For me and many other drinkers I know, the thing that stopped us from seriously considering whether our drinking was problematic was the simple fact that we didn’t want to be “one of them”. You know, an alcoholic. In fact, we spent a lot of time trying to prove to ourselves that we were anything but “one of them”.
I think the idea that we need to identify as an alcoholic stems from 12 step groups like AA, where people introduce themselves with the words “My name is…. and I’m an alcoholic”. Not only that, but once you become an alcoholic, you are considered to be one for the rest of your life, even if you get sober.
There is something to be said for being forced to acknowledge a problem and some people find relief in this label. But for many others – myself included – the A word feels like a huge barrier to getting help. ‘Alcoholic’ is an intensely negative, loaded term, associated with drunks, losers and addicts. Surely, by holding on to this label, we’re saying “this is who we are. We will always struggle. We will always be this way.”
I think labels can be dangerous. They create confusion. They convince some of us that our drinking isn’t bad enough. I never called myself an alcoholic. I was confused about what the term really meant. I was pretty convinced there was some special test you had to pass first. In the UK, alcohol is so ingrained in our culture that stopping drinking is inconceivable to many. It’s a last resort – something only ‘proper’ alcoholics need to do.
Now, after some two and a half years of sobriety, I know a lot more about alcoholism than I ever did before. But do I consider myself an alcoholic? No.
Let me explain my thinking. Initially, I chose to live alcohol free because it seemed like the solution to a problem. I wasn’t thrilled at the idea, but I was drinking too much and I couldn’t moderate, so stopping altogether seemed easiest. But nowadays living alcohol free has morphed into being my choice. I don’t feel that I am missing out by not drinking. In fact I was missing out when I was drinking. I want a happy, healthy lifestyle for myself and drinking would destroy all of that. I see no benefits to drinking, so I feel very removed from the language of disease, struggle and ‘one day at a time’. The idea that I might be threatened by temptation for the rest of my days is totally bizarre.
I know what you’re wondering. What if I had one glass of wine – would I go back on the booze and revert back to how I used to be? Maybe. Perhaps. I’d be consuming a very addictive, mind altering substance so it’s quite likely that would happen. But the key thing is that I have no intention of finding out, because I have no interest in drinking again. It’s a bit like asking if I would become a nicotine addict if I started having a couple of cigarettes here and there. That might happen – but I don’t plan on finding out.
Resolving an alcohol problem isn’t easy. It took a lot of soul searching and hard work to figure out why I drank and to change the way I thought about booze. But now that hard work is over, I feel that I have been let in on a little secret – that life without wine can be really great, if not better than a life with it. I feel as though I am reaping the rewards of living an alcohol free life. In my mind, that’s far healthier than tattooing ‘alcoholic’ on my forehead and worrying about the demon drink for the rest of my days.
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So so true. You send a message at the very moment I am meant to hear it. Godbless you kate.
Thanks Helen! ☺️
Do not forget the labels powerlessness,unmanagablity,insanity
Yes, good point…
Hi Kate,just a question,how did you begin your journey?? I feel I’m at that point now…many thanx
I think you hit the nail on the head for me.
Love your article as I agree labels are dangerous. It is part of the reductionist philosophy that we must all be reduced to “a label”. BTW way I also agree about you comments about …. Not finding out what would happen. I have never taken nor intend to take heroin… Am I a closet heroin addict? BTW The same goes for Coke, crack even E’s … Drugs aren’t my think… Therefore am I a drug addict …. Ridiculous..!
This is terrific, thank you!
People in general feel more comfortable with labels. I agree however that a label does not define who we are. I can smoke one or two cigarettes and not go back to smoking. But I am always one drink away from a binge.
Oh so good to read. I am just accepting that I need to give up drinking totally. I’ll be checking into your website for encouragement. Wish me luck.
Hi Kate. Awesome insight! I see myself in every message you post. It is day 5 for me after a major relapse 4 years ago (yes “4”) prior to relapsing I had several years of sobriety. The first couple of years were with AA and the last couple I attended WFS meetings. At this point I am SO done with “group” meetings. Yesterday I stumbled onto your blog/website (thank you God!) while desperately looking for online support. I absolutely love and completely relate to everything you say. Thank you! Please keep up the good work! God bless!
Stumbled across this today, looking for a 100 day challenge. I have spent the last six months trying to give up, giving up for about 10 days each time, then slowly getting back until I had a binge day. i have tried going the GP route/counselor route and this does not solve anything for me. I am on day 9 and this is just the kind of encouragement i need as the only one who can do this is me. Thank you. i can see I will be on this site often.
I’m wondering if anyone goes to AA but does not use the word “alcoholic” when you introduce yourself? There are many things I like about AA but still feel a lot of shame when I call myself “alcoholic” I still feel like “that’s them…not me” and I feel bad for thinking that way bc I enjoy many of the people I have met in there. Like most of you I saw the writing on the wall and knew the smart thing for me to do was quit but I’m really struggling with the label. I like meeting other sober people and AA seems like the easiest way to do that. The label just makes me feel awful!