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[ Opinion ]

Before you judge me…

An acquaintance of mine asked me the other day if I was worried about people judging me for openly admitting to being in recovery? They whispered to me,  “Aren’t you embarrassed that people know that about you now?”

 I thought this was interesting for a few reasons:

1. I would think people would be judging me more if I was still drinking and acting irresponsibly. 

2. I have a disease that I am treating on a daily basis, and I don’t believe that is ever something anyone should be ashamed of. 

3. Once again, I was reminded of the stigma addicts and alcoholics face, even after they have found recovery. 

It’s times like this where I will simply say no, that I am not worried…because I am not ashamed to be a recovering alcoholic; not anymore. 

Now, before anyone screams, “But what about anonymity?!?” Let me explain. When I go to anonymous meetings, I take anonymity very seriously. I would never break another persons anonymity. I absolutely respect the traditions of the Twelve Step Fellowships. What I am doing is breaking my own, because it is important for me to be honest with myself about what has transpired throughout my life.  

I am no longer awarded the luxury of selling my life as some perfect package filled with rainbows and butterflies and tied up with a pretty bow. That had to stop the moment I chose to take my recovery seriously, otherwise I would have sat in the back row of anonymous meetings, never sharing, pretending to have months of sobriety, while hiding mini bottles in my purse. I know this, because I used to do that, and If that’s not a tell tale sign of an alcoholic who has crossed that fine line, I don’t know what is… 

I am well aware of the social stigma attached to the disease of addiction; that many still believe an alcoholic is a weak person with no willpower. That a drug addict is immoral with no regard for the law. For this reason, I knew that by sharing my story, I would be met with some resistance, some negativity. What I never expected, was to be met with so much love and support. 

Recovery has changed my life, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable omitting my experiences when discussing my life with others. It’s what makes me who I am today. 

I’ve had people that I havent talked to in over a decade tell me that recovering from addiction is something I should keep to myself, that it’s not something to be proud of, or that it might make people uncomfortable.  I’ve had women tell me that I shouldn’t tell other mothers that I am in recovery because they might not let their children play at my house. I find this interesting because, as a mother, I would be relieved to know that there are no drugs or alcohol in the home that my child plans to hang out at. 

In my experience, those who are uncomfortable with my sobriety are:

a) struggling with alcohol themselves 

b) are themselves overly concerned with what other people think of them 

OR

c) have been fortunate enough to have never been touched by the disease of addiction. I envy them. 

Ignorance is bliss. I get that. That is why I do not hold grudges when someone is misinformed. I wish I could pretend like drugs and alcohol were not in my nice, quiet neighborhood; or my favorite line, “not in my backyard…” But guess what, I can’t!  I am the one who brought the damn alcohol into my own backyard and this is something I cannot afford to ignore. 

Do I still have friends that drink? Yes! However, the majority of my friends are in recovery. I do not pass judgment on people who drink, because believe me I tried to drink socially. I tried so hard I almost sent myself to an early grave. You will never hear me lecturing a friend for getting too drunk one night and texting everyone in their phone or falling off of a barstool, because I get it! I did that too! I just can’t do it anymore. I honestly never could, but I sure tried to convince myself otherwise. 

I try to offer relatable comparisons in an attempt to explain what alcohol does to someone like me. My husband, for example, is allergic to shell fish. If he eats lobster, he ends up in the hospital. Similarly, I am allergic to alcohol.  If I drink it, I end up in handcuffs, or the psych ward, or sleeping in a motel because I got kicked out of my house. 

For the longest time, my insecurities fueled my addiction. I was obsessed with what people thought of me or what they said about me behind my back. I would badger people until they told me exactly what someone said about me, and then get so angry when they finally told me. I think I honestly thought I could control people’s opinions of me, and I was completely blown away when I couldn’t.  When I reflect on that behavior today, I see a woman who was actively seeking out resentments. The more people I could shut out of my life, the less people I would have to hide my addiction from.  

All of my life I felt different. I didn’t like myself much, even before my addiction consumed my every thought. And I didn’t get recovery right away either. It took me a few more detoxes and a couple of run-ins with the law before I finally accepted that I had a problem. I spent a lot of time pretending that I was happy and confident. So it is no surprise to me that I guarded my addiction like it was my baby. Alcohol gave me the confidence I had been lacking all of those years, and there was no way in hell I was going to give that up. Acohol made me feel normal, beautiful and secure; or so I convinced myself. 

Here’s the thing, I knew I drank too much, but I didn’t care. By my late 20’s I was often ashamed of myself, and my depression had become paralyzing on the rare occasions that I sobered up, but i still couldn’t help but try and convince everyone I was fine. It was my favorite thing to say, “I’m fine. Don’t worry about me, because I am just fine!” I continued to justify my drinking by telling myself that because people didn’t know I had a drinking problem, I must not have an actual drinking problem. I told myself the lies I wanted to hear. I was good at that, if nothing else. 

I didn’t realize at the time just how sick I actually was and how dangerous my drinking had gotten. When I was 26 years old, I would have severe withdrawal symptoms and I was completely unaware of what they actually were. It wasn’t until I made it to my first treatment, that I discovered how dangerous my withdrawals had been. I knew nothing about the possibility of DT’s, or seizures, or that I could actually die from alcohol poisoning.  

When I left that treatment center, I continued drinking (because, again, I didn’t get it right away) and now knowing what withdrawals were, it only seemed to justify my daily drinking even more. “If I don’t drink, I might have a seizure, so I will just wean myself down. I’ll be FINE!” 

When I think about that today, I am mortified. I start to wonder how many other women alcoholics are out there, pretending everything is “just fine,” while not even noticing the damage they are doing to their bodies. It breaks my heart.

What I have learned is that my secrets kept me sick for a long time, but I am doing my best not to let that happen ever again. And to be honest, the worst thing I have discovered about myself throughout my recovery journey is that I make bad decisions when I drink alcohol…

I understand now that am just an alcoholic, and today I am recovering. I am not bad. I am not a degenerate. I just can’t drink alcohol. And as hard as that is sometimes, and as many tears as I have cried over it, the NOT drinking has been so worth it. That’s the beauty in all of this. I can do something about my illness today. I don’t have to die from it.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and I can respect the opinions of others today even if I believe them to be misguided. Chances are, if someone is judging me for being in recovery, we probably aren’t good friends anyway. So really, it’s none of my business what those individuals think about me. And it’s certainly none of my business what they say about me behind my back. If someone wants to speak negatively about my recovery, I honestly wouldn’t want to know about it anyway. I’ve learned to surround myself only with those who lift me up, not tear me down. This one, simple act, has brought so much peace to my life. 

To date, recovery is my greatest accomplishment and I am damn proud of it. It is the one thing in my life that no one can take away from me, no one but myself. It is the hardest thing I have ever done and I continue to work on it every single day. Every morning, before my feet hit the ground, I thank God for another day and I pray strength and courage. 

I no longer have to hide who I am, and, for me, that is powerful. And though I may need to make amends for the things that I did while I was drinking, I do NOT have to apologize for my disease.   

My goal has been to share honestly about my life in order to help those who suffer in silence. I do not mean to upset or offend anyone with my writing, I simply hope to inspire and spread awareness. I want to let family members know that recovery is possible. I want the still suffering addict and alcoholic to know that there is nothing to be ashamed of, it is not their fault and there is a solution.

My stories are mine alone. I will always respect a recovering persons right to remain anonymous, just as I would hope they could respect my decision to share my story publicly. The truth is, it helps me tremendously when I share my story. It has taught me to hold myself accountable. It keeps me honest. It reminds me how far I have come, and where I could be if I decided to pick up again. Just as the secrets kept me sick, the honesty keeps me healthy.  

I am not anonymous, because I want skeptics in my community to see first hand what it looks like when an alcoholic or addict finds recovery. I want to break the silence and help put an end to stigma. Mostly, I want to spread hope, because we do recover! 

Vanessa D

Milwaukee, WI

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