Breaking Our Own Stigma Of Addiction

I have been sober for a while, but every time my “normal” world encounters my “recovery” world, I still get nervous. I still feel uncomfortable when discussing my sobriety with normie people – and even though I do it, I often still feel as if I have just shared my deepest, darkest, and dirtiest secret. And I still wonder if based on this information, the other person has now changed their view of me.

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Every time I share that I am a recovering alcoholic with someone not in recovery, it is always in hopes that I may change his or her perception if they have a negative one, or that I might be the person that they will feel comfortable enough to ask for help if needed. Sometimes it comes out because I am declining an invitation to a drinking event or a drink itself. Nevertheless, I still worry a bit, but I have never had a negative response. Maybe I have been lucky, maybe it is my positive approach, maybe it is because I am the self-proclaimed recovery cheerleader! Maybe… my perception has been wrong all along, and people are more accepting of people in recovery. Whatever it is, I have found that when I tell people about my journey, I actually get lots of encouragement and support!

You see, I am open about my alcoholism around my recovery circles, be it on the internet, or out in the public. I feel safe there, these are my people, they understand. However and even though it feels uncomfortable, I feel strongly about sharing my recovery with normie people too. Today I am a sober alcoholic and I think that the “sober” part is the most important, and one that desperately needs focus.

I truly believe that we often hinder our sobriety by our own stigmas. I believe that many of us also carry a preconceived image of an alcoholic, or an addict. I know I did! I carried a huge stigma about alcoholism because my family always referred to it negatively. I also grew up hating my biological mother because she was an alcoholic. I held the same ignorant hatred towards her as my family did, until… until I became an alcoholic myself. This was so devastating to grasp that I truly believe that it kept me from seeking help, because if I admitted to being an alcoholic that would mean that I was just like my mother. Then I get sober and I came to a great realization that my mom was not a bad person, she was a sick person that never got help that she needed. It always makes me wonder how our lives would have been different if our family was willing to help her instead of shunning her away.

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I also believe that the most damaging stigma is the one we actually place on ourselves. Here we are not able to control our consumption of a substance that to most people is just a leisurely cocktail sipped with dinner. Then we wonder, why can’t we, are we that weak? Then we come into sobriety, and struggle with the shame and guilt over the tremendous wreckage we have left behind while drinking. Now, we are not only afraid of what others might think, but we also have a hard time believing that we had become that person – the alcoholic! Even like “normal” people, we often cannot comprehend the power of our addiction, and its controlling nature. We often feel like this is the worst thing that could have ever happen to us, and it is so disgraceful that no one can ever know about it.

Accepting that we had a disease of addiction to alcohol and then quitting drinking is a huge challenge. We all long for acceptance from our family, and friends, and the society. We want to be able to share the amazing changes in our lives, yet we are not able to share those without mentioning our struggles with alcohol.

Unfortunately, I held on to my stigma for a long time. I was not one of the people that from day one were shouting from the rooftops about their newfound life in sobriety. I was petrified. I was petrified to step my foot in a 12-step meeting, I was petrified to go to rehab, and I was petrified of telling anyone about anything pertaining to my alcoholism and/or recovery. I found anonymity extremely helpful because it was so important for me to feel secure and protected during this very fragile time. In those days I did not feel like getting sober was an amazing decision, instead I felt lots of shame and embarrassment and I did not want to be like my mother. Admitting that I had a problem and needed help was too overwhelming.

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But, I wish I had felt differently. I wish that maybe instead of holding on to my shame I could have been looking at this as any other disease and thinking, I am sick, I need help. I wish someone had told me that the journey to sobriety was courageous and empowering! I wish I knew that there were people out there who cared, and would support me, and cheer me on, every step of the way!

Today I am no longer anonymous, and I try not to agonize over the word, especially since the word can mean so many things to other people. To me the word describes my disease. Yes, I do realize that there are many negative connotations associated with it. However, when I share my story with others, I let them know about of all the positive changes in my life and how recovery had transformed me. I try to focus on the many positives of getting clean and sober. Recovery is as amazing as running a marathon or climbing a mountain or getting an amazing job, because it gives us the opportunity to be able to do all these remarkable things.


If you, or anyone you know, is struggling with alcohol addiction, please click the Find Support link for an extensive list of support groups. Also please check out the links to many useful resources in the sidebar, and always feel free to contact me anytime at sobercourage@gmail.com.

You may also find some great inspiration and support from all the awesome sober bloggers listed in the side bar under POSTS I LIKE and RECOVERY BLOGGERS, as well as Sober Courage page on Facebook and Sober Courage on Twitter.

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9 Comments Add yours

  1. tootsie798 says:

    Thank you for this. It is so me. I just watched “The Anonymous Ones” . I belong to AA and wish there was a different way to introduce ourselves.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I love that movie. It’s very inspiring. I used to say that I was in recovery, but recovery means so many things, you almost have to say recovery from what. And I don’t just say alcoholic, because I am no longer practicing. Seems that recovering alcoholic works for me!

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Like

  2. Hello Maggie,

    I’m not there yet, but thank you for walking this road to openness before me.

    When I read your post I’m thrown from the ‘Yes! I want that freedom’ side to the ‘My disease is nobodies business.’ Don’t know yet. Currently I think that coming out as an ex (?) alcoholic would not help me with being sober. So I keep it at that. For now. Not sure what the future brings. But that’s ok because I’m not in the future so I don’t have to worry about it. 🙂

    Again, thank you.

    xx, Feeling

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi! Thank you!

      My openness has been gradual, actually pretty slow. I think at 3 yeas sober I was still anonymous but feeling like 2 people and I lived 2 life’s. I was really struggling with that. It was really who I was. I know people say that alcoholism doesn’t define us, but I believe that it does a bit. My life style is different because I don’t drink. Nevertheless, it’s a personal choice, and I know people who have 30 years sober and are still anonymous. I think in the end, you got to do what right for you. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have the 2 people thing now but more on who I was and who I am now. ‘They’, as in, the alcoholic part of me and I do not live together. Not sure if that is another form of denial or if I really did separate rather clean. I prefer to think the last. Not sure. But that’s ok. It will unfold just as it will. 🙂
        Thanks again. xx, Feeling

        Liked by 1 person

        1. For me, I think those two also took a bit to separate. Actually I think when I finally separated from my drinking self, I started dropping my anonymity. This is really interesting. I never thought about it. Hmmm. It’s quite a journey though isn’t it! And yes, it will unfold how it’s supports to. 🙂

          Like

          1. Aaah! Yeah, I can understand that. I am guessing, if we want to share ‘naturally’ meaning; at a time that we ourself choose, the shame needs to be gone or almost gone. The benefit of sharing needs to outweigh the shame. Or another rock-bottom.
            Only 6 months ‘in’ but I found my rock-bottoms solid ground to stand on. Sooooo happy that I’m free. And it is a Journey! 🙂 Happy to be walking it with you in the sober blogosphere. 🙂 Well, trailing behind more, but anyhow, happy! 🙂

            Like

  3. Great post, Maggie.

    I understand what you are saying here. I guess I am in a similar boat in terms of being very open online with my “peeps” but still much in the closet with others. Almost all the people in my (small) non-recovery world know about me (they all rallied around my wife when the whole DUI thing happened, so that got out in the open quickly), but when it comes to work, for example, I am close mouthed.

    Now, is it shame? I don’t see it that way. I don’t feel shame or stigma. I choose not be that open about it because I don’t see the need to do so. At least right now. Who knows, there may be a point where it will come out organically, but for now, there is nothing really gained for me to be so open about it. Some may disagree with that, but I think it is a personal call. And while I understand what films / movements like The Anonymous People talk about, not everyone necessarily needs to be out. I guess I liken it to gay/lesbian movement. One need not broadcast it to still be proud about it.

    Anyway, I think what you say is very important, and I think we all have this conversation with ourselves many times over. Will I break my anonymity at some point at work and beyond? Not sure, but I certainly am not ashamed to be who I am!

    Thanks for this
    Paul

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Paul! Great comment. I actually started opening up at work first. And for me it was definitely shame. I was so scare of what my coworker would think. But in the end it was to protect my sobriety. I kept getting invited to happy hours and “game nights” and I kept making excuses. But it didn’t feel right. I didn’t want to seem anti-social because I definitely am not. So once I told them it was like they understood, and I didn’t have to decline anymore. The cool part is that my boss always arranges for some cool non alcoholic drink for me when we have get togethers. 🙂

      Either way in the end it’s definitely a personal choice. I just hope that the choice to share it is to be proud, to show that recovery works and that it changes lives. People tell everyone when they start a new diet, a new job, or train for a marathon, then they get lots of support and encouragement. You tell someone hey I am getting sober and they are like… Ok, or ask why. But we need that support and encouragement too. 🙂

      Anyway. Great insight as always. Thanks Paul! Hugs.

      Liked by 1 person

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