On Calling Myself an Addict for the First Time
Realizing the scope of my addiction empowered me to overcome it
I was an addict for about a decade before I realized it.
It's not like I didn't know I drank too much all those years. Even if I hadn't, from time to time, read up on how much alcohol was "too much," I think I would have had some idea that consuming around 8-12 ounces of hard liquor nearly every day for several years was going overboard.
I had tried to cut back on my drinking a few times over the years. In particular, I would frequently make a promise to myself to not drink if I had to work the next day. My alcoholism didn't really affect my work, at least not in terms of missed work -- I never took days off or went in late because I was hungover or anything. I'd be lying if I said it didn't hurt my productivity at work, since, more mornings than not, I would have headaches and clouded thinking and all the other fun things that come from being drunk the night before.
But, overall, I "handled" my addiction fairly well. I didn't get into trouble at work, I didn't drive while drinking, I had a good family life with a great wife and kids, etc. If the term "high-functioning alcoholic" was in the dictionary, I'm fairly confident you'd find my picture there.
Despite trying to cut back and even the occasional thought that I should probably stop drinking altogether crossing my mind, I wasn't successful at kicking the habit until I finally started thinking of myself as an alcoholic.
As an addict.
It's amazing what language can do. Such a simple word, addict. But thinking of myself as an alcoholic, as an addict, completely shifted my perspective and allowed me to look at myself as if I was on the outside looking in.
It's not that I've got an overly negative view of addicts in general. I've always been aware, of course, of the catastrophically negative effects addiction can have on the lives of those who suffer and their families. Several of my older family members were alcoholics and I was around them from time to time growing up. And my state is the epicenter of the country's opioid epidemic, with the country's highest age-adjusted rate of drug overdose deaths involving opioids.
So I'm very familiar with the impact that addiction can have on individuals, families, and communities but at the same time, I'm very sympathetic to the addicts themselves. I try not to judge people, as only they know what events led them down the dark paths they walk.
And once they start down that path it can be next to impossible to get off of it.
Still, I never would have thought I had much in common with addicts. Addicts are people who have lost control of their lives, right? Addicts are people who resort to unsavory activities to get their next fix, at least according to people who frequently don't know what they're talking about and post about it on Facebook. An addict can't have a good family life, and a decent job, and a squeaky clean background check.
But, really, I wasn't -- I'm not -- much different from an opioid addict. I had let something virtually take over my life to the point that -- despite fulfilling most family obligations and showing up to work every day -- I thought about it nearly every waking moment. I didn't always pay my bills on time, but you can bet if I was running low on the ol' Evan Williams I'd find enough for a bottle.
And when I think back to how much time I lost not even remembering most of the time I spent drinking I get very angry with myself.
In early 2018, I came to the conclusion that I was an alcoholic, an addict. I guess it's probably more honest to say that I had reached that conclusion much earlier than that. But it was in January 2018 that I finally admitted to myself something drastic had to change.
I've written about my journey to sobriety elsewhere, but it took me from January 2018 (when I had ten whole days in a row of sobriety) until the end of April, with several stops and starts along the way, before I took my last drink.
It's been almost two years now, and I still think about drinking more than I thought I would when I stopped. However, I don't feel there's any serious danger of ending my sobriety because I don't want to let the addiction win.
I think there's a very good chance I'd still be drinking if I hadn't given myself the freedom to see myself for what I truly was: an addict.
People fighting addictions deserve our compassion and our help, and I don't want to imply in any way that I stopped drinking because I didn't want to be associated with addicts. Quite the contrary: I feel more empathetic towards addicts because I know I am one. But calling myself an addict woke me up to the severity of the problems I was bringing upon myself and let me -- finally -- overcome them.
I am an alcoholic -- an addict. And, thanks to me knowing that, I am also sober -- today and every day.