Identity, Labels, and Recovery

several assorted color tags
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Trying to find my identity when getting sober seemed like a daunting task – first I find out that I was unable to drink alcohol safely, and then I realized that I didn’t even know who I was. My addiction had robbed me of my identity and I had no idea who I was without it.

This left me constantly wondering about my identity, and where did I actually fit in, and what was really important. When coming to meetings I was told to say that I was an alcoholic, and since I didn’t know who I really was, that became my identity.

Then I was told that the same man will drink again, so I worked really hard not to be the same because I didn’t want to drink again. The problem here was that not knowing who I was made it hard to not do or be the same – if you’re supposed to do the opposite and you don’t know what that it is, you can’t do the opposite! And if all I was, was an alcoholic then it didn’t look very promising to be able to change.

This is a tough label and it made me feel really horrible about myself because I too had the same stereotyped ideas of who an alcoholic was. I get it – it is supposed to bring me out of denial and help me to humble myself but instead it just put me in a state of self-pity.

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I have many more roles than just being an “alcoholic” – a person that is constantly stigmatized and stereotyped. I am a human, I am a woman, a mom, a daughter, a coworker, a teacher, and a friend.

Yet, I come to a 12-step meeting and I say “My name is Maggie and I am an alcoholic.”

People with cancer don’t label themselves as cancer, and people with diabetes don’t say I am diabetes. They say I have cancer or I have diabetes. Well, I have a disease too! Why do people with the disease of addiction label themselves as the disease! Then on the flip side, we are told that we did bad things during our active disease, but we aren’t bad, BUT if we label ourselves as the disease isn’t that the same? I don’t know about you, it seems very confusing.

In early sobriety, I was in a huge amount of denial about my drinking and saying that I am an alcoholic was excruciatingly painful, but it broke thru that denial and I begin to understand it. Then I just said it because it’s something I got used to saying it.

Now it bothers me. So who am I? Well, I am a human being who has a deadly disease that has to be treated every day. But most of all, I am a woman in recovery!

I still hate when people say I am a drunk, or a stoner, or a meth head. These labels just add to the stereotypes! Maybe they think it’s funny or they just don’t see how negative that is. If you are in recovery than you are not a drunk or an alcoholic or an addict. You are a human being healing from the disease of addiction. You are in recovery from Alcohol Use Disorder or Substance Use Disorder.

The paragraph below explains all of this perfectly!

Destigmatizing Addiction

People are people first, before they develop an addiction. Just as they are people before they develop heart disease, diabetes, or depression. The “addict” label suggests the whole person is the problem, rather than the problem being the problem. A person with a substance abuse problem has a far better chance at recovery than a person who is the problem him or herself at their core. It is no one’s fault that the term “addict” and “alcoholic” continue to permeate daily news stories dispersed to mass audiences, even though they are not diagnostic terms. It is the fault of the treatment community who fail to promote a new language, one of compassion and accuracy. Treating the whole person means respecting other aspects of the individual, including the positive traits and skills that promote change and personal growth.  —Dr. Sherman




If you, or anyone you know, is struggling with Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)*, please check out the Sober Courage menu at the top of this page for an extensive list of support groups and recovery related articles.

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*Problem drinking that becomes severe is given the medical diagnosis of “alcohol use disorder” or AUD. AUD is a chronic relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive alcohol use, loss of control over alcohol intake, and a negative emotional state when not using (Ref: NIAAA).

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