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Questioning Labels

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Am I an Alcoholic?  I can’t even tell you how many times I Googled that question over the years. That and, “Do I have an alcohol problem?”

I didn’t want to be an “alcoholic.” I didn’t want to have a “problem”. I didn’t want to be thought of as someone who couldn’t control herself. I didn’t want people to talk about me behind my back, or to whisper about me from across the room. I didn’t want someone to say, “Oh, she’s an alcoholic,” and have someone else respond, “Ah. That’s too bad.” I didn’t want to have to tell people, “I have an alcohol problem.”

I didn’t want those labels to apply to me. 

I think the “alcoholic” label is what actually prevents many people from even addressing their relationship with alcohol, which is so sad. Labels are dehumanizing … and addiction is a human condition. With a human story, heart, and family attached.

I spent a long, long time hiding my drinking because I didn’t want people to think of me differently. I didn’t want to think of myself differently. Either way, I knew something wasn’t right. Every time I typed those words into the search bar, I was doing so because I was uncomfortable with my relationship with alcohol. I knew I drank too much. I knew I drank differently than many people did. I knew I was heading down a dark and scary road. I was afraid of where that road led, but I was so hung up on whether or not I was an “alcoholic” that I didn’t reach out for the help that I desperately needed until things got to the point where I could no longer hide how excessively I drank.

I can always remember when I was young, people pitying alcoholics and saying things like – You have no hope if you get like like that – It won’t be long til they’re dead – Their poor family . I dont like the word alcoholic and I don’t believe it’s a death sentence . You just have to own your problem like any other and sort it out .

Here’s the thing: once I could no longer hide what was going on, people started to apply labels to me whether I wanted them to or not. It reminded me of a time from before I really started struggling with alcohol myself, when one of my sisters told me that our other sister had quit drinking, then followed it up with, “I think she thinks she’s an alcoholic, but she doesn’t want to use that word.” I realized that people were going to think what they were going to think, and it didn’t much matter what label I applied, or wanted others to apply, to the situation. That was an important realization for me, because it allowed me to stop fighting the label and start owning the issue itself, and that made everything much, much easier.

Labelling was unfortunately the norm in our family when I was growing up. I didn’t do my chores? I was lazy. I dropped a spoon? I was clumsy! I brought home my first boyfriend? I cannot type what I was told I was according to my grandparents ( who parented me). I avoid labels like the plague! This includes labelling myself as an alcoholic. I did of course google search the term when I knew I was drinking too much, but I would not call myself ( or anyone else for that matter) an alcoholic or actually any other label. People call us whatever they want anyways. Am I an Alcoholic? I am me!

I’m not here to debate what terms we should or shouldn’t be using. I do think it’s important to de-stigmatize addiction, but that’s not the point of this post. The point of this post is to share what worked for me, and what worked for me was to stop giving so much power to the label and start owning the way I felt about my relationship with alcohol. The truth is, overcoming this beast is a deeply personal journey. Even though we share a common experience, it is different for everyone because we are all different people. I was so tied up in knots about what label applied to me that I could not focus on the work I needed to do to get myself out of the Hell I was in. It wasn’t until I let go of labeling the experience that I was able to move forward in figuring out how to work through it.

I don’t like the word alcoholic. I was called such by a family member once when I had been drinking and I was fuming, I was so hurt by the label and tone of it and it’s a very harsh word to me that lacks understanding and compassion.

These days, I use whatever label suits my fancy at any given time. When I went to AA, I did the whole, “I’m Zen and I’m an alcoholic,” thing because that’s their protocol. With my family and close friends, I typically speak in terms of “addict” and “addiction.” With my therapist, I talk about “Alcohol Use Disorder.” On BOOM, I use the terms “Alcohol Free” and “sober” pretty much interchangeably. When someone I don’t know well asks me why I’m not drinking, I tell them, “I don’t feel like drinking today,” or “Nah, I’m too old for that shit these days,” or “I’m not much of a drinker,” (then I laugh and laugh and laugh in my head because holy smokes is THAT a lie). Point is, I tell them what I feel like telling them because it is absolutely none of their freaking business why I’m not drinking. They just feel culturally obligated to ask.

If anyone who knows me ( as a drinker) wants to know why I don’t drink anymore I use ‘ I am getting too old for that shit’ ( love that line!) or ‘ maybe it was ‘the covid’ 😂😂I’ve completely gone off the taste ! At least then they can’t take the ‘ oh come on , one can’t hurt’ approach with me! I will joke about it and say I will have to get my taste buds examined 😂😂😂

For myself, I don’t think in terms of labels. Instead, I think about how I feel. I think about how I felt when I was drinking, and how I felt about the alcohol itself. I think about whether or not I was happy with the way I felt about those things, and the answer is a resounding, “NO!”  I want to be the best, most authentic version of myself. Alcohol prevents me from being that person. Therefore, alcohol has no place in my life. Thinking about things this way allows me to own my experience rather than feeling like it is being imposed upon me by a word that is supposed to describe what I went through. Ultimately, people can call me whatever they want to, and believe me, I’ve been called some pretty nasty names. What matters is how I think of myself and how I feel about my decision to become, and remain, Alcohol Free. The rest is just background noise.

Am I an alcoholic? When I first quit drinking , back when I was 37 I was just honest and said two of my brothers along with my mother died from over drinking and I was scared since alcoholism ran in my family. That would silence them. I really don’t care what other people think. Back then I never thought of myself as an alcoholic and I still don’t today. Alcohol just doesn’t work for me. PERIOD.

What is the difference between alcoholism and a sort of grey area, high functioning addiction ?

The shitty thing about addiction is how it makes us feel shit about ourselves. How deep in the water we’re in with that addiction dictates how shit about ourselves we feel.  And when we feel shit about ourselves we are more likely to rely more on our addiction to make us feel better. And the more convinced we are that we actually can’t free ourselves from the that addiction. – more reading – Ditching the Shame When You Go Sober

When our problem is low level, like we don’t drink huge amounts but we drink more often than we want and can’t stop, it is just as much of a problem for us as someone who drinks gallons daily. The urgency and need to stop is just as present. Or should be. Because I am sure that while we don’t tackle it, we are leaving ourselves vulnerable to a much higher level problem in the future. At any time. – more reading – I Really Wasn’t That Bad, I’m not an Alcoholic

It only takes a few negative changes in life for that addiction to slide up through the gears at an alarming rate.

Bear in mind those of us who were drinking silly amounts before we quit never planned to be that way anymore than you planned to struggle with sticking to your recommended allowance. And frankly if we are lucky and never find ourselves in such a situation, we are still facing living with it, constantly trying to manage it and feeling crappy with ourselves for the rest of our life. Cos if we don’t quit now, why would we later? If it’s hard now, why is it going to be any easier later? If we can’t moderate now, why will we be able to later?

NOW is the time to take it seriously.

Now is the time to take yourself seriously and trust you are worth it. Trust that your efforts will be rewarded. Trust that the change will be worth it. Trust that you will find your way through and out. Trust that it is as possible for you as it was for every single person who has quit before you.

You Can Do It.

Who cares if you’re an alcoholic !


Related Reading :

Alcoholism is … ?

But I can’t be an alcoholic! I didn’t hit rock bottom!

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