As if the struggles of active addiction are not enough, many of us live lives framed by stigma.
Whilst maybe only words, these stigmas are ever-present and often seek to define our very being.
As we grow from one phase of our lives into another, do we leave these stigmas behind? Why do these words at one moment protect us and in a second instance, betray us, leaving us vulnerable, afraid, unsure and scared?
No Left Turn is our new series of personal reflections on the stigmas associated with addiction, quitting and recovery.
I’m honoured that our long time friend, Julia (@nofiltersobriety), is getting the ball rolling with her own thoughts.
Want to know why she chose to Recover Out Loud?
Then read on…
Why I decided to Recover Out Loud.
by Julia Roper. aka @nofiltersobriety
Last August I decided to come out of the sobriety closet, pretty much 18 months to the day after my last drink of alcohol.
When I first stopped drinking I never in a million years could have imagined getting to the place I’m at now, where I can stand calmly, steadfastly and openly in my truth.
Which is this: I was addicted to alcohol. Not physically addicted, I don’t think, although I would certainly have physical withdrawal symptoms after a big night out. But psychologically dependent, with a very much malfunctioning “off” switch once I started drinking.
I always knew there was something wrong with that, something life limiting for me about the way I drank, but I buried that knowledge so incredibly deep.
The fear that I might be an alcoholic was my darkest secret and the source of so much shame to me. Even after I stopped I was still swamped with shame, for many months.
My only support was online at Soberistas, where I blogged anonymously, not even sharing my first name on the site until my 100 days blog.
I didn’t tell my husband that I’d stopped drinking, with an aim for it to be permanent, until about two weeks in. It took much, much longer for me to tell other close family members and friends. I had a drip feed, need to know basis approach to telling people and I could never imagine going completely public.
Until, suddenly, I did.
I hadn’t planned to do it at all.
I was on holiday with my family and one morning I went for a run at sunrise on the beach, something I never would have done when I drank. Afterwards I sat on a sand dune, on the still deserted beach, listened to a guided sunrise meditation and felt so utterly content.
And the thought came upon me that I needed to share this with the world.
I needed to move past the shame and stigma and actually tell people how good sobriety has been for me. So I changed the name of my dormant Instagram account to @nofiltersobriety, posted on Facebook to tell pretty much anyone I’d ever known about it and started posting regularly on Insta about the joys of sober life.
Click, send, done.
A closeted Soberista no more. And it hasn’t been without its stresses, anxieties and ‘oh god am I just being a massive dick?’ moments.
But I keep going and the main reason why is this:
It’s time we smashed the stigma attached to alcohol addiction.
Because I, and the many others like me I have found online, are still quite unusual in ditching the drink at a point before the wheels started to come off. When they were just a bit loose and wobbly rather than detaching completely and careering madly down the road, leaving destruction and misery in their wake. And I think the reason for that, the main reason anyway, is the enormous stigma still attached to having a problem with alcohol.
For alcohol is our society’s favourite drug, after all.
Widely advertised, socially acceptable in almost any situation, completely interwoven with the fabric of modern life. So much so that we all forget it is a drug, and a highly addictive one at that. We have become so brainwashed, so blind where alcohol is concerned, that when someone becomes addicted this is assumed to be due to some sort of defect in the nature of the individual, not due to the effects of the drug.
We can no longer see the simple truth that alcohol addiction and heroin addiction are the exact same thing. When a person takes an addictive substance (whether that substance is inhaled as gas, drunk or injected as liquid or taken in solid form) that person risks becoming addicted. Alcohol is the only drug, literally the only one, where it is generally assumed by society that 1. You are immune from its addictive effects unless you have a particular physiological and psychological make-up, that of the ‘alcoholic’, and 2. That people with this particular combination of brain chemistry and personality are very rare, the unfortunate few.
And it’s just not true.
People don’t take heroin, cocaine or even nicotine these days with such merry abandon, because it’s widely accepted that these are addictive and harmful substances. Well guess what, so is alcohol, and no one gets a guaranteed free pass from its addictive effects if they drink enough of it, as so many of us do nowadays.
But so few people realise that, and this misconception is what keeps so many problem drinkers stuck, because they dare not give voice to any worries about their drinking, even to their closest friends.
It’s what kept me trapped, feeling so desperately worried, not just for years but decades, about how I drank and how much I drank, without saying a word to a living soul. My only experience of alcohol addiction came from depictions on the TV, and a couple of examples from my own life, of older people in ‘rock bottom’ situations. Losing jobs, losing families, lives disintegrating.
And, even at the end, when my drinking was making me so mentally and physically sick, my life just didn’t look like that. So I had to be fine, right? I was ok, a ‘normal drinker’ and so should be able to control it better, if I just worked a bit harder at it. So I kept on working so very hard, exhausting myself with it, too scared to face up to the alternative: that I might be an alcoholic and so doomed to a grey, joyless existence for the rest of my life. Except, as it turned out, neither of those things were true.
I didn’t plan to stop drinking.
I had no clue at my 40th birthday party that it was my last night drinking. But the level of mental pain and illness I reached the next day was so extreme that I knew I couldn’t go on. And I also knew that it was pointless saying I would cut down, I knew it was all or nothing, and that it had to be nothing if I didn’t want to lose my mind.
I was far from happy about it, in fact I was about as miserable as it’s possible to be about anything. But in the weeks that followed a kind of miracle happened.
I reached out online and found a hidden world, not of miserable, frustrated dry drunks, but of people who were sober and genuinely happy. Happy, and interesting, vibrant, adventurous, truly living their lives to the full.
Completely sober. There are millions of us.
Some of us identify as alcoholics, some don’t, but for whatever reason, our lives work so much better without alcohol. But despite our genuine joy in our sober lives, so many of us are still hiding. The people in the grip of active alcohol addiction, for the most part, don’t even know our world exists.
I believe there are millions more people in the world whose lives would also work so much better without alcohol, but who are still drinking, because they can’t see the other side. That’s what I thought about while I was sitting on that sand dune in the pale golden morning light last summer, the sound of the gentle surf in my ears and the gulls wheeling high above me, feeling so light in my heart that I could almost float away.
I thought about when I drank, how heavy and dark my world often felt then, and how I hid my worries so completely because I was so ashamed and frightened of what they might mean.
I wondered how many other people out there might be exactly where I was. Trapped in the invisible prison of trying to be a ‘normal drinker’, trying to control the uncontrollable, repressing their fears and anxieties because of the stigma still attached to problem drinking, and the persisting perception of sobriety as a worst case scenario. I wanted to let those people know that it’s ok, that they don’t have to be afraid anymore.
They can let it go, they can put their burden down because, hidden behind all that stigma, stereotypes and misinformation, is a world better than they could possible imagine.
A world of self respect and pride, creativity, health, rediscovering their true path, real human connection with people who seem to have been designed to be their friends, a ridiculous amount of fun, laughter that makes a little bit of wee come out, moments of feeling so alive it almost hurts and the most heart-achingly beautiful inner peace.
A world I once thought was an impossible thing, where you can be truly happy without a drop of alcohol.
I couldn’t see it for the longest time, but I live there now. I hope I get to see the day when everyone is able to see it and can choose to live in it if they want to.
When the curtain of outdated stigma is drawn up so we can all see the truth about alcohol addiction.
When people can speak openly about their worries about their drinking without shame or fear of judgement, and being a non drinker is a dietary requirement as neutral and unconnected to the individual’s worth as a human being as gluten intolerance. I hope that by telling my story I can play a small part in helping that day to come.
About our author, Julia.
Julia is a 40 something mum of two in Manchester, sober since February 2017, loving sober life and on a mission to get alcohol free living a much needed image update! A bit sweary and prone to the odd parenting whinge. Very slow runner, wannabe yogi, novice meditator, choir singer, Netflix binger. Flirting with low carb, gluten free and plant based food but still a sugar and coffee addict. Stays up too late and spends too much time on social media