“I am an alcoholic,” the central refrain of AA is pivotal in helping addicts face their reality. This statement renders a clear and precise surrender to their affliction. This represents a bold and courageous first step in the recovery process. These addictions may stretch from drugs, alcohol, sex and porn to a vast array of other disordered compulsions. The AA approach is the gold standard for helping people achieve and maintain their sobriety alongside the incalculable benefits of fellowship. Arguably, AA does this more successfully than anyone else. Yet, in helping to secure an individual’s substance and emotional sobriety, the previously stated proclamation may ironically imperil that person’s personal growth.
Who Am I?
I was working with a man in his late fifties who had been sober for three decades. He was no longer tempted by alcohol and could even sit at a bar with friends enjoying his club soda. This gentleman was clearly well past his previous battle with alcoholism. Yet, in accordance with the AA protocol, he continued to refer to himself as an alcoholic. This imprint limited how he looked at himself. He didn’t see himself as an evolving person but remained stuck, in his self-image — one that was cemented into his psyche from the age of twenty- five. His snapshot of himself was frozen in time, as was his identity. This in turn impacted not only his relationship with himself but with those close to him. He wasn’t evolving in his life, while others around him were. This is the stuff of victimhood.
Consider the difference between saying “I am an alcoholic,” as opposed to, “I suffered from alcoholism for a number of years, but I’m sober for the last 25 years.” If we’ve broken free from the grip of our addiction and no longer feel at risk, we need to differentiate between the past and the present. If I’ve been sober for thirty years and still declare, “I am an alcoholic,” the word am betrays my progress. Reiterating my addiction reduces me to still being an addict. If I’ve broken free of my addiction, why would I still choose to identify with my victimhood? If someone says, “I’m a convict,” I’d assume they are incarcerated. If they served their time and are now free, they might say, “I’m an ex-con,” as they signify the difference. Why should it be different for addiction?
As quantum physics wondrously describes, reality and the universe itself – including us humans as well – appears to be inexorably flowing and evolving. From this perspective nothing remains in a fixed state of being, everything participates in the dance of becoming. Nothing is left out of this movement. This includes the recovering addict. Addiction is a horrific affliction, but one that can be overcome. Why would we want to further the punishment of the past by carrying it with us when it no longer applies?
Victim or Victor?
Overcoming addiction — in whatever form it may present – is enormously challenging, but if you’re successful it’s also incredibly noteworthy. You should feel proud of your success. You are not who you used to be. I’d encourage you to announce your victory as you fully invest in your process of becoming, as you further advance your growth. The greatest guarantor of your continued sobriety is your forward movement. It’s your choice as to see yourself as a victim — or as a victor.