The Two Types of Recovering Alcoholics

How I learned to stop being so judgmental of my fellow alcoholics.

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Two Categories

I used to think that all recovering addicts fell into two categories, and I hated them both.

The first category was made up of the ultra-cheerful crowd who never seemed to stop smiling or shut up about how much sobriety had changed their life.

The second category was composed of the other extreme: the bitter former drinkers whose only joy in life seemed to be wallowing in their own misery.

When I first decided to get sober, I dreaded talking to any of my fellow recovering addicts. I didn’t want to be around people who were overly cheerful or overly pessimistic; I just wanted to talk to other people who were “normal.”

I thought of myself as unique and distinct from all of these other addicts — I told myself that I had a more balanced, rational disposition. I considered everyone else to be either crazy or faking it.

A Multitude of Personalities

Of course, I was wrong about all of this. My judgmental attitude toward my fellow alcoholics was really just another excuse in a long series of excuses, all trying to get me to give up on staying sober.

By telling myself that I was different from all of the other alcoholics, I was implicitly providing a justification to go back to drinking: Sobriety might work for these people, but it will never work for me.

The reality is that there are all kinds of different people in recovery. Sure, some of them are very bitter, and some are ultra-cheerful, but the vast majority fall somewhere in between.

Even the people who appear to fall at one extreme have always been much more complex once I get to know them.

As an alcoholic, I used to spend so much time thinking about myself that I often forgot that everyone else in the world has their own complicated mix of emotions. It’s easy to unfairly categorize people after just a few interactions with them, but whenever I’ve learned more about a person, it ends up teaching me how inaccurate these categories can be.

The person acting bitter might have just had a bad day or be going through a rough time in their life. The person who is super cheerful might just be feeling friendly or in a good mood. There are a thousand explanations for someone’s behavior on any given day.

I’m sure that there are many people who have met me just once or twice and have a completely warped view of my personality. Even those who have talked to me more often might be getting only a partial picture.

When I interact with fellow addicts, whether in-person or online, it’s most often in the context of talking about our alcoholism. This alone is sure to skew how our personalities appear. I’m just seeing one piece of their story, and they’re just seeing one piece of mine.

It was important for me to realize that there are actually all kinds of alcoholics, and all kinds of people who get sober. Although there are plenty of similarities that many alcoholics share, the only thing that truly unites all of us is our addiction.

Once I understood this, I stopped thinking that I was somehow so unique that sobriety wouldn’t work for me. In truth, I’m only as unique as the next alcoholic.

Fitting In

Many newly sober alcoholics feel like they don’t fit in with anyone else in recovery. I’ve learned two strategies to deal with this: The first is to get to know people better. It might feel like you’re different than everyone simply because you don’t know them well yet. The second is to keep meeting more sober people.

If you meet enough recovering alcoholics, you’ll quickly discover how diverse the community can be. There are sober people of every age, occupation, religion, and personality type.

There are also more ways to connect with recovering alcoholics than ever before. There are traditional in-person meetings and rehab facilities, but there are also online meetings, online forums, meetup groups, and discord servers. There’s essentially a limitless number of recovering alcoholics available to connect with. You might hate some of them, but if you keep trying, you can find others that you click with.

The more sober people I’ve met, the more clear it’s become that I was wrong to ever think that they all fell into just two categories. Recovering alcoholics are just as varied a group as any other. Finding other sober people that I could relate to wasn’t nearly so difficult as I once imagined.

I’m a lawyer and teacher from North Carolina. I write about sobriety, mental health, running, and more. Buy me a “coffee” at ko-fi.com/benyaclark.

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