Hi, my name is J.W. and I am an alcoholic.
Hi, My name is J.W. and I don't drink alcohol.
Which phrase is more supportive, affirming, and helpful in my end goal? I know the first phrase has been around for a very long time, and we have seen the meetings and heard how people introduce themselves. There is no argument that acknowledging there is a problem is the first step in overcoming any obstacle. You cannot fix something you do not know needs to be fixed. With that said, I wholeheartedly agree with the idea behind introducing oneself at a meeting by labeling yourself as your addiction, once. Once you have made that acknowledgment, however, and you are actively walking your path away from your addiction, I believe you no longer need to carry the burden of labeling yourself as your addiction.
Again, I am aware that this is going to go against a lot of grains in the sober community. I will also say again that I am not discounting anyone's journey. Your journey was and is yours. How you walk your path is up to you. I simply cannot stand by and accept traditions and protocols that do not make sense, to me. I have to question them. I have to find better and easier methods for overcoming what has become labeled as one of the hardest things to do: quitting an addiction. I began writing about the idea of eradicating labels in my last blog and the response was such that I could not help but want to dig a little deeper. I decided to start by digging deeper into some individual taglines that are routinely used in the addiction community. These terms are used so frequently that I do not think people even hear them anymore. This was evident for me when a new friend on social media saw one of my posts and asked me if I was in sobriety and in the same sentence congratulated me. I pondered that comment for a moment, and I quickly decided that I didn't care for that label. Am I in sobriety? Am I in recovery? Am I an alcoholic? No!
Let's take a look at the definition. Noun; one who can no longer control their use of alcohol despite the negative ramifications. An argument could and will be made that if you are choosing not to drink because of the problems you had with alcohol in the past then you are an alcoholic. You cannot control your drinking. Was that true when you were actively drinking? Yes. Is that true once you quit drinking? No. If you are able to quit drinking or consuming whatever addiction you have decided is harmful to your wellbeing then you are in control of your addiction. You are actively engaged in not using your addiction which is pretty much the epitome of the definition of control, which is: verb; the power to influence or direct people's [your] behavior or course of events. If you are in control of your consumption by not consuming then you are not an alcoholic or addict.
The next question that will inevitably come up in this regard will have to do with time. How long do you have to abstain in order to remove that label? Here is where I fear I am going to lose a lot of you; I hope that's not true, but I understand if it is. I believe the moment you acknowledge your wellbeing is at risk, and you decide to act in a manner that benefits your health and wellbeing by quitting your addiction, you abscond from that label. Let me give you an example from another area of life where this is true as well. I do not eat meat and I haven't since 2001. I will not go into my reasoning for this lifestyle choice at this time but feel free to reach out if you want to have a conversation about it sometime. The moment I chose to stop eating meat, I no longer ate meat. The time started at that moment I made the decision. If someone asked me at that moment the question, "Do you eat meat?" I could honestly and accurately respond with, "No, I do not eat meat." Why is that any different from addiction? It's not. The moment I choose to stop drinking or using and do, then I no longer drink or use. Would I call myself a recovering meat-eater? No, that would be silly. Do I need to call myself a vegetarian? No. I just don't eat meat. It's the same with addiction.
The Negative Effect of Labeling Ourselves as Alcoholics
What am I reaffirming every single time I use the following phrase? "I am an alcoholic." I am telling myself over and over that I cannot do the very thing that I am successfully doing, not drinking or using. Why would I do that? Some people will tell you that you have to acknowledge your powerlessness to the addiction. I get that, on some level. Yes, there was a time when you did not respond well to your addiction. It caused you and other people harm. It affected your vocation. It affected your ability to live well.
But, that was then.
Right now, the majority of you reading this blog are not drinking. You have made a choice to not drink or use any longer and you are enacting that choice. You have taken some or all of that power back by asserting your control over your addiction. That, my friends, is power. You are not powerless when you are actively engaged in doing what you have set out to do. In fact, it is the very definition of the word: Noun; the ability to do something or act in a particular way, especially as a faculty or quality. What are you doing in a particular way? You are not drinking or using. You have power over your addiction. I cannot for the life of me understand a world where it makes sense to continually tell ourselves we cannot or do not have the ability to do something. We have an unlimited ability to achieve what we want to achieve when we acknowledge that we do, in fact, have the power to do so.
The Positive Effects of Removing the Label, Alcoholic
It is such a simple shift in syntax, yet it can make all the difference in the world. If I say, "I do not drink alcohol" versus, "I am an alcoholic" what is happening in my psyche? The first statement affirms what I want. What is it I want? To not drink or use. I am successfully setting myself up to act in the way I want to act because I am affirming what I want, not what I do not want. The second sentence affirms what I do not want or what I fear. What do I fear? Drinking or using. Each time I say that I am an alcoholic, I am focusing on what I do not want. If you follow any mindfulness beliefs you already know that what we focus on is generally what we end up receiving. Telling ourselves over and over that we are alcoholics is reaffirming in the deepest levels of our psyche that we cannot and will not ever have control over our addictions. I do not believe that as an effective means to our end goal of living well without alcohol or addiction.
Remember, your path is your path and whatever is working for you is working for you. If my beliefs and feelings do not resonate with you, then discard them and continue along your way. I applaud you for finding the path that works for you and staying the course. For those of you who are on the fence or haven't yet found your way, I hope you can find something useful in the idea of giving yourself more credit. We are all incredibly strong and powerful beings who can achieve more than we ever thought imaginable. The first step starts with a belief in ourselves and in the power and control we hold over our actions and the way in which we choose to live our lives. We are truly the only thing standing in our own way. If we believe we cannot do something, chances are, we will not be able to do that thing. Conversely, if we believe we can do something, chances are, we are already on our way.
You may be asking yourself where relapse fits into this whole conversation. Well, come back on Monday when I break down the potential negative effects of using the label, relapse.
My name is J.W. and I do not drink alcohol.