Writing played a huge part in my transformation from often drunk to always sober but I didn’t publish my story straight away. Here are the pros and cons I agonized over, and what happened after I hit publish.
For a year or two, I daren’t publish any of my writing about the experiences I was having in the process of getting sober.
I didn’t want to admit that I had developed a problem or draw attention to myself and I didn’t want my old drinking friends to judge me. Like most people, I wanted to save face.
Who wants other people to know that alcohol has become so problematic that you can no longer drink it? Quitting forever seemed like an extreme and melodramatic move and I felt like a failure.
At the same time, my life was opening up in ways I couldn’t have foreseen.
The contrast of longstanding shame and sadness with new hope and empowerment was a fascinating thing to behold.
Naturally, I wrote constantly about the transformation I was undergoing. About the ways in which my deepest held beliefs were shifting. About this new consciousness awakening in me.
For over a year I was conflicted.
I felt so sheepish about the whole sobriety thing that I didn’t tell my dad until I was almost a year sober. I didn’t tell my brother for over eighteen months. Some of my family still don’t know.
The worst of self-publishing
There is a huge amount of stigma, shame and misunderstanding around addiction, and particularly so-called alcoholism.
Going for an interview for a job lecturing at a university this year I wondered if this blog would hold me back. Would my potential employers read it? Would they hire someone with a history of alcohol abuse? Self-publishing began to feel like a serious error.
After I was offered the job, I still wasn’t sure if my employer and colleagues knew about this part of my life. Creating my new work email signature I hesitated for a long minute before I included the link to this blog.
I considered trawling back and hiding some of the more exposing posts.
But I resisted the urge. Because this pride and self-serving silence is killing us.
The relationship between socio-economic groups and alcohol consumption is complex, but growing up in a partly Irish family in a small city in the UK, I experienced an astounding lack of education around addiction.
I’ve known far too many alcoholics who simply drank themselves to death. One of them was my uncle.
This is why I am compelled to write about it. Why smashing the stigma is more important to me than saving face.
Being vulnerable in this way is difficult, and maybe it will keep me from certain opportunities, but there is far more at stake here than my anonymity.
The best of publishing
Getting sober is the single most positive step I’ve taken to improve my life and I love sharing the lessons I’ve learned along the way.
Writing about my struggles and victories has helped me stick to this path, which isn’t always easy.
Blogging has helped me process trauma and crush shame.
“Shame cannot survive being spoken,” Dr. Brené Brown, shame and vulnerability researcher, says. “It cannot survive empathy.”
Telling my friends I was beginning this blog, and asking for their support in my endeavor led to some heartfelt and encouraging correspondence.
One friend apologized for not raising the issue of “all those lager tops”.
Others shared my posts and let me know that my writing was helping them.
Over a year into the process, I receive emails or comments from readers who find Beautiful Hangover useful every other day. Frequently these messages are so full of emotion and gratitude that I have no doubt blogging about my greatest struggle is worth it.
I loved your post. You described how I’ve been feeling. I just did a long period sober and want to try again. Thank you for sharing.
A few weeks into my new job, colleagues began mentioning that they’d read my blog. I felt horribly soft-bellied, but they were only ever kind (my colleagues are total dreamboats.) Some said they related to the struggle.
One colleague thanked me for my posts and said they were helping them stick to their decision to stay sober. After months of doubt about how my blog might hamper me professionally, I began to relax.
Gradually, I began to talk about my blog in seminars. Sometimes my sobriety and understanding of substance abuse became useful in tutorials. Students began to quietly thank me for sharing honestly about overcoming something they were battling to some degree themselves.
All of these interactions remind me of why I do this. They remind me who I am writing for.
Yet again, the overwhelming response was positive. Alcohol struggles are everywhere: in council estates, on the farm, in schools, at university.
Should you write about your transformation?
It’s a personal decision and one that shouldn’t be rushed. As a writer who has always journaled I felt a strong attraction to blogging.
At the same time, I was afraid of alienating myself from my family and community in the process. I deliberated for eighteen months before posting my first blog.
Before you begin, ask yourself these three questions:
What is the worst thing that could happen?
What is the best thing that could happen?
Is the best thing worth the risk of the worst thing?
If the answer is yes, then go for it.
And if the answer is no, that’s OK too. If you aspire to share your deepest stuff, without sharing your identity, then find an appropriate space and go for it. Do it anonymously. Use a pseudonym.
I started my blog in order to both share and remember what my drinking was actually like. To change the conversation around addiction and contribute to ending stigma. To strengthen my own voice and my ability to speak up for myself.
It took two and a half years of intermittent therapy, regular and intensive peer support and a supportive and loving romantic partnership to feel capable of sharing my story publicly.
Just over a year in, I have no regrets. But there were many points along the way in which I wondered if I’d made a serious mistake.
I pushed through my resistance to vulnerability in order to stop hiding from myself, to help me stick to this new path, and to crush my increasingly crippling perfectionism around writing. And it paid off.
The trick, for me, is to remember who I am writing for. And why the exposure is worth it.
Only you can decide if it is the right thing for you.
If you’re concerned about your drinking, ask for help.
AA, Smart Recovery, Soberistas, Hip Sobriety, This Naked Mind and Recovery Elevator are full of people transforming their shame into something valuable by telling their stories. If you want to, you can join them.
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Chelsey Flood is the author of award-winning YA novels Infinite Sky and Nightwanderers, and a lecturer in creative writing at Falmouth University. She writes about freedom, addiction, nature and love.
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