I would like to spend a moment to clarify something I have heard come up several times since I wrote my last two blogs about the idea of removing labels for those of us abstaining from our addictions. I understand that words are just words and that labels define certain aspects or conditions that are present in our world. As humans, we cannot avoid the use of words and their definitions to define our realities. With that said, I believe the words we choose to define ourselves are incredibly important and they have an impact on how we perceive our overall experience of life. For those of us who have made the decision to not drink, use, or behave in a certain way due to problems associated with those things, we are highly susceptible to the subtle variances in what we see, hear, and feel while abstaining from our addictions. We are optimistic, vulnerable, and open but we are also easily discouraged, narrowly focused, and prone to see the negative in almost anything around us. It is because of this that I believe labels can have a detrimental effect on the success of our sobriety if we are not careful.
The other point I would like to clarify is when it is acceptable to remove the labels from our thinking while on our journey's away from our addictions. Looking back to my last blog about the alcoholic label, I offered the idea that a person can remove the label the moment a person makes the decision to remove the substance or behavior from their life. Based on the definition, an inability to control one's drinking, if you make the decision not to drink and don't, you are controlling your drinking for that period of time and you deserve credit for that time. When, specifically, we remove a label from our way of thinking is up to us, individually. I have heard several people respond to my blog with the belief that they prefer to call themselves alcoholic and will never remove that label. That is certainly their choice and if it is working for them then it is the right choice. I am speaking more to those of you who, like me, do not sit well with negative connotations about ourselves when we can see and feel progress. Positive personal affirmations in regards to effort carry a lot more weight in perpetuating the desired outcome than negative ones, in my opinion. Again, this is my experience and I am quickly learning that I am not alone in my experiences, which tells me there are people out there with whom this may resonate and they are the people I hope to reach.
Not too many words in our language evoke such negative connotation as the word, addict. When we hear this word, our minds immediately envision poor health, homelessness, poor hygiene, decay, unemployment, broken families, and imminent death. In our minds, it is one of the lowest levels of living we can achieve. Ironically, we are all just as capable of reaching that level with very little effort or encouragement. All it takes is the wrong set of circumstances around the wrong group of people and BAM! Addiction. Those who are lucky enough never to find themselves in those circumstances or around those people should count their blessings every single day. On the other hand, I once heard a quote that stated a person felt blessed to have had an addiction to overcome because, without it, they would never have known the true level of their strength. Touche. I think I too fall into this category.
Let's look more closely at the word addict. Noun; a person who is addicted to an activity, habit, or substance. To better understand that definition we have to look more closely at the word addicted. To be addicted, one is considered to have an addiction. Addiction: Noun; the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice, or to something that is psychologically and physically habit-forming. Raise your hand if this applies to you. If you are reading this blog, chances are you have developed an addiction to something at some point in your life. Let's be honest though, everyone has developed an addiction to something at least once in their life. But, we are not talking about 'those' people, are we? We are talking about those of us who found ourselves in those particular circumstances and or around those specific people who helped propel us into the state of addiction that landed us here. We are talking about us, the addicts.
Raise your hand if you have quit using the substance that you believe requires you to label yourself as an addict. Now, for those of you who have raised your hands, how long has it been since you used said substance? This is not a rhetorical question. How long has it been? Most people who consider themselves in recovery know the exact date they quit and how many days it has been since they last used the substance that created their addiction. Now, ask yourself the following question: Based on the definition of addiction and addict, does the amount of time I have, actively taking a role in choosing not to use, still qualify me as an addict? That is a rhetorical question. You can answer it if you want, but the point is more to ponder the idea for a moment. If you are not actively engaged in the habit-forming behavior or substance that you once labeled as your addiction, then are you still addicted to that behavior or substance?
Why does this matter? I believe it matters as much as any other aspect associated with the successful cessation of an addiction. Here is why. Think back to what we envision when we think of the word addict. It is not a pretty sight, and it does not offer any positive or heartwarming feelings. It does not fill one with hope and optimism for the future. It does not exude confidence in the beholder. Calling ourselves addicts when we are actively and successfully avoiding a substance and or behavior we sought to eradicate is a disservice to ourselves and our efforts. Why label ourselves as something we are clearly not in our most reaffirming moments of success? We do not need to be thinking of ourselves as addicts. We need to be thinking of ourselves as warriors. We need to be thinking of ourselves as heroes. We need to be thinking of ourselves as strong, confident, and actionable people who are doing what we set out to do. That is not the behavior of an addict. That is the behavior of a champion and we deserve to give ourselves credit for our successful efforts.
How do champions differ from addicts? Champions, champion for others. We use our successes to help others find their successes. There should be no stinginess or greed present in a champion. A champion has reached or is reaching their end goal and this allows them to see past the competitive nature that generally accompanies competition. They instead see the need in others and they use their experience to help champion those who have not yet found their way. They offer their knowledge, experience, and help as easily as one offers a handshake, (Corona Virus aside) and they take pride in watching others become their own champions because the champion knows the benefit of achieving ones' goals.
When I think of a group of people in an AA meeting. an online Zoom meeting, or a social media group dedicated to living alcohol-free, I do not think of a group of addicts; I think of a group of champions.
I think to myself, those are my people.