Achieving sobriety is one of the most difficult things anyone with an addiction can do. It’s worth it, but it’s not easy. Ponies, rainbows and unicorns do not suddenly fly out our asses when we stop using. The country song- as I like to joke- does not play backwards, and we don’t automatically get the wife, the kids, the truck and the dog back, just because we’re sober now.
When the time came for me to quit drinking (ha, ha – “when the time came”- more like, “when my ankles were so swollen they looked like softballs ate them, when my liver physically hurt, when I could no longer function at all, and death was surely imminent…”), I knew I needed help, and treatment was imperative. Thankfully, if I have to be an addict, the 21st century is the best time to be one. We have choices now, and recovery is no longer one-size-fits-all.
I didn’t do well in AA, as the dialogue around addiction being a disease just doesn’t work for me. I’m not saying it isn’t a disease, I actually think it is one. It took me a long time to understand why this disease rhetoric set me off, since I don’t disagree with the theory. In the meantime, however, I really just needed to find treatment, and I wanted a program that didn’t follow that particular script, despite the fact that I didn’t understand why. That’s how I fell into Smart Recovery (you can Google it), which is the opposite of AA in many ways, but has the same goal in mind: TOTAL ABSTINENCE.
I’m not an addiction expert, but I’m certainly not ignorant on the subject either. Obviously, I’m no social worker or substance abuse counselor, but I do have an impressive Alcoholism Resume- yes, it contains less college classes and more on-the-job training, but experience is experience.
All of this leads me to how I finally came to understand why I’m so often completely turned off by this “addiction is a disease” conversation.
Until very recently, I had plans to drink again.
I went through the steps of physically quitting, and while I stopped consuming alcohol, it was always with the understanding that I’d pick up again. Maybe not today, but someday. Even as I was actively doing the work in recovery, I did it with the idea that I was merely changing my relationship with alcohol, not ending it. It wasn’t a fearful notion; I wasn’t thinking, “Oh no! I just know I’ll fall off the wagon some day!”. Quite the opposite, it was something I wanted, and I wanted to make sure I did it the “right” way (without criminal charges, jail, dancing on tables and/or swimming naked in some random stranger’s pool, preferably).
I did eventually realize I was nuts to think I could ever have another drink, but what took longer to understand is why I was so invested in the idea of trying. It was an obsession. It’s not simply because addiction is a disease. Even if it is a disease, that’s an over-simplified answer, and that’s what made me crazy. It’s like something you tell a kid when you don’t think they’re old enough to know the truth.
I deserve better than that, so I went on a quest to figure it out for myself.
It took a minute, but now I finally understand why it burns me so bad when addiction is referred to as a disease. It’s because all too often, the conversation ends right there.
She had to stop drinking because she’s an alcoholic. That’s a disease, you know.
“No!” I want to scream. “There’s so much more to it than that! There’s so much more to me than that!”
Getting to the root of it, I realize that I believed if I could just drink like a normal person, it would mean that I don’t have to suffer a life of being labeled “Diseased” or “Alcoholic”. My fear was that people, once they knew, would stop seeking to know me further, thinking they’d already learned everything worth knowing.
That I’m an addict.
Here’s the thing: I do have a disease. It’s called alcoholism. It isn’t curable, but it’s manageable, and managing it is an important part of my life. But please, don’t let the conversation stop there. I want to talk about it, and I also want to talk about other things too.
I’m a mother, and a daughter. I’m a wife. I’m a professional, and I like to draw. I used to play the piano, and years ago, I sang opera in Europe.
I want to be seen as an entire person, not just as this disease.
Someone who’s real, and silly, and complicated…
… and can’t drink.