Sometimes, the labels we give things get in the way of understanding what’s important. I remember thinking that, to be an alcoholic, I needed to wake up and drink every morning. I thought that alcoholics were old, scraggly men, with long beards, who live under a bridge. My understanding was that all alcoholics were criminals, and that they all look the same. There was no possible way that I, a young woman with a place to live, who went to school, could be an alcoholic. I didn’t fit the mold. Never mind that once I had a drink I couldn’t stop drinking, or that alcohol-induced blackouts were a normal thing for me. I didn’t know you could be an alcoholic who only drinks on the weekends, who doesn’t drink in the morning, and who looked like me.

When I finally got to treatment, my counselor said, let’s forget about the word alcoholic. She asked, do you think you have a drinking problem? I said, well, I don’t know what a drinking problem looks like. Of course I knew what she meant, but I still took any way out I could. She said, okay, let’s make it simple: does drinking cause you problems? That was a rough moment, because I could only answer yes: drinking causes me problems. I honestly did not know that, for people who drink normally, alcohol does not cause them problems. I know that sounds crazy, but my mind didn’t let me go there. So, the first step that I made towards finding recovery was understanding that drinking caused me problems.

It seems so simple looking back, but it wasn’t at the time. A big part of my story was letting go of what I thought all the labels meant, and understanding that I was using them as an excuse not to face facts. No matter whether or not it was a “drinking problem”, whether I was a “drug addict” or an “alcoholic”, whether I’d need to be in recovery or sober for the rest of my life, I had to get down to the basic facts of the situation. And the fact was that, when I ingested alcohol, I had problems as a result of alcohol. What didn’t matter was whether I drank in the morning, what kind of alcohol I drank, where I lived, how old I was, or what my gender is. All that mattered was, when I ingest this substance, I have problems.

When you can start from that basic place, you can start to look at the causes and the conditions of what is making your life unmanageable. With more than 10 years in recovery, I promise you that there is a way out, that there is hope. All you need to do is reach out for help, let go, and get started.

A.B.