I found myself responding quite negatively to something I heard on a podcast today. I went from peaceful listening to outright anger in an instant. Why? Well, at first I wasn’t sure exactly why. The topic of the podcast itself was how helpful blogging can be for people who are trying to get and stay sober. Um, yeah. Totally agree with that.
When I got upset, the speaker was describing herself as an alcoholic. But that shouldn’t upset me either. Although I personally dislike that particular word, and don’t identify in that way, I know that the term is really helpful to many people and it normally doesn’t bother me at all to hear someone refer to themselves as an alcoholic. So it wasn’t really this part of the speaker’s message that bothered me. In fact, I mostly appreciated what she was trying to say. She was simply confirming her belief that sobriety is the healthiest choice for her life. Okay, yeah, me too. No problem there.
But here’s the part that bugged me. She said the reason she knows for certain that she’s an alcoholic is because she drank “alcoholically.” Her tone suggested, yep anyone who drinks alcoholically is a bonafide alcoholic, no ifs ands or buts about it. And this really pissed me off. I guess because I strongly dislike the term alcoholic and although she didn’t define what she meant exactly by “alcoholically,” I’m pretty sure someone (me) writing a blog to support their sobriety likely had some habits that would fall into that “drinking alcoholically” category. Yep, surely.
So here’s the thing. I know it’s not helpful to get too hung up about labels, but the reality is that words are powerful. And to me, the word alcoholic is outdated, archaic, and can be a huge barrier to entry for someone who might want an alcohol-free life. At best, it’s a label that puts the fault of addiction on the person rather than the substance. At worst, it’s a term laden with so much stigma as to send a drinker (who might be looking to quit) running for the hills.
Think of it this way. If you smoke cigarettes and become addicted, we’ say you’ve become addicted to nicotine. We won’t label you a “nicoholic.” And if you decide to give up smoking, we’ll acknowledge that you’re doing a hard thing and congratulate you for your efforts. No one fears telling people they’ve quit nicotine. No one feels ashamed to admit they’ve become addicted to this addictive substance.
And the science is there to prove it – alcohol is addictive.
What would you say if you gave up smoking? I was addicted to nicotine, but I gave it up, and now I don’t smoke. End of story.
I was addicted to alcohol, but I gave it up, and now I don’t drink.
End of story.
When I was first starting to think about quitting, or cutting back, or taking a break, or doing something about the suffering alcohol was causing me, this is what I needed to hear:
You don’t have to decide you’re an alcoholic.
You don’t have to have a rock bottom story.
You don’t even have to be drinking a certain amount.
You don’t have to want to quit.
To get started, it’s enough just to want to feel better.
Lots of people, lovely, smart, good people, all over the world, find themselves wanting to change their relationship with alcohol, and do it.
And you can too.
Anyone can decide to remove the booze and see what happens next.
And they can describe themselves in any way they like.
Happy Sober Thursday,