I recently wrote an article for MamaMia and the response to it has been staggering. So many people reached out telling me that they resonated with what I wrote and thanking me for being so open about my struggle with alcohol. It’s something they felt ashamed of and after reading the article they felt lighter and more positive about their own relationship with alcohol. It truly disheartens me that there is so much shame attached to having a drinking problem. Shame is very damaging and often prevents people from getting the help they need.
I am thrilled that the article had such a positive impact, as it is our overarching mission at Thrivalist to de-stigmatize having an Alcohol Use Disorder. We want you to know you are not alone, and you have absolutely zilch to be ashamed of.
In the article I shared that for so long “quitting alcohol didn’t occur to me. I didn’t even see it as an option. I thought that only rock bottom drinkers, who drank out of coffee mugs at 7am, had to quit forever. It was this stigma that kept me trapped for years in my own vicious cycle of drinking.”
In this blog, I want to elaborate on this message a little more and perhaps help you think differently about the ‘black and white-ness’ of drinking. The picture of what a drinking problem looks like that has been painted to us by the media, the government, the people who raise us and society in general is absolutely not an accurate one. We learn through watching TV about the homeless person at the train station, slugging from a paper bag or the drunk professional sneaking a hip flask at work. There is a dirtiness about this image. It’s filled with shame and weakness. This is someone we have been taught not to trust.
However, this image does not wholly represent the average woman with an alcohol use disorder. It’s the busy working mum who needs alcohol to take the edge off in the evenings. It’s the party girl in her 20’s who blacks out most weekends and tries to laugh it off. It’s the widowed grandma at home alone, bored relying on alcohol to soothe her loneliness. And it’s the new mum silently suffering with PND, who finds much needed comfort in wine.
Alcohol Use Disorder sits on a big spectrum, so rather than it being a definitive black and white answer as to whether or not you’re an alcoholic, there is a huge amount of grey-area in between ‘normal drinkers’ and ‘alcoholics’ where you could sit. So, this image of the rock-bottom alkie that we have in our minds, is no longer relevant nor helpful to compare your own drinking to, in order to change your relationship with alcohol.
After my MamaMia article came out, a loved one rang me and said “I didn’t realise you were an alcoholic when you were 14”. OK so firstly, she clearly missed the point of the story (being that you don’t need to label yourself as anything to stop drinking) and secondly, I explained that I never actually said that in the story. In fact, I don’t even think of myself that way. I’m not sure I ever have, even when I stood up at over 100 meetings and said introduced myself like that. I never liked the idea that I was stuck with an incurable disease for the rest of my life.
What was true for me, was that I had made an empowered and informed decision to stop drinking. I knew that alcohol was preventing me from living the life I dreamed of. Yes I had been stuck in a cycle of problem drinking, black outs and self loathing for 21 years, but did I identify as an alcoholic? I don’t think so. Is it important that I have a definitive answer to this? No!
Rather than ruminating over whether or not you are one, a different approach to take could be to ask yourself if it is holding you back from living up to your fullest potential. Or whether it causes or contributes to your anxiety or makes you feel depressed or low-vibe. Yes you can self-diagnose (among many tools, we refer our students to the diagnostic tool for an AUD as found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual which and you can find & self-diagnose here).
However if you have a hunch that alcohol is holding you back from living your fullest life, then there are so many more positive and powerful questions we can ask ourselves. Jen wrote an incredible blog about it here.
I hope this has helped you to realise that you don’t have to identify yourself or label yourself to question and want to change your relationship with alcohol. In fact, if you know it’s holding you back from anything at all, then that should be enough for you to begin your wondrous journey of living your most vibrant and happiest life.