I participate on the on line parenting forum Mumsnet, and there is a long running thread for those of us who are trying to abstain completely from alcohol here which I’m sharing in case it’s of use to anyone reading. Every now and then, somebody comes on to detail their relationship with drink and ask whether we think they have a problem. The replies are excellent, and the point is often made that one doesn’t have to embrace the term ‘alcoholic’ to accept that life would be better without alcohol, We know, don’t we, that the term alcoholic is off-putting to so many people that if you say it to them too early, you run the risk of scaring them off. So we couch it. Problem drinker; almost-alcoholic; overdoing it.
I completely understand the horror of calling yourself an alcoholic, one poster says. And I do, too. I mean, I remember feeling that horror, and side stepping the issue, and spending far too long thinking of reasons why I couldn’t possibly be.
Some of that is, of course, that while you’re drinking, the addict voice is actively lying to you, and it’s easy to deny and minimise and obfuscate. Giving up drinking is a very good way to see if you need to give up drinking, because you can’t see your life clearly through a liquid veil.
But quite apart from that, I no longer think that most of the reluctance to so label oneself is about stigma, really. It’s about finality. Because we all know that if you’re a proper alcoholic, you have to give up drinking alcohol completely and forever. Whereas if you just have, you know, a bit of a problem, then you can probably just give up for a bit, see how you feel, and the future is a convenient series of ellipses.
When I was drinking, I was horrified at the possibility that I might be an alcoholic. Because that admission represented a line in the sand.
Now I’m not drinking, it’s pretty clear to me that I’m an alcoholic. And that’s fine, actually. I’m also an expat, a writer, a mother and a pretty decent cook. They’re just things that I am, and one of them means that I don’t ever pick up a glass of wine again. Could be worse.