Yes, that’s right; I’m an alcoholic. But that alone is not the whole story.
I’ve been sober now for nearly seven straight years, although I’ve technically been in recovery for over 10. Like many recovering alcoholics, my journey was interrupted by a few relapses along the way — a reality, but certainly not a requirement, of recovery. Throughout the years, I’ve chosen to disclose this fact to a lot of people. (And I mean a lot.) Some of them praised and respected me for it; others weren’t phased by it at all. But there were many who simply turned away.
As my children grow and my own life moves forward, the opportunity to form new relationships with non-alcoholics continues to present itself. My circle has grown from solely including other recovering alcoholics to having a well-rounded group of friends.
But even after 10 years, even after a decade of time has passed, I still hesitate to share my story with others, and it’s mostly because of the hurtful, stinging, and awkward responses I’ve been met with. The truth is, I understand why you think it might be hard to navigate a friendship with an alcoholic, but it doesn’t have to be.
There is so much I want to say — so much knowledge I want to impart — on those who may never have walked in my shoes, but still assume they know my story.
And so, when I tell you I’m an alcoholic …
Don’t feel bad for me.
Believe me, I don’t want your pity. I don’t need a sympathetic head tilt or to hear that you’re sorry. I’m proud to be a recovering alcoholic; I’m grateful to be one of the lucky ones who found a way out.
Is it hard being sober in a society where mild intoxication is glorified and even at times expected? Absolutely. But what’s even harder than that was the life I used to live. Waking up each morning with a relentless obsession to drink was hard. Spending months in jail was hard. Burning bridges with friends and family because alcohol turned me into a monster was hard. Living in multiple inpatient treatment centers was hard. Overdosing was hard. Looking myself in the mirror at the end of each day was excruciating.
I don’t want to ever go back to that. Staying sober takes work, but it’s so much easier than the hell I was living. Recovery is honestly the easier, softer way.
Don’t assume I’m judging you for enjoying weekly or even nightly cocktails.
I don’t hate alcohol just because my body and brain are allergic to it. I hate what alcohol does to me and I loathe the disease of addiction for destroying the lives of so many brilliant people I know, but believe me when I say I don’t have any opinions on your drinking habits. I’m not counting how many beers you throw back or how many bottles of wine you keep in your fridge. Honestly, I probably won’t even notice. When I was first getting sober, I was hyper-aware of my surroundings, but that phase of recovery passes fairly quickly.
Don’t exclude me from events where alcohol will be present.
I know myself and I know my limits. Most of the time, being surrounded by alcohol doesn’t bother me. But if I start to feel squirrely or find myself getting triggered, I’ll excuse myself. I have worked really hard to accumulate a variety of tools for coping with situations that might cause my addict brain to start spinning. I will be okay; and if I’m not, I will leave. I want to come to your party. I love watching football games with you. My children desperately want to hang out with yours; please don’t exclude us because of my alcoholism.
Don’t keep your children away from mine.
Alcoholism isn’t contagious, and despite any preconceived notions you may have, our home is a stable, loving environment. We don’t hide our demons in the closet or tell war stories from my drinking days. Our family is as normal as any family can be. We love your kids and will treat them as our own. You don’t have to be scared of us; my disease is mine alone, and it is nothing to fear. We are just like you; human beings who are doing the very best we can with what we have at any given moment.
Don’t change the subject.
I’m not as uncomfortable as you are. If you don’t know what to say, share it. If you’ve never met an alcoholic before me, tell me that. If you have questions, ask me. I am proud of my journey and I love to talk about my experience in my disease as well as in sobriety. It’s okay to be interested — alcoholics often have very intriguing and entertaining stories. Talking about my disease will not make it come back.
If I tell you I’m an alcoholic, it’s because I feel a connection with you.
I don’t tell everyone I’m an alcoholic; not everyone needs to know. But I’m telling you because I want you to know. I want to build a friendship with you. I’m telling you because I value our relationship enough to risk losing it.
My intention is never to put a wedge between us — in fact, it’s quite the opposite. I want to let you in and this is an important part of me that I need you to see.
Above all, just know this: I’m so much more than my disease, but it will always be a piece of me. I hope you will see past it, but if you can’t I understand.
My life is full of others who can.