The “Alcoholic” Label

I am an alcoholic. By now, you know I don’t hide that part of my identity. Far from being ashamed, I consider sobriety is one of my greatest victories. I concealed my alcoholism for six years. During that time, the word “alcoholic” was synonymous with chain-smoking, drinking straight from plastic pints, and complaining at AA meetings. “Alcoholism” involved some combination of homelessness, retired military service, living at home as an adult, and impoverishment. During active alcoholism, I believed that alcoholics were defined by certain consequences: losing a job or relationship; facing family intervention; or getting a DUI.

The reality is that alcoholism has no label. The only critical commonality is what alcoholism does to those inflicted: destroys lives via mental obsession and physical craving. My interpretation of an “alcoholic” was my ego typecasting. This typecasting kept me drinking for years: since I didn’t fit my definition of “alcoholic,” I couldn’t accept that my own relationship with alcohol as toxic.

I share my story to create a dialogue about alcoholism. Awareness and acceptance help free me from the stigma surrounding alcoholism. At work, for example, I casually comment about my sobriety to patients. The first general response is surprise that I quit drinking so young. Next, most people want to know why. “Why not?!” is my internal response. Why should I have to suffer decades before choosing sobriety? Thirty years of drinking is not necessary to recognize alcoholic tendencies. I fell in love at first sip. Alcohol was a lifestyle.

When I tell someone I am an alcoholic, I feel victorious, like I’m winning the battle between myself and the bottle. The war never ends. Although I try to wake up with a positive attitude, negativity inevitably creeps in and I get a case of the “fuck its.” My addiction whispers in my ear, relief feels necessary, and I know what brings me the ultimate “relief.” The problem is that this relief also kills me. Awareness snaps me out of the negativity. Call it prayer, meditation, or some combination of both, but I need to take action. When I’m at work and start feeling annoyed when a patient cops an attitude with me because they were waiting for 30 minutes, I slap a smile on my face and initiate a conversation.  I transform into a bubbly robot. Initially, I fake a smile and force cheerful banter. Within minutes, however, my effervescence becomes real and imitated merriment becomes authentic.

At any given time, my mind disconnects me from peace and tries to deceive me into taking that first sip. I need a power—call it positivity or right action—to pull me into connection with the joy of this moment. This doesn’t mean I always need to be “happy.” However, it does mean I can move through negativity with acceptance.

Behind the smile is an optimistic woman. She cheerfully mingles with her patients and loves her job. Regardless, there are dark days. She arms herself with a smile and a positive attitude, remembering that negative thoughts and emotions will pass.

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