The last couple of blogs I have written focused on some words that are pretty prominent in the sober community, including the word sober. The words I am choosing to focus on have a purpose in our daily language because they do accurately define certain aspects of the condition of alcoholism. We cannot help but use them when talking in-depth about alcohol and alcoholism. We can, however, help in what context we choose to use them. If I am someone who believes a particular label defines me, and I choose to refer to myself with that label, it is my right and perfectly okay to label myself in that way. When referring to alcohol and alcoholism as an idea, it makes sense to use the words we all know in reference to the condition. The context in which I believe we should all be careful is when we choose words to describe others. While the idea of living as an addict may sit well with you, it may not with someone else. Someone may take pride in calling themselves sober, but another may see sober as a negative label. The word alcoholic may remind you of who you are and what you are doing, but it may affect the person standing next to you in a completely different way. We are all on the same team here, so let's be aware and empathetic toward our fellow community members. Remember, support is truly the catalyst for successful sobriety.
Rather than spend too much time talking about each label as individual blogs, I thought I would wrap up this series by talking about them as a whole. I have been reading a lot about core beliefs, positive self-talk, and mindfulness. The one overwhelmingly consistent theme I keep hearing revolves around the words and beliefs we choose to define ourselves. They are important. In fact, they are everything. The words themselves have their own effect on our psyche, but what is truly remarkable about this idea is why we choose to use the words we use to describe and consequently feel about ourselves. There is a deeper meaning behind the choices we make and that meaning plays a predominant role in the outcome of our lives.
I will break down a few of the labels I feel are destructive for our successful sobriety, and remember, if they do not apply to you please disregard. My motivation here is not to change the way you think about yourself or your journey. If what you are doing is working for you then don't change a thing and congratulations! My motivation here is to offer a few options to those less certain about where they stand in regard to the labels they are involuntarily subjected to once they begin their journey into sobriety. My motivation here is to suggest there are other ways to look at ourselves and our conditions. My motivation here is to show how the perception I hold of myself has changed as a result of my choosing to shift my focus away from the negative. My motivation here is to simply offer some positivity to those less grounded and certain of their path. Let's take a look at a few more common labels associated with quitting alcohol.
The actual definition is as follows: Noun - a return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength. In the alcohol-free community, it refers to the time after one chooses to and begins enacting the cessation of alcohol or other substances. In the beginning stages of this process, I do not believe or have a problem with the use of the word recovery to describe our state of being. When we first quit drinking or using, events take place that suggests our body and minds are truly in recovery as a result of the slow dissipation of the poison from our bodies. We have physical and mental withdrawals that feel like the end of the world. At what point, though, do we actually recover? Research shows that the time it takes to rid ourselves of the negative effects of alcohol ranges from a couple of days to a couple of weeks. Once we are free from the chemical, and the withdrawals subside, we are said to be in recovery.
This is the point where I find the use of the word recovery to be subjective. Some beliefs suggest a person is in recovery from alcohol forever. Looking back at the definition of the word, I believe a person's recovery is wholly up to the individual person. A return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength. While cravings, for some, may persist indefinitely, if I am consistently and continually choosing not to use, I believe I am recovered. Cravings, after a short period, are one hundred percent mental. They are made up by me, and it is my choice whether or not I give in to them. If I believe after thirty days I am recovered from drinking because I am making the right choices surrounding my chemical of choice, then I believe I am recovered. If it takes six months to gain the confidence to feel recovered from alcohol, then it takes six months. The point is this. Each time I say I am in recovery, I am suggesting and reminding myself I HAVE a problem with alcohol. When I stop using that word to describe myself I am then suggesting and reminding myself I HAD a problem with alcohol. There is a myriad of evidence out there suggesting we are what we say and believe. If I believe I am in recovery, I am in recovery. If I believe I am recovered, I am recovered.
If ever there was a controversial topic, the topic of whether or not alcoholism is a disease is certainly one of them. In 1956, the American Medical Association decided alcoholism was a disease. Interestingly, over sixty years later, the topic is still up for debate. Depending on who you talk to, there are many relevant and credible reasons for this uncertainty. One suggests that there is a difference between disease and disorder. Another suggests that alcoholism is a choice. It doesn't really matter why people are still arguing over this topic, what really matters is what you believe and how your belief affects your ability to abstain from alcohol. I don't know about you, but I am perfectly happy going through my entire life never HAVING to use the word disease to describe myself or my health. It is one of the most negative words we use to describe something.
Definition: Noun - any harmful, depraved, or morbid condition as of the mind or society. Does this definition technically fit the idea of alcoholism? Yes, I can certainly concede to that. But, the question I am posing is whether or not we have to or need to use the word to refer to our individual condition. I do not believe it is helpful and here is why? I believe the word disease automatically and involuntarily conjures up images and meanings associated with illness, decay, and even death. These are not images or meanings I want in my head when defining my personal journey. Was there a time when these images and meanings more accurately defined my condition? Sure, but they do no longer! I am proud and happy to exclaim that enthusiastically. Again, if this word fits you and your journey, more power to you.
Rather than bore you with my personal thoughts surrounding this, I will offer a passage from baldwinresearch.com 2002-04-14, "Alcoholism: A disease of speculation" as something to consider. Please disregard this if it doesn't sit well with you or ponder on it further if it does.
"Some critics of the disease model argue alcoholism still involves choice, not total loss of
control, and stripping alcohol abusers of their choice, by applying the disease concept, is a
threat to the health of the individual; the disease concept gives the substance abuser an
excuse. A disease cannot be cured by force of will; therefore, adding the medical label
transfers the responsibility from the abuser to caregivers. Inevitably the abusers become
unwilling victims, and just as inevitably they take on that role. They argue that the disease
theory of alcoholism exists only to benefit the professionals and governmental agencies
responsible for providing recovery services, and the disease model has not offered a
solution for those attempting to stop abusive alcohol and drug use."
Unfortunately, there is no decisive agreement either way whether or not alcoholism is a disease, so in a way, it is ultimately up to you. If I believe global warming is happening and I take steps to help lessen its effect on the world, it doesn't matter if you believe in global warming or not. Similarly, if I believe I am not diseased and I choose to use more positive language to define my reality, what you believe doesn't really matter. The only question that really matters is what I believe and what I do with that belief.
Originally, I was going to run through several labels I personally feel can be considered negative for our alcohol-free journeys. Surprisingly, this blog quickly reached a length not conducive to many readers so I will continue this on Thursday when I write part two of the Label-Free Sobriety - Continued blog. Until then, I will say this:
I have recovered from my alcohol addiction and I am disease-free.