I finally stopped using the addictive, carcinogenic drug ethanol, known by its street name alcohol, three months ago.
I’m not counting the days anymore. Not really. Because that would be the same as counting the days of the rest of my life. But still, I know it’s been three months, and I’m ready to start talking about it.
I don’t expect a congratulations, at least not from people who still drink regularly. When I was drinking I wouldn’t have congratulated you, either.
I expect something more like crickets. Crickets, plus awkward silence. Awkward silence, followed by awkward questions, questions like:
Why in the world would you do that?
Surely, you’re not one of them?
Not, you know, an alcoholic?
Well, no, I don’t think so. In truth, I don’t find that word particularly useful, and as such, I don’t identify with it. The term “alcoholic” places the problem within the person, not within the nature of the drug. Thinking that I was the problem is what kept me stuck, hooked on alcohol, long after I wanted to be free.
The term “alcoholic” places the problem within the person, not within the nature of the drug.
What I am is a 37-year-old woman who, in the prime of my life, found myself addicted. By addicted, I mean that I found myself needing to use this substance almost every night of the week in order to feel okay. I found myself needing to use this substance even though I didn’t want to anymore, even though I knew it was harming me and my otherwise good life — hurting my sleep, health, energy, creativity, clarity, and connection to myself and others. Even at a volume most people were happy to normalize (i.e., two drinks on weeknights, more on weekends), I knew that alcohol was bad for me. And because the drug is scientifically known to be addictive, and because I wanted to stop but for a long time found it nearly impossible to do so, I call this addiction.
On the subject of labels, neither do I identify as an “addict” or a “recovering addict.” I did not describe myself with these deficit terms after I quit smoking, and I don’t apply them to the regular “moderate” social and anti-social drinking I used to do. But I did get hooked on alcohol, through culturally encouraged, repeat exposures. You see, addiction to addictive drugs can happen to anyone. Case in point: the opioid epidemic. That’s why we warn our kids away from the “hard” drugs. That’s why we say, “Don’t even experiment with them. It’s just not worth the risk.”
But the ubiquitous addictive drug alcohol? Of that we say, “Cheers!” Of that we say, “Enjoy responsibly.” We advertise on billboards, television programs, and store windows. We celebrate this drug and tell people to abstain only when they drive or get pregnant.