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It’s ok to judge Alcoholics, just be kind when you do.

Fourteen years ago, I sat on the floor of a bathroom stall in a public bus station and prayed to a God I couldn’t hear, see, or touch. That day will forever be etched into my mind as it marked my first day of sobriety. It is only through God and Alcoholics Anonymous that I have been able to stay sober for these past fourteen years. I give myself almost zero credit for my sobriety. In fact, the only thing that I did all those years ago and continue to do is give up all control. I surrendered, and in doing so my life has become amazing in many ways. Not in the ways that I pictured perhaps but in different, even better ways than I could have imagined.

Woman praying, kneeling at dusk.

The most precious and important gift I’ve been given is the absence of craving alcohol. The desire to drink has been taken away from me. For many years before that day, I tried to control my drinking, when that didn’t work, I tried to quit drinking. Each time I tried, I failed. However, that all changed the day I begged God for help. God took the obsession I had to drink away from me. What followed was many meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous where I was introduced to other alcoholics who also had the obsession lifted. These angels were waiting for me at every meeting, waiting to ease my pain and calm my mind. As fellow alcoholics in recovery they showered me with their wisdom. They told me their own stories and taught me about the disease and its desire to kill me. With each conversation I had another piece of the puzzle settled into place.

I remember my first sponsor explaining to me that the thoughts I had about being able to have “just one more” was my disease talking to me. The light switch flipped, and I finally understood that I couldn’t trust my own thoughts. I thank God for the angels he placed in each of those rooms of AA. Without them I wouldn’t be sober today. It gives me peace knowing that they are waiting everywhere for me all throughout the world in the rooms of AA, all I have to do is go sit down next to them. But if these fellow alcoholics are angels that were sent to me, then why is it I find myself years later embarrassed telling others I was one of them? Why am I still leery to tell certain people that I am an alcoholic?

After I stopped drinking, I slowly started to repair my life. Part of this was done by looking in the mirror each day taking inventory of the role I played in the chaotic state that was my life. I worked the steps of AA which allowed me to change my behaviors, admit my faults, give up any notion that I controlled anything, apologize to those I had wronged and make amends. These steps as well as the other twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous changed the trajectory of my life.

Woman in dress. Angel
Angels Hide in Plain Site

The more people that I told I was an alcoholic, the more relaxed I became. As new people moved into my life it inevitably came up in one way or another. When I met someone who did not know I was an alcoholic, and I was offered a drink I simply said I didn’t drink. Nine times out of ten that person asked me why and I replied “Because, I’m an alcoholic.” I was pleasantly surprised that no one seemed to really care about it. Sometimes they would ask me questions, which I became very used to and we would move on. It worked out well. Often times this open discussion would allow them to share personal information about themselves or loved ones. I had people reach out to me asking if I would speak to a family member or if they could give my number to someone. I would always answer yes.

As the years rolled on it became second nature to tell people I was in recovery, however there were a few hiccups. My fiancé’ for example never asked me why I didn’t drink when we first met. On our second date our server asked us if we wanted a drink with dinner and when I said no, he didn’t look at me or question me. The night continued effortlessly. A few more weeks into our relationship I started to feel uneasy that he didn’t know. I wasn’t hiding anything from him, it simply never came up, but my sobriety was something he needed to know about, therefore I told hm one night when I was at his house. He wasn’t fazed and we continued our relationship.

It wasn’t until years later that I felt self-conscious again about telling someone about my disease. I started hanging out with a woman who lived in my neighborhood. Our children were close in age, we worked out at the same gym, and soon discovered we had a lot in common. Because we were both mothers of younger children we rarely participated in activities where drinking would be involved. Drinking never came into the picture. That was until she asked me to go to a bar to meet a local politician she hoped to support. I probably would have been okay to go but the bar that was hosting happened to be one where I had terrible memories of drinking. I was suddenly incredibly nervous to tell my new friend the reasons that I couldn’t attend.

After a few days of mental turmoil on my part, I knew I had to be honest with her. I finally had the conversation with her and explained why I couldn’t attend the political event. She seemed ok, thanked me for telling her and even came over the next day where we discussed in it more detail. Unfortunately, that was the last time we had any meaningful interaction. Slowly our friendship became non-existent. In the weeks that followed, we went from talking frequently and having our children spend time together to not talking or going on nightly walks together. Was it because I told her I’m an alcoholic? I don’t have any tangible way of knowing and if I had to guess I think there were probably other reasons that she turned away from me. But I would be lying if I didn’t say that it hurt. As an adult it’s difficult to make new friends and I enjoyed her friendship. Whatever the reason, I was sad when it ended.

This incident as well as a few others me that even with many years sobriety I will never be free from the shame and guilt of my past. I will always be judged for a disease that I inherited. It doesn’t matter how I deal with the disease, and it doesn’t matter what I do to stay sober. I’m still and will always be an alcoholic. When I’m in a good spot spiritually and emotionally I understand why I’m judged. I understand that people have to make decisions on who to spend time with, and who to allow their children to be around. We alcoholics have committed unspeakable acts, we have hurt ourselves and others. I understand the stigma. Nonetheless, my understanding doesn’t take away the pain I feel when the judgement comes.

Woman looking out of jail cell.

Often times I wonder if I will ever be free from my past or if I will always have it come back to haunt me. How many years must pass before I don’t have to feel bad about who I am or what I’ve done? Is it one year, five, or twenty-five? What’s the magic number? I’ve been asking myself this question a lot as I enter my fourteenth year of sobriety. This year my kids and I are traveling to my fiancé’s parents’ home to celebrate Thanksgiving with them. His parents do not know that I’m an alcoholic, and although I’ve been in a relationship with their son for the last eight years, I dread telling them. Because let’s be honest, they will not be happy to find out their soon-to-be daughter-in-law is an alcoholic. I don’t blame them, who would be happy to discover this news?

I myself go back and forth on the way I feel about my alcoholism. There are times when I have embraced all that it has given me. Without alcoholism I would not be as self-aware as I am. Going through the twelve steps of AA has made me a better person. A person that I would not have ever become without being an alcoholic. I often think about how the program could help those who don’t have problems with drinking. The twelve steps can be applied to all aspects of life. But am I happy that I’m an alcoholic? I don’t know if I can say yes. I don’t wish this disease on anyone, and I’m terrified that my kids will inherit it from me.

As much as I want to hide the truth about my disease, I know that I need to tell my future in-laws about it for a few reasons. The most important being that I can’t ingest any alcohol of any kind at Thanksgiving dinner. My father-in-law is somewhat of a gourmet cook and I know many times alcohol is used in cooking. Typically, the alcohol itself burns off but I don’t feel comfortable tasting it in food even if there isn’t any alcohol content. The second thing is that if they offer me a drink and I say no, one of my darling children could easily say something like “Mom, doesn’t drink. She’s allergic.” Which of course is true but would lead to an uncomfortable conversation at the dinner table. Therefore, I need to tell them beforehand, and I dread it.

I have practiced in my mind what words to use and how I will bring it up. Each time I think about it my stomach seizes, my breath quickens, and I feel sick. The longer I put it off the longer I torment myself. The sad thing is that I know on the surface it will be ok. They will be kind and probably even thank me for telling them. They will reassure me that this doesn’t change the way they feel about me. But I also know they won’t be happy; they will worry about this woman their son is getting ready to marry and again I can’t blame them.

I’ve learned in sobriety that just because you get sober doesn’t mean that life gets easier. Life still happens. As we say inside the rooms “we have to live life on life’s terms.” I’ve also learned that I can manage demanding situations and stay sober. In fact, this conversation will probably make me stronger, but I’m still allowed not to like it, and I dread having it.

As I continue to stress myself a little while longer, trying to construct the perfect conversation to have with my future in-laws I think about everyone out there that doesn’t have this disease. I think about a dear friend I had for many years. When I told him my story, he looked at me with his kind old eyes and he said, “That’s great, you beat it.” I just smiled, not having the heart to tell him that I’ll never beat it, that it’s part of me and always will be until the day that I die. Perhaps the right way to explain it is that God, and his angels in AA have smothered my disease. It’s still there, resting, waiting for me to forget about it, but as long as I stay close to God and AA the disease is kept at bay. This is one of the reasons why I thank God every evening before bed for keeping me sober and ask him to do it again the next day.

For those of you that weren’t born with this disease please think about what I have said. If you come across someone in your life that tells you they are in recovery, or that they are an alcoholic or addict try to be kind to them. It’s ok to be taken aback. It’s ok to ask us questions, and it’s even okay to judge us. But try to remember that even when we have multiple years of sobriety we still deal with our past, we are living with a disease that we will never be cured of. It never goes away and many times when we are doing the right thing, we get sucker punched and have to explain ourselves to people that we haven’t hurt or have never seen us drunk. We might be going about our lives in a productive manner when suddenly out of know where we are in a position where we are perceived as the “bad person, the fuck up, or at the very least the undesirable and it hurts.

Justice, scale. Law, brass. Gold

Please be kind to us.


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Image by Tim Mossholder


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