This stigma is strong. The stigma is the enemy. Sometimes – quite often, really – the stigma is what keeps us drinking. I spent ten years in active alcoholism. Much of that time was spent trying to get out while being pulled back in by the shame and stigma. Sometimes – quite often, really – the stigma is perpetuated from within the walls intended for healing.
When I read Victoria’s story about shame and stigma, I asked if I could publish it here. She not only understands the incarceration of the stigma, she describes it as well as I’ve ever heard it described. I’m betting you’ll resonate with Victoria’s words, too.
“Hello, my name is Victoria, and I am an alcoholic.”
For decades, comradery in recovery groups of Alcoholics Anonymous emerged from the pronouncement of that sentence. That statement prefaced countless stories of individuals who struggled with an addiction to alcohol and sought a path to recovery and permanent sobriety. Simply and concisely, one admitted to having a problem, and thus took the first step. The fellowship of AA was revolutionary for its time, and for me it was the first introductory step in my long journey to recovery.
For years, before I actually committed to permanent sobriety, I despised the word, “alcoholic.” I thought it was the dirtiest, most disgusting, shameful word. Having to identify with it in order to confess out loud that I have a drinking problem was too much to handle.
So I drank.
I drank until drinking was too much to handle. I drank until thoughts of ending my life were as ordinary and routine as choosing what to wear on any given day. Despite all of the physical, mental, and emotional torment, there was a little part of me that knew I did not really want to stop living. I wanted to stop living like this.
Placing the suffix –ic after alcohol makes the word an adjective, not a noun. Thinking about this seemingly trivial technicality now, I am aware of the magnitude of the invisible barrier I faced when I first started making my awkward baby steps toward sobriety. “She’s an alcoholic,” or, “a bunch of alcoholics,” or, “likely to become an alcoholic,” etc., are phrases that appear correct at first glance, and they are casually said without a second thought.
So, what does that mean?
To me, it meant that all of my despicable behaviour that manifested while I was under the influence of alcohol really was me. I concluded that I truly was that horrible monster, and living with that view seemed truly impossible. Paradoxically, saying, “I am an alcoholic,” was excruciatingly painful, and I clung to my most trusted anesthetic, alcohol, even more tightly.
You see, I’m really not the monster that alcohol turned me into. Nothing about my drunken behaviour was authentic. In fact, it could not be farther from who I truly am. I am only now beginning to unpack the traumatic impact on my loved ones and me that resulted from the experiences that stemmed from alcoholism. Namely, all of the physical, mental and emotional damage caused by the effect that alcohol had on my brain and behaviour.
Today, I am truly grateful that I can be part of a community and not be required to continue to declare alcohol as being an inherent part of my identity. We are so much more than our struggle with addiction, and we have so much more to offer. I am hopeful that we can move away from the fallacy of fusing a person’s identity with a toxic poison. With increased awareness, we can see past the protective façade construed around alcohol, and the stigma associated with healing from addiction can fade.
If you are ready to join a community with no requirement for declaring alcohol as a part of your identity, we hope you’ll consider joining Victoria and me in SHOUT Sobriety. Introduce yourself however you like. We are about discovering the future no matter the stigmatized label from your past.