Today, I celebrate 3 years living in recovery! There was a time, not too long ago, that I didn’t think I would survive another 3 years, so this milestone is an incredible accomplishment for a once hopeless addict like myself.
I am often asked if I am worried about what people will think of me for openly admitting to being in recovery? They’ve whispered to me, “Aren’t you embarrassed to have people know that about you? Aren’t you worried they will judge you?”
I find questions like these interesting for a few reasons:
1. I would think people would be judging me more if I was still in active addiction and acting irresponsibly.
2. I have an illness that I am treating daily, 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 of my recovery. It’s actually something I am quite proud of. I survived that which was meant to kill me. I think that is something to celebrate.
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 person’s 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 oversized purse. I know this, because I used to do that, and if that’s not a tell-tale sign of an addict who has crossed that fine line, I don’t know what is…
When I started sharing my story publicly, I knew I would be met with some resistance, some negativity. What I never expected, however, 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.
In my experience, those who are uncomfortable with my recovery are:
a) struggling with addiction themselves
b) themselves insecure and overly concerned with what other people think of them
c) fortunate enough to have never been touched by the disease of addiction. I almost envy them for a moment.
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, but guess what, they are! In fact, 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! And for a long time, I had fun doing it! Until it wasn’t fun anymore, and as a result I have decided to abstain. I honestly never could drink like a normal person, but I certainly tried to convince myself otherwise.
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 else had 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, prescription drugs made me feel relaxed, and together they made me feel beautiful and secure; or so I thought. Oh, the lies I would tell 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 and/or withdrawals.
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 are out there doing the exact same thing, 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 or use drugs…
I understand now that am just an addict, and today I am recovering. I am not bad. I am not a degenerate. I just can’t drink alcohol or use drugs. I’ve had to learn other methods to cope with life’s ebbs and flows. And as hard as that is sometimes, and as many tears as I have cried over it, the NOT using 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.
To date, recovery is my greatest accomplishment. 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 for the strength and courage to make it through another 24 hours..
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 about the things that hurt me, as well as the things I am proud of. 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. It helps me heal.
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 and inspire others, because we do recover!