Updated: Jul 30, 2020
A close friend of mine, Bobby C., brought up this idea to me the other day and I have been stewing on it for the better of a couple of weeks. He asked the following question: "What would happen if we didn't label ourselves in sobriety?" It didn't hit me right away but later it occurred to time that labels make up a large portion of why we do almost everything we do. Think about it. Husband/wife, straight/gay, male/female, skinny/fat, young/old, blue-collar/white-collar, rich/poor, BMW/Hyundai, drunk/sober, and the list goes on and on and on and on. Everything we do has a label attached to it where there does not always need to be one. Does it really matter if I am the husband or the wife in a relationship? Does it really matter if I am male or female? Does it really matter what kind of car I drive? The only time it really matters is when you are asked to state the information on a form or as an answer to a question. In the end, the only weight the information carries is the weight we, the person stating the information, gives it. Otherwise, it is just a man-made label.
I live in a unique situation in that my son lives part-time down in Southern California and part-time with me and L in Western Washington State. One of the biggest obstacles I have had to deal with as a parent since he moved down south is the idea and importance of branding. Branding, when you think about it, is just another form of labeling. If a pair of jeans did not carry the weight associated with the marketing put into them, would it really matter what brand of jeans we wore? No. The only importance brands carry is the importance we as the consumers place on them. Granted, the importance is fed to us, but it is up to us to believe or give credit to what marketing or our peers tell us. Nevertheless, branding has been a thorn in my side since my son moved to California. He is ten-years-old and without even trying, he notices the brands of inconsequential things such as foods, soda water, underwear, and even plastic water bottles. With all the events that occur around him every day, one of the first things he notices is the brands associated with those events. L and I have even gone so far as to call his first couple of days back in Washington state as a period of debranding. It sounds silly, but a ten-year-old should not be talking about Loui Vuitton for any reason, whatsoever. We are still trying to figure out why he knows that brand.
You may be asking yourself, what does this have to do with sobriety? Well, as far as I am concerned, it has everything to do with sobriety. The importance and worth we place on labels and brands are directly correlated to the effect those labels and brands have on us. Nobody is immune to this, and neither am I. I am an Apple brand user through and through. I could give you a few reasons why that is the case, but in the larger schema of life, my reasoning would not matter in the least. What does matter, is that I am willing and happy to pay three times as much for my phone or computer based almost solely on its branding. There is no logical reasoning for this, but it doesn't make it any less real. It just is. What if we took that same concept and applied it to labels such as sober, sobriety, alcoholism, drunk, recovery, disease, etc...? Is there a correlation? I think there is.
Sobriety as a Brand
First, let's take a look at how we have branded sobriety. There are a lot of words and labels associated with the idea of sobriety, and these words and labels evoke an enormous amount of emotion for many people, especially those who are sober. Ask yourself this question, and answer it as honestly as possible. What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word, sober? I spent a little time on this one to ensure I, too, am as honest as possible. I had to revert back to my drinking days because now the word carries an entirely different meaning to me. However, when I was drinking, the word sober would have equated to a problem with alcohol. I would have thought of grieving. I would have thought of someone not able to enjoy life. That, my friends, is branding. I was taught those associations and I believed them without any real accurate information or knowledge, just like my apple computer.
Let's look at another example. Is alcoholism a disease? Argue this question in the wrong group and you will invite an enormous amount of discord into your life. There are people who believe without a doubt that alcoholism is a disease, and there are people who believe without a doubt that alcoholism is not a disease. Does it matter? Absolutely! One belief suggests alcoholism is not your fault or problem and therefore it's okay to struggle as much as necessary. Another belief suggests choice was more a factor and if we can make a choice to do something, well then... Which category you fall in really doesn't matter for the sake of what I am hoping to communicate here. By creating the label, strong opinions and beliefs emerge that otherwise would not be present and are not necessary for the overarching issue at hand.
Here is my favorite label and or brand, if you will. Is quitting drinking hard? Again, be careful where you broach such a topic; there are some very strong opinions about this label as well. I have been writing and talking about this idea since not long after I quit drinking. It came up the moment I started reaching out into the sober community. The first thing I found was that the way I felt about my sobriety was not the norm for everyone. Once I finally found my reasons to quit drinking, my sobriety has been, dare I say it again, quite easy. I remember having a visceral reaction to the struggles I kept hearing about in the sober community. I hated it. I did not like hearing about the struggles that were occurring to people with whom I had made friendships. I did not like hearing about how hard sobriety was for so many. The only thing I could and still think about is why and how can my experience be so different from other people's experiences? Thankfully, as it turns out, I am not wholly alone; I am, however, certainly in the minority. Why?
Misery Loves Company
I still have a lot of work to do on this idea but let me give you a quick insight into my way of thinking in this regard. Sobriety has been labeled and branded over hundreds of years as one of the hardest things to achieve. Just ask anyone who has or is currently quitting drinking or other addictions. The majority of the population will say it was horrifically difficult. To be clear, I am certainly not discounting anyone's personal experience with sobriety or addiction cessation. If it was hard for you, then it was, and I wholeheartedly applaud you for getting through it. I am, however, posing the question of whether or not it has to be that hard. Now, I am going to ask you another question, and it is even more important that you be completely honest with yourself. Have you ever feigned something was more difficult than it was because you saw and even liked the attention you received from it? I'll go first. I am a teacher by trade. One of the biggest gripes I hear in the industry is the level of our pay. I may regret this honesty, but I am asking it of you, so I have to be willing as well. Would I like more pay? Of course, who wouldn't? Am I happy with my pay considering the time off and the benefits I receive? Absolutely. There is no amount of money worth Summers off with my wife and son. You cannot put a price on it. With that said, have I also complained about my level of pay when the topic was broached? I have. Why? Because people felt sorry for me and it felt good to hear people applaud me for the work I do for so little pay. It validated me, and that's the unfortunate truth.