Hi I’m Sherry and I’m…uh…the “A” word.

The hubs and I were chatting this weekend and at some point he used the “A” word.  No…not asshole although I will admit that sometimes it applies.  He used the word “alcoholic” in a sentence (he’s an intelligent being after all).  That, in and of itself, is not the issue.  The issue is that he wasn’t just talking about alcoholics in general.  He wasn’t talking about alcoholics that he’s known.  He wasn’t even talking about my father, grandfathers or sister.

He used the “A” word and was talking about me.

Wait…what?

It still stings when I think of myself and that word in the same sentence.  I type it…a lot…but I don’t often say it, you know, out loud, where other people can hear it.  I think it and I’ll say it in a round about way but actually coming right out and saying to the Universe and anyone listening that yes, as a matter of fact I am an alcoholic?

Mmmmmm…not so much.

That word still carries a stigma I have trouble wrapping my brain around.  It still brings up memories of my dad and my sister and skid row and bums with “Ripple” in paper bags and…well…you get the picture.  How can I, successful, high functioning, mom of six be…that word?  How can it be that I went from the life of the party to that word.  I don’t look like that word.  I don’t behave like that word.

Yo!  You over there!  Yeah you…with the tattoo on her wrist.  News flash.  You do (or you did) behave, look and drink like that word. As a matter of fact guess what?  You are that word!

Well shit.

Okay, okay…let me examine this.

I don’t drink.  In fact, I can’t drink because if I do I don’t know when to stop.  When I am in drinking mode all I do is think about when I am going to drink again.  I plan when I’m going to drink and how much.  I look forward to “Happy Hour” like it’s fucking Christmas Day.  I drink until it’s gone and then go looking for more.  I wake up every morning feeling sick and guilty and wondering what the hell I did the night before and dreading looking into the faces of my family and friends for fear I’ve really messed up this time.  It doesn’t matter if it’s once a week, once a month, or once a year…if I drink, that’s what is going to happen.  And trust me…it’s not pretty. 

But really?!  Why must we put a label on it?  Isn’t it just enough to say “I don’t drink”?  Do I have to say it out loud?  Because I, and a great deal of society, sees an alcoholic that looks very different from what I see when I look in the mirror. They see selfish.  Weak.  Homeless.  Incarcerated.  DUI.  Unemployed.  Destitute. 

But I know that it’s not an accurate assessment; it’s a sweeping generalization and, as is usually the case with generalizations, it’s wrong.  It’s a label that overlooks nuances and removes individuality.  It paints us all with the same brush and removes the humanity that lies just under the surface of the label.   The fact is that many of us have never had a DUI.  Most are not homeless or incarcerated or unemployed.  Most of us are also not weak or selfish.  We simply share an addiction to a substance so prevalent in our society that you cannot watch a moment of television without seeing either it being consumed during a show or being advertised in a commercial.  We are addicted to a substance has become synonymous with romance, fun times, male bonding and girl’s night out.  In fact, alcohol fueled “mommy and me playdates” are all the rage right now which is just so wrong in so many ways I can’t even begin to count them (but that’s another post entirely). 

And it does something else that is much more frightening than just embarrass or shame us.

That stigma, that sweeping generalization, that skid row mentality allows many of us to stay in active addiction for a lot longer than is necessary.  It keeps us in the dark when we should be reaching for the light.  It lets us lie to ourselves and keeps our families and friends living in fear and worry about our well-being. We say things like…

  • “I’m not THAT bad.” 
  • “At least I’m not like the people on Intervention.” 
  • “I can’t be an alcoholic!  I don’t drink every day!”
  • “Listen, my Uncle Pete was an alcoholic and I’m nothing like him.”
  • “All my friends drink like I do and they aren’t alcoholics.”
  • “I don’t have a problem.  I know because I’ve gone {30, 60, 90…pick a timeframe} days {weeks months years} without drinking.  If I was an alcoholic I wouldn’t be able to do that would I?”

…and we get sicker and sicker and get worse and worse until, one day, we wake up and find we DO look like the stereotype. And all the while we keep secrets and try to quiet the voices that tell us…

“If it looks like a duck…”

One day maybe we’ll come out of the darkness and show the world what an alcoholic really looks like.  Maybe we’ll come out from behind the shadow of anonymity and own our truth with our shoulders squared and our faces turned toward the sun.  For now I’ll try to do my part…

Hi, I’m Sherry.  I’m strong, successful, and intelligent.  I have a kind heart and I can make you laugh.  I love with the fierceness of a lioness and the warmth of a thousand suns.  I’m a mother, a wife, a friend, a coworker, a blogger, a woman.  I am creative but also an introvert.

And I am an alcoholic.

Namaste

 

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23 thoughts on “Hi I’m Sherry and I’m…uh…the “A” word.

  1. Just last night I was talking to a family member about my husband, who is an alcoholic who is in denial. I tried to explain that although he has a problem with alcohol, he is also a wonderful man with a wonderful heart who has never lost his job, or had a DUI, nor been violent or abusive. Your post really described the way I feel about my alcoholic husband. If only he could come to the light, as you have. Your posts give me hope that he might just do that one day. Namaste

  2. First of all I LOVE your blog — your honesty is refreshing and your posts always make me think, and you’re hilarious. I’m trying to think how to word what I want to say — I suppose I should just say that I relate to this even though my circumstances are different. I have had a restrictive eating disorder for years. Some friends know it, but I can’t say that a single person other than my husband knows the extent of it or how much therapy I’ve been in or how hard I have to work to not fall back in to total starvation mode. Recently my husband and I got into a minor disagreement over dinner. I said I didn’t like a particular food and he got mad (we weren’t eating this food at the moment, just discussing it.) The argument turned into me telling him that it annoyed me that he acted like I wasn’t allowed to have an opinion about food — I realize I have a history of not eating, but I’m doing well now and eating. The conversation put a damper on both of our moods and I finally asked why it made him so mad and he said, “Because you’re anorexic!” Technically, no I’m not anorexic based on diagnostic criteria, though I have been. Yes I have an eating disorder and yes I still struggle, but that word “anorexia” carries a big stigma to me. Sort of like how you were saying that the word “alcoholic” carries a stigma, I think the words “anorexic” or “bulimic” carry stigmas that I don’t like. I once got up my courage to tell a friend about my problem at the urging of my therapist and her comment was “I’m shocked because I never saw you as vain and shallow.” She left it at that, but I got the impression that her feelings about me had changed in a very negative way. Plus, I think it’s a language issue — like you said, you are so much more than an alcoholic. I am so much more than an anorexic and it reduces me to what I feel is a shitty and incorrect stereotype, and it’s one of the biggest reasons I am hesitant to speak out about my situation because it’s individual, complex and layered. I have a brother who is in recovery from various drugs and he lost it on a relative once who called him a drug addict (after he had been in recovery for over two years.) I understand that many recovery programs stress admitting that you have a problem as a first step to recovery. I get that, but I think it’s more helpful for our friends and family to be more selective with their language. You can know you have problem and still not like other people calling you an alcoholic. When that happened with my husband, I realized that I never wanted to be referred to as that by him ever again and that doesn’t mean that I take my recovery any less seriously. Sorry this is so long. I think you’re amazing, and maybe my take is different than other people’s, but I think you have a right to ask those close to you to be more selective in their language if it makes you more comfortable.

    1. Labels are just too “One size fits all” – which means that they aren’t a perfect fit for anyone!

      Sounds like you’ve got your shit together! I’ll ignore my label if you’ll ignore yours. 😉

      Sherry

  3. Sherry, this is such a fantastic post. You’ve said what’s been on my mind about the stigma of alcoholism. I don’t like the a-word either, especially when I have to apply it to myself. I did a really good job of making sure I didn’t look like the drunks that came to mind when I thought of the word alcoholic. If I didn’t look like them, I couldn’t be one of them. I guess all we can do is stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters and spread the word.

  4. Beautiful post Sherry. I know you don’t do the whole AA thing, but every time I go to an open AA meeting I am struck by how beautiful all of those “alcoholics” are. Just that they are sitting in that room means they are hanging in there for one more day. They have seen their worst, hurt people they love, hurt themselves, but somehow they found their way and humbly have set out to re-build a life for themselves that is based on spirituality, faith, living in the moment, honesty about who they are…..I swear it is the most real authentic experience when I go in those rooms. I just love it. I think from our destruction comes vast beauty that is beyond anything we knew was possible.

    1. I don’t go anymore but when I went I was always struck by the same thing. The raw honesty and authenticity can be staggering at times. It’s a beautiful thing.

      Sherry

  5. Hi, my name is Amy. I am a total alcoholic. I am also an aholic about loads of other stuff. Luckily being sober helps me not be so aholic-y. Alcoholic now means smart and strong and brave and open and caring and giving and supportive and funny and honest and tough and comforting.

    I love you, you alcoholic.

  6. HEY you girl great post as always and I am 100% with you.. I am an alcoholic and I write about it frequently but I don’t use the word out loud much. If I ever do I kind of mutter it and then make a joke about it.. so crazy.. but that word does carry such a strong stigma and big dramatic weight it seems simpler to use other words .. semantics..? Yes. But there you go. Maybe this will change as the years go by.. we’ll see. In the meantime keep kicking ass you fabulous sober warrior you xxxx

  7. When I initially commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox and now each time a comment
    is added I get three emails with the same comment.
    Is there any way you can remove me from that service? Thanks a lot!

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