There’s a reason that it’s called Alcoholics Anonymous. Every one of us talks about how, in our drinking days, we supported our own denial with the popular image of a shambling, pathetic last-stage alcoholic; that’s not me, we thought, and therefore I haven’t got a problem. All of this is old territory.
What intrigues me is that the stigma extends to sobriety. We’ve given up for Lent. We’re trying to lose weight. We’re on antibiotics. NO we’re not pregnant, jeez. The simple ‘Drinking wasn’t good for me, so I stopped’ seems to be something we shy away from, mostly, and what are we afraid of? Surely, if being a drinker is so bad that alcoholic is a dirty word, then stopping drinking is to be applauded?
Some of this, of course, comes back to the labels. If we have had to stop forever we are saying that we were Alcoholics With a Capital A. Which is ridiculous, obviously; my friends who have eschewed gluten aren’t tarred with the Mad Carb-Bingeing Porker brush any more than my caffeine-free mother is an ex-jitterbug. And I totally just made those two terms up, because neither of those is even a thing. Even ex-smokers are just called ex-smokers. No ominous capitalisation for them. (Us, in fact. I gave up smoking completely about a decade ago. But there’s another difference; it hasn’t even stayed as part of my identity. I often forget completely that I once smoked).
So. Stopping completely, embracing sobriety as a lifestyle choice, is stigmatised because it implies that one is An Alcoholic. But what’s wrong with that? Why the difference between an ex-drinker and an ex-smoker? There’s this internal dichotomy with drinking; it’s more socially acceptable to drink than to smoke, and less socially acceptable to quit alcohol than nicotine. And yet, it’s also more embarrassing to admit to an addiction to alcohol than an addiction to cigarettes. I know many people who have tried, and failed, to quit smoking several times. They’ve paid for hypnotherapy. They’ve bought expensive quitting aids. They’ll admit, happily if ruefully, that they just can’t do it although they know they should. Oh, well, we say. Keep trying. Good for you. It is hard, yes, the hardest thing you’ll do, we understand.
I want that. I want to be able to say that to normal people. I’m addicted to alcohol, I tried to quit the addiction and drink less but I couldn’t. So now I’m stopping.
In fact, what I’m finding is that I can say that I’m stopping, but only if I don’t let on that it’s difficult. A breezy ‘Oh, I felt like I was maybe drinking a bit too much, so I thought I might as well stop’ is fine.
But what I want to say is that it’s sometimes really fucking difficult. That I’m mourning. That sometimes it’s genuinely fine that there’s wine in my house, that I pour LH a glass, that I stir it into a sauce. And other times it’s not fine, at all, and I’m furious with self-pity because all I want to do is pick up the ramekin of ruby cabernet and pour it into my mouth and instead I force my arm to tilt it into the casserole dish and rinse it out before I lick the inside. That sometimes I just want to treat myself as an invalid, and climb into bed in soft pyjamas with my book and a pot of herbal tea and cry, but I don’t feel like I can possibly justify that because only a broken person reacts this way to a healthy lifestyle decision. I can’t say any of this to normal people, because it’s so ridiculous, so out of proportion, so fucking pathetic.
And that’s why the sobersphere is so important. It’s why AA is so powerful.
When I first gave up alcohol, Lilly called my sobriety ‘fledgling’, which is just perfect. Fledglings are raw, vulnerable, helpless. Ugly. Best to tuck them away in a nest, out of sight, until they grow feathers, and their wings strengthen, and they soar.
I’m thinking about this today because several of my real-life friends know I’m sober – I made a point of telling people as much as I dared to, so that there was no going back – and that I’m blogging my way through it, and have asked about the blog. I gave the link to only two of them, both because they have alcoholics in their own lives and I hoped it would help. To everyone else I have said no, so far, because I’m still ugly and naked and I can’t yet fly. But I wonder whether one day, I will link this blog to my ‘real’ blog, where I rarely write because here is where my writing energy is. It is estimated that 5% of the Australian adult population demonstrates high risk or dependent drinking, with another 15% being ‘at risk’. That’s one in every five adults who may have a problem, and one in twenty who do. I have a lot more than twenty friends, and all of them drink. Somebody out there needs help. But when sobriety is tainted with the stigma of alcoholism, I’m still too scared to be the one to offer it.