For a long time, I thought that being a recovering alcoholic was something to be ashamed of. More so, I was convinced that being a recovering alcoholic was an offence that could result in being dismissed from my job. This belief came from my time in the AA community. Where anonymity is the cornerstone of their recovery. But how can the stigma be removed around alcohol if we are too fearful to speak up about our pasts? Instead of being ushered into forums and cold church halls. Out of sight. To share our tales with other people shrouded in the veil of secrecy.
Maybe some like it. The secrecy. It adds much-needed inclusivity to a persons life who were lost. But is it beneficial? Isn’t fear bad? Isn’t fear the reason I nearly drank myself to death? Fear of being an outcast! Fear of change! Fear of loss! Yet fear is still holding me back!
If someone loses weight it is usually a good thing. If a heroin addict gives up the junk and gets her life on track it’s a good thing? Isn’t it? So then why are alcoholics any different? Why is it downplayed? Maybe because a too strong message of recovery is bad for business!? That’s a little cynical. I don’t know the real reason.
But what I do know is that there is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, it is the hardest and best thing I ever did. If anyone doubts that, then try it. The amount of people I see on Facebook who can’t get through Dry-January or StopTober without a drink is testament to the difficulty. But hey they haven’t got a problem…
So if you are trying to quit and finding it hard don’t fret. Go easy on yourself. Release the pressure of expectation of the future. Some of the thoughts I had in the early days was “How will I get through a wedding without drinking?” or “How will I have fun if I quit drinking?” All flannel. Complete and utter nonsense created by my own obsessive mind to justify the continuation of a destructive habit. How did I get through those things? At first, by going and leaving when I couldn’t take it anymore. Now? I stay even less because drunk people are boring. But I just got through it.
I never celebrated quitting drinking as an achievement. Maybe, once a year I would say “That’s another year done,” as I collected a chip. Eventually, I never saw the point. I wanted to live it everyday but it’s difficult when it is meant to be a secret. Quitting drinking is a wonderful achievement. Fuck what anyone else says.
I have had a problem recently regarding recognising successes. It is in my nature to downplay my achievements. To not get too big-headed. To not be proud. Or boast. But what that has translated to is not accepting my successes. I was ignoring the positives to find negatives. Just to make myself feel bad. Like panning for shit in a river of gold. Ignoring the glory and focusing on the misery. To break the cycle I attended an online positivity webinar. It was useful. What I took from it was that “I am not defined by my failures!” The past doesn’t always predict the future. The negative messages I told myself when I drank are no longer valid. I would look in the mirror after a night drinking and berate myself mentally. I deserved it. Or so I thought. Unfortunately, this mental berating has carried through. I now look in the mirror and see a man I am proud of. Yet, the inner message is the same as the past. But not for much longer. I am re-writing that.
Like many people out there I climbed out of the gutter and became something. I created something from nothing. If that isn’t worth a pat on the back then I don’t know what is. Not just for me. For everybody who did the same. Anyone who saw the road they were heading on was leading the wrong way and opted to change course. Anyone who learned the hard way. Anyone who pined for love lost to bad behaviour and made it their mission to correct it for the next person. These things take strength. Yes, STRENGTH. Not weakness. It takes character. It takes all the things I thougtht I lacked. But it is only possible to deny the evidence for so long. Eventually, even the inner critic has to stand up and give ovation. And why the fuck not? Just because we can’t have a drink doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate our successes. No matter how minor they seem to you. They are incredible to another.
I wish to celebrate the journey. I own the mistakes and failures that were in abundance when I drank. I own the successes and achievements from sobriety. I am so proud of what I have done. I honestly never thought it was possible. Just quitting drinking I mean. I thought I was so far lost. I thought that life would be over after I quit. It has been the greatest time of my life. With sacrifice comes reward. Remove alcohol and you will be rewarded in many other ways.
Life is getting shorter all the time. It doesn’t need to be lived in fear, shame and guilt around alcohol. Most of the beliefs are superimposed anyway. Old tales that are still being told to torture ourselves. A habit. A ritual of mental self-abuse. The scars of physical self-harm are clear to see. The mental ones? Not so easily. I can tell you that you are beautiful. That you have potential and mean the world to someone. I can tell you but I know it counts for nothing if you don’t believe it. I lived a life beyond my wildest dreams and was still left wanting. I still didn’t believe that I should be happy.
Thankfully, this realisation has led me to what I believe to be the root cause of my problems. Invasive, obsessive thinking that is destructive to my happiness. Self-doubt. Self-criticism. Leading to low self-worth. Thoughts appear with the ferocity and destructiveness of a lightning bolt. Usually bringing with it the symptoms of an electric shock. Now I see the problem I can look for a solution.
Mental health issues and alcohol use have been long known about. As far back as Bill W. the founder of AA. Later in his life, he went on to study the effects of vitamins on the brain. Addicts usually have an underlying recurring issue such as anxiety and/or depression. Bill W himself sought to remedy this problem after the spiritual aspect of AA did nothing to ease his. He tried many approaches including LSD. He sought to find a solution to his problem of mental angst.
What is clear is that there isn’t a single approach to quitting drinking. Or more pertinent; a single approach to staying quit drinking. I am not advocating the use of LSD or vitamin B3. But what I am saying is there is no such thing as an alcoholic. Many stumble blindly into addiction. Some may have a genetic or environmental reason. There are many routes in. So there are many routes out. You just have to find from all the information out there which approach works best for you.
And when you do, be proud. Be confident in the knowledge that picking a path, sticking to it and being rewarded in itself is a reward. That overcoming destructive patterns of behaviour or thinking is a monumental achievement. You don’t have to climb Mount Everest to be proud.
In fact, turning their lives around seemed a greater climb for many people. So pat yourself on the back. You have earned it. Life ain’t easy.