BREAKING THE F**KING STIGMA OF ALCOHOLISM, ONCE AND FOR ALL.
For most people, there is something terrifying about the words "alcoholic", "alcoholism", or even "in recovery".
Every time I say “I am sober”, or a “I am a recovered alcoholic”, or even “I am in recovery”, there is a beat of silence and a mild discomfort that crosses the other person’s face.
I have learned to say it naturally, a casual part of conversation, a result of many years of practice. And yes, it took a lot of time to extract the shame that I unintentionally added to the statement in early sobriety. I judged myself harshly, like others did. But I finally embraced it as part of who I am, and it now rolls off my tongue with ease and confidence. And yet, there is still always a beat of awkwardness (for others) when I share this part of who I am.
Now, bear in mind I don’t go around life saying this unless it is needed. I don’t go around work events, mingling with “Hello, nice to meet you. I am Latin, have a dirty mind and am an alcoholic. Tell me about yourself!" But it feels like a natural thing for me to bring up when people offer me wine more than once at an event or dinner, or when a friend wants to go for drinks (I often agree, yet explain I don’t drink so we can pick a place that also serves either food or coffee) - or when I pass on the champagne flute at a celebration and people think I am being impolite. I smile and say “no thank you, I am in recovery”.
I frankly can’t blame people for getting all freaked out when I use the A-word or any of its variables – they get uncomfortable because Alcoholism has always been Hawthorne's scarlet "A". For decades it has been part of hushed hushed whispers and stories of shame. It is associated with lack of willpower, poor decisions, broken marriages, torn families. Alcoholics…those “losers”…And for many, it is really hard to accept this as a true illness.
The sad truth is, for a hundred years alcoholics ourselves have propagated this anonymity as part of our identity. We abide by a tradition in our AA program which requires anonymity at the level of radio, press and film – in other words, anonymity as members of AA to the world outside of our own recovery community, for the most part.
The premise behind this tradition is to protect the AA program from “having the whole boat go down if one member jumps out”. In other words, if we go around saying we are AA members, and then happen to relapse, we open up the possibility for others to think that perhaps AA as a program doesn’t work. While the intention of this tradition is “good at heart” (I understand the concern it addresses), it has also generated stigma around the alcoholic community, and cut the possibilities to reach millions of people who need help.
Let’s be clear: If a member of a recovery program such as Alcoholics Anonymous relapses, it is not because the program does not work. It is because the member stopped working their recovery program. Or for whatever other thousand reasons. It happens. Like when cancer comes back and people need treatment once more.
So today I break this tradition because I believe its worth it. It frees me of the anonymity, the shame and the darkness. It opens the door to the possibility of having addiction be treated with the same compassion, patience and kindness than one would use in any other illness – both for ourselves and others. But most importantly, it sets the stage for the scarlet A to be turned into a different word in my persona and my recovery community – Authenticity.
I can only be as free as my honesty, and as authentic as my truth. I am tired of being part of an uncomfortable conversation pause; and I know that this is only going to change if we do something from the inside out. It is my job (our job!) to be open so we can then educate others and shed light on the subject of alcoholism and recovery.
It is my hope to lead an authentic life with the same pride that other communities have – an openness about them as a source of freedom and hope. And not as a way to serve my own ego – but as a way to share openly the message of recovery to those who are still suffering.
The 10% affected by this illness are not all in recovery meetings. They are all around us, in our workplaces, our churches, our grocery store. They are young people searching for answers in podcasts, youtube channels, and other online resources, and finding very little real information about this illness, and a community of real people with stories of hope. Ten percent that still feel alone, tainted by the term “alcoholism.” It is only in sharing our journey openly that we can give them hope. Enough with the silence and the stigma.
Today I lift my head, I raise an eyebrow, I curl my lips and toss my hair back. I let my fingers fly over the keyboard, with freedom, as I open up the Sober Mami blog with a dash of rebelliousness and a tremendous amount of hope. I am not ashamed about being an alcoholic in recovery.
Watch me open the heavy door, and set one high-heeled foot into the other side of anonymity. Watch me. And smile while you watch me. And follow me. Follow me and share with me your stories of alcohol addiction, sobriety, recovery, relapse, madness and hope. Put a face, a name, a message, a voice to who you are. Let’s focus on the solution and not the problem. But most of all, let’s keep stepping out into the light of our authentic selves.
Because I will keep doing it. Over and over again. One sexy, honest, authentic, badass day at a time.
All my love – ::Sober Mami
Pamela is a Certified Professional Recovery Coach & Educator. She has been in recovery since 2009, and is a passionate about breaking the stigma surrounding addiction. Please share this post via the channels below or anyone in your life who may benefit from a little information about drinking and recovery.