I occasionally get lured into an argument about the disease designation of alcoholism. People like me believe addiction is a disease for two reasons. First, just like cancer negatively impacts our cellular makeup (biology) and can kill us if left untreated, alcoholism changes our neurotransmitter function (neurology) and can kill us if left untreated. Second, alcoholism prevention is woefully underfunded considering the three million alcohol-related deaths annually, and dropping the disease designation will do nothing to get this epidemic the attention it deserves.
Similarly, from time to time, I am baited into arguing about my personal conviction for owning the alcoholic label. Others argue that the word is so stigmatized that people avoid the label, and thus keep drinking and denying to their considerable peril. I don’t disagree, which is precisely why I own the label. By doing so, I take the power out of the stigma. What are you going to do, tease me by calling me an alcoholic? I just called myself an alcoholic, you slow-witted loser. If we want people to get help early, like at the first signs of dysfunction, we need to destigmatize the disease of alcoholism (just as cancer, which, by the way, afflicts slightly fewer Americans than alcoholism).
Is alcoholism a disease? Yes. Is crushing the stigma associated with alcoholism crucial to ending the epidemic. An emphatic yes!
But that’s not the point. If we want to reach our human potential, we must evolve past the arguments about this diabolical disease.
“I wouldn’t have been able to have access to myself or other people, or even been able to take in other people, if I hadn’t changed my life. No way.” That’s from a Barbara Walters interview in early 2020 with Bradley Cooper talking about his sobriety. One of the most successful, talented and highly regarded actors and directors is reaching his potential because he took the poisons out of his life.
That’s what this should be all about. Sobriety is not limited to deformed people suffering through abstinence because of a disease. The soberevolution is about reaching our human potential.
I have written often about the euphoria I felt about two-and-a-half IPAs into a drinking session before I started my permanent sobriety over four years ago. Until recently, I thought never feeling that euphoria again was my penance for my alcoholism. I was wrong. What I’m feeling now is far better than a 30 ounce beer buzz.
“I feel sorry for people who don’t drink, because when they wake up in the morning, that is the best they are going to feel all day.” That famous Frank Sinatra quote used to be a mantra of mine when I was a drinker. Now, it makes me feel sorry for him. Sinatra died of a heart attack at age 82 after a lifetime of unabashedly boozing and smoking (alcohol and cigarettes are leading causes of heart disease). And apparently, by his own admission, he had a lifetime of rough mornings.
I often wake up refreshed and rested, and excited for whatever the day brings. I recognize that I sound like a Folgers commercial, except I don’t drink caffeine either. The point is, we are supposed to feel great when we wake up after a full night of rest. The idea that we are sad and dilapidated until we ingest a poison is ludicrous. It is also a popular sentiment as I have read that Sinatra quote on more than a couple of restaurant menus or plaques on bar walls.
We’ve got it all wrong. And most of those of us who have figured it out aren’t talking about it. They are keeping the potential of sobriety a secret.
Did you know that three of our last four presidents (including Biden) are sober? Most of us know of W’s alcoholic past. Some people know Trump doesn’t drink. I just found out Biden doesn’t drink, either, from a podcast a couple of weeks ago.
Forget about what you think of the men or their policies. Is there any denying that elevating yourself to the leader of the free world is reaching your potential? No, and 75% of the people who have done that in this century don’t drink alcohol. So why don’t they talk much about their sobriety? Do you remember when Hillary cried on the campaign trail and was accused by the pundits of being too weak and emotional for the job? Drinking is still considered a manly practice, and I believe that is why sobriety is not a more prominent character trait even among those of us who owe our success to our sobriety.
I listen to a lot of podcasts (not just our own Untoxicated Podcast). Two of the most listened-to podcasts are hosted by Dax Shepard and Jason Bateman. They both share openly about their alcoholism and recovery with their huge audiences, and I credit them for their honesty. But they both have basically the same belief about the importance of staying in their own lanes, and it makes them terrible spokesmen for alcoholism prevention.
They both talk about alcohol as something they can no longer consume if they want to reach their potentials in show business and family life. They both refuse to draw any broader correlation between sobriety and success.
For Dax and Jason, alcohol was bad. For normies, by all means, drink up!
For me, that’s the wrong message. Alcohol isn’t doing any of us any favors. Realizing human potential is intertwined with how we fuel our minds and bodies.
How many famous people can you name who died either directly from alcohol abuse, or from complications related to alcohol abuse? Robin Williams, Chris Farley, Amy Winehouse, Anthony Bourdain, John Belushi, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Whitney Houston jump to mind for me. Sure, some of those are suicides or drug overdoses, but if you don’t think alcohol abuse played a major role in those deaths, you are fooling yourself. Would you have liked to see where any of those people would have gone next? Any unrealized potential in that list?
What about all the names we don’t know because alcohol so stifled their potential that they never made even the tiniest splash? What about all the people who just fade away, and we never know why? Is there any drinking going on there?
Honestly, I don’t care much about famous people. What really makes me sad is all the contributors to society who don’t see the impact their drinking is having on their own potentials. You know, the people who think sobriety is for the broken alcoholics. I’m talking about the people who would never consider trading their two-and-half-beer buzz for fully realized potential because they can’t see that the tradeoff is available to them..
What about you? What role does alcohol have in your life? Are you sober or considering sobriety because you are broken and can find no alternative to the austere limitation of abstinence? Have you ever considered sobriety as an enhancement to your capabilities or personality? Have you ever considered sobriety as a propellant for your potential?
Wait a minute. This isn’t about you specifically. It isn’t about me either. I’m not staying in my lane because one guy defeating his disease doesn’t mean shit for a culture that worships alcohol the way ours does. It isn’t about recovery. It’s about an awareness of the truth that’s both hiding in plain sight and slowly drowning us all.
You don’t drive an electric car or recycle your cardboard for your own benefit alone. You don’t pay taxes just so your kid can get an education or so the police will respond to your calls for help. We do these things for the greater good. So why are we so self-constricted to staying in our own lanes when it comes to alcohol? Why can we universally agree that opioid addiction is bad for our kids, but ignore that the liquid drug consumed by 70% of American adults is weighing us down, too?
It is so puzzling to me that some significant portion of our population won’t take the COVID vaccine because they are afraid of a government conspiracy, but those same people willingly remain zombies to the money-churning control of the big beverage industry like it’s their patriotic duty.
How much time do you spend drinking or thinking about alcohol? How much time does it take to pick up the pieces or nurse the hangover or manage the resentments felt for a drinking loved one? How much has alcohol taken from your life?
But that’s not what this is about either. Because that stuff is in the past. This is about the future. What’s important is potential. Your potential, my potential, and our collective potential if we change the narrative around sobriety.
Sobriety isn’t for the weak and broken. It is for those of us awake enough to want more.
Sobriety isn’t easy, and we want to help you through the early parts. If you are considering unlocking your potential through sobriety, please consider joining us in SHOUT Sobriety.