I guess the best way to start this is just to dive right in.
My name’s Emily, I’m an alcoholic and I’m very open about it, which, to each their own it’s anonymous for a reason, I’m just not a good rule follower. I know for a fact that it catches people off guard when I offer up this little morsel about myself. How do I know? Because it’s usually followed by “really?!” (yes really, thanks for asking), or “Oh no you’re not!” (oh, but I am), or my favorite, “but you don’t look like an alcoholic!” (now tell me, what exactly does an alcoholic look like?).
On behalf of myself and other alcoholics, young and old, let’s run through a short list of things to avoid saying to someone in recovery- for not only our sake, but yours as well.
1. “Are You Really?!”
I am sure it catches you off guard when you hear me identify as an alcoholic because you’re not expecting it. Let me tell you, when you question if I really am, I’m not expecting it either. It puts me in a position of questioning my vulnerability or why I offered that information up. It makes part of me want to go into a denial mode because I feel like I said something I shouldn’t have, and my alcoholic brain springs into action and tells me to deny it and drink to cover it up. In other words; I’m given the green light to fall off the wagon. See how easy that was for me to get from A-Z? That’s how the addicted brain works. It manipulates, it thinks ten steps ahead, and comes to a reasonable excuse/conclusion. You doubting my addiction (because yes, Sheryl from accounting, alcoholism IS an addiction) makes me want to deny it and prove myself wrong.
"But you drink NA Beer!" Yes. Every once in a while I will treat myself to an NA beer. Why? Because I have learned, through time, that this is not a trigger for me. I have always loved the taste of beer/wine- but chased the effect of alcohol. I am able to have A NA beer- something I was never able to do with "regular" beer/wine/cocktails. It works for me- and it might not for others, which I totally accept and hope others accept the same of me.
Also to be honest, being questioned makes me want to punch you in the face(I'm working on it)- so let’s not go down that road.
2. “You Don’t Look Like an Alcoholic.”
Please, enlighten me, what does an alcoholic look like? Is it the bum stumbling around with a paper bag? That weird regular you see at the bar who comes alone and desperately tries to talk to someone, anyone, and slides off his bar stool at the end of the night? The woman spouting conspiracy theories pushing a grocery cart down the street? Because you saying I don’t “look” like one makes me think that’s how you envision them. That was the exact reason I didn’t want to go to AA meetings to begin with. I didn’t want people to write me off before I even had a chance. The funny part about it, I have met some of the most beautiful, successful, smart, loving, kind people in AA. So my advice to my fellow alcoholics- next time someone says you don’t look like an alcoholic, don’t get offended because of the stigma, be proud to know that you are one of the beautiful ones in recovery.
3. “Why Don’t You Drink?”
Please. Stop. Asking. This. To anyone who isn’t drinking. You don’t know everyone’s story. Maybe they are alcoholic, maybe they’re trying to get pregnant, maybe a family member had a problem and they don’t want to chance it, maybe they just don’t like it, plain and simple. You don’t know and it’s quite possibly the most annoying question to ask. Go ahead and have your fun drinking, I will have fun living vicariously through your drunkenness- and enjoying my sobriety.
4. “You’re not an alcoholic.”
This one infuriates me. Again, you don’t know my story. You don’t know what goes through my mind the second I have one beer, then three, then seven (or until I lose track, whichever comes first). You don’t know how I feel the day after I drank and argued, and fought, and lost friendships/relationships/money/my ID AGAIN, etc. You don’t know what I do when I get home, you don’t wake up to the half drank wine bottles that I don’t remember opening, burnt food on the stove because I got hungry and passed out while I was cooking, etc. Don’t discredit what took me years to finally accept, admit, and work on. This goes back to #1 and really comes down to one simple line- don’t give me an out when I’m already in.
5. "Don't You Miss Drinking?!"
Hell yes I miss drinking. You asking me this is essentially the same thing as taking me to the beach, letting me roll my window down then shutting it and driving away (don't you miss the ocean?). Entering recovery at a young(er) age, I feel like I missed out on more years of ridiculousness, drinking, absurdity (and probably, most likely, trouble and bodily harm). To ask me if I miss it just reminds me of that. It makes me question whether or not I am doing the right thing (trust me, I am). It makes me romanticize drinking and put it in this beautiful light, when really it was pretty akin to a Mogwai transforming into a Gremlin. Basically, you asking me this yet again puts doubt in my mind. Luckily I can push that doubt out my mind by reminding myself of nasty hangovers and having to own up to my actions, but it still puts us in a scary place for a second.
Alcoholism is scary. In the light of much harder drugs being abused on a daily basis, it gets cast aside. Living as an alcoholic, identifying as one, and actively working on your recovery is not an easy feat but there is strength in numbers and if we learn anything in AA it’s that we do have a voice. As a society, we need to end the stigma that is associated with addiction, and in particular alcoholism. We also need to understand that alcoholism doesn't fall into one bucket- there are tons of smaller buckets that all look a little different, but somehow still fit together. I know we won’t get there in one fell swoop but I hope avoiding those five little questions can at least spark a little bit of a light in humanity and understanding.
(Follow me on Instagram @ec.from.cle )