The first time I uttered the words “I am an alcoholic”, I didn’t believe those words. I was a nineteen-year-old who felt coerced into going to his first AA meeting. I said it because I knew I was expected to. I saw it as just a bizarre ritual I’d need to perform in order to win back my girlfriend. I must have said ‘I am an alcoholic’ thousands of times over the next few years until eventually I started to believe it.
Being an Alcoholic Is Hard Work
I grew up with the idea that alcoholics were carefree chaps who were usually too drunk to shoulder any type of responsibility. I did have a natural talent for this role, but it came as a bit of a shock to discover how much work was involved. Being an alcoholic is a way of life with its own unique system of beliefs and terminology. It’s also a bit like the Catholic Church in that once you have been baptized as an alcoholic, you are expected to carry this label around with you for the rest of your life – even if you’re not drinking.
I became addicted to the struggle of being an alcoholic. It became my identity, and I’d no idea what I would be without it. My life revolved around drinking – when I wasn’t a practicing alcoholic, I’d switch to being a recovering one. I heard guys who were twenty years sober and still talked about their struggle with alcohol – it sometimes sounded as if one wrong word could set them scurrying back to the pub. I was an alcoholic who valiantly struggled to beat his addiction, and as long as I believed that, I could never be free.
Hi, My Name is Paul, and I’m Addicted to Being an Alcoholic
In the end my problem wasn’t so much my physical addiction to alcohol, but my addiction to the alcoholic identity. I’d quit hundreds of time. My withdrawal symptoms became more severe as the years went by, but they only lasted a few days. The real difficulty was letting go of the struggle. My inability to do this made staying sober hard because this ‘life and death’ fight to sustain my new life consumed way too much energy. Of course, I didn’t then realize that I was addicted to being an alcoholic because this identity was as much a part of me then as my eyebrows.
Giving up alcohol felt like a huge struggle because I made it one. Once I was able to let go of the alcoholic identity, it all became so much easier. It meant there was now a vacancy in my mind for a new identity, and I went with ‘sober Paul’.