “A” word as part of my identity. I may very well fit the clinical definition, but still, I’d rather just say to myself and others, that I’m not drinking because I was starting to drink more than is healthy and quitting altogether is the best way for me, you know? That is a true story, if not the whole entire story in vivid detail.”

Why didn’t I want to identify as an alcoholic, even as I knew I needed to quit drinking?   The stigma, obviously.  Not wanting to be mistaken, at some unknown future point by unidentified people, for someone who was physically dependent, which I never was. (Not that anyone gives a shit about the semantics of my drinking problem, but you know what they say–we alcoholics are a self-absorbed lot!).

Plus, let’s face it, it’s confusing. The line is fuzzy between “problem drinker” and “alcoholic.” Some definitions draw that line at physical dependence, but most seem to define anyone with addictive behavior around alcohol as an alcoholic, whether or not they must drink daily to avoid withdrawal symptoms. It seems even the clinicians can’t figure out what to call whom. Although maybe they finally have—the American Psychiatric Association has revised their definition in the DSM-5. They put it all on a continuum called Alcohol Abuse Disorder with mild, moderate, and severe categories.  So my type A brain can now be happy that I can give myself a clinical diagnosis that makes sense to me—I’m in recovery from a mild-to-moderate alcohol abuse disorder. But I doubt the new terminology is going to make it into the recovery lexicon anytime soon, at least not outside clinical circles. So I still have to deal with the word “alcoholic.”

There was another reason for my resistance. I was under the impression that people who embraced the label took it on as the primary thing that defined them, and the recovery program became just about all their lives are about. I have heard people say things like, “I made AA my life.”  I was shocked to find out that even after many years of sobriety, a lot of people go to meetings most days or every day. That scared the crap out of me. I wasn’t yet sure if I wanted to go to meetings at all, never mind every day—not now, and certainly not years from now.  It seemed that accepting the label meant throwing myself whole hog into this subculture.   That’s great for people who want to do that, or people who must in order to stay sober. But I knew it wasn’t my path.

Then I found my sponsor, “Susie.” I worked with her on a project years ago and she’s one of the sparkliest people I’ve ever met. I ran into her a few times over the years, and each time I thought, “Now there’s someone I’d like to get to know better.” When I had about three weeks of sobriety, I remembered her telling me she had been in recovery for a number of years, so I contacted her. She enthusiastically assured me that sobriety is “PURE FREEDOM!” and we made plans to meet for a walk. She told me her story and how she has stayed sober for 23 years. She did the 12 steps with a sponsor “military style,” exactly as prescribed in the program. We talked a lot about my discomfort with the program and the insistence in the AA community that people who find a different path are doing it wrong and will surely drink again. She said that while she loves the steps and did them in the traditional way, her one issue with the program is the insistence that one size fits all. This scares people away from recovery, she said.   She also rejects the notion that all alcoholics must attend meetings often and forever in order to stay sober, and in fact only goes a few times a year herself at this point. What IS critical to sobriety, she said, is continuing to work on yourself either through the 12 steps or some other path to spiritual growth, and to keep sobriety “always in the forefront, never in the background.”

Now here was a woman I could relate to. Here was someone who DID have what I wanted. Long-term sobriety, a happy, productive life and a recovery program that supported her but didn’t define and overtake her whole existence. Yes, I’ll take that. She offered to be my sponsor and said she would be happy to take me through the steps formally as she had done them, or just be there to support me if I chose to go about my recovery in another way. She also did not insist that I ADMIT RIGHT NOW THAT I’M AN ALCOHOLIC. She said I was the only one who could decide that, and if I would rather just call myself a problem drinker, that was fine with her, too. I am so grateful to her and to Joe for their light touch, and for supporting me in finding my own way to a recovery approach that makes sense to me and feels right.

© soberfire, 2015

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