If you decide to stop drinking because you don’t like the negative repercussions, does that make you an alcoholic?
If you used to drink but have decided to stop, does that mean you’re sober?
Are labels helpful, harmful or neutral?
My answer to all of these questions is “It depends.” What’s right for you and what’s right for me do not have to be the same. A lot of people (myself included) find freedom in that.
Labels can be empowering, but they can also be shame-inducing. Suddenly, a single behavior becomes your defining characteristic. You’re a drunk.
When I stopped drinking, I watched something fascinating happen. I no longer had alcohol to escape the uncomfortable emotions that I was totally unaccustomed to handling on my own. I watched as I started sleeping too much, overeating, compulsively exercising, binging on TV, and staying at work crazy hours. Anything to distract myself from how I was feeling on the inside.
It took me a while to realize what I was doing, but finally I figured it out. I had never learned how to sit with the things that made me uncomfortable, I was, however, an expert at distracting, numbing, and dulling and I didn’t need alcohol to find ways not to feel what I was feeling.
The label alcoholic never felt right, and soon I understood why. What benefit was there to label myself in a way that elevated a particular attempt at coping above all others? I didn’t find strength in acknowledging powerlessness; I found strength in the common desire not to feel. Everyone struggles with this to some degree.
Many people don’t agree, but that’s okay too. It matters what works and what resonates with you.
Instead of labeling a behavior, I started understanding my pattern and how to learn the difference between numbing and comforting. I began to unravel my desire not to feel, and I started to view my struggle as something that made me human rather than a sign that I was broken.