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"I'm Not Like Other Alcoholics"
Have you ever had this thought? So did all the rest of us.
I’m an alcoholic.
I don’t mind saying that. I’m not afraid to admit it.
Some people hate the word. They see it as letting their addiction define them.
Well, if it’s a definition, it’s an accurate one.
I drank every day for years, and I couldn’t control myself no matter how hard I tried. When I set out to make it through the day sober, I’d give up by sundown. When I told myself that I’d stick to just one drink for the night, I’d end up going through every last drop of alcohol in my apartment instead.
I might not have fit the cliche image of an alcoholic living on the streets without a home or job, but there was no real question of whether my drinking habit was controlling my life. My entire evening schedule was structured around making sure I had enough time to get drunk before bed.
My drinking led to social isolation, bad finances, and poor mental and physical health. Despite this, I struggled for years to quit.
I think that the word “alcoholic” sums this all up pretty well.
However, I have to admit that I wasn’t always so comfortable with the label. It’s easy enough to say it now, nearly six years after getting sober. But, when I think back to my drinking years, I remember having a much harder time admitting that I had a problem.
I knew I drank too much and too often. There was no question in my mind about that.
But, I didn’t think that this made me an “addict” or an “alcoholic.” I thought that these labels were taking things too far. I told myself that I was just someone who needed to learn to drink in moderation.
I tried out Alcoholics Anonymous when I was very young, and the experience made me feel like I didn’t belong in the recovery world. Not only was I younger than everyone else, but it felt like my addiction wasn’t bad enough.
Instead of trying to find common ground with other addicts, I looked for the differences. When people talked about getting DUIs, I thought “I never got a DUI, so I must not be an alcoholic like them.” When others talked about failed relationships, I thought “Alcohol never got in the way of my love life, so I’m not a real addict.”
Later, after leaving AA and returning to drinking, I kept this mentality. Over the next seven years, my mind was a total mess. Sometimes I’d tell myself that I was an alcoholic and needed to quit immediately. Other times, I’d laugh at these thoughts and tell myself I was taking it all too seriously, and just needed to cut back a bit.
I would go back and forth between these extremes all the time, even within a single day. It was mentally exhausting.
Part of the trouble was that if you’re trying to find differences between yourself and another alcoholic, you can always find them. It doesn’t matter how bad your addiction is, there’s always someone else who has things worse—or at least different.
I drank mostly craft beer, and I thought that this somehow meant I wasn’t a real alcoholic. I remember even saying to a friend once that they didn’t have to worry about me unless I started drinking cheap beer. Looking back on it, this reasoning strikes me as absolutely absurd.
I was in law school during my peak drinking years, and I did very well there. This became my ultimate “I’m not an alcoholic” excuse. I told myself that if I was addicted, I’d never be doing so well academically. It was an especially ironic excuse because the legal industry is known for having high rates of alcoholism.
The excuse I’m most embarrassed about is that I used to tell myself that I was “too smart” to be an addict. Putting aside the insane arrogance, this reasoning just doesn’t make any sense. Does intelligence magically prevent someone from developing an addiction? Of course not.
The list could go on for pages, but I think these examples are illustrative enough. The point is that there’s always some way for us to differentiate ourselves from other addicts. If our goal is to convince ourselves we’re not alcoholics, it’s easy enough to achieve.
What’s really going on here? We’re just looking for excuses to enable our drinking habits. It’s as simple as that.
To finally quit drinking, I had to drop the attitude that I was somehow uniquely different from every other alcoholic in the world.
One of my all-time favorite pieces of sobriety advice is to “listen for the similarities, not the differences.”
When you meet a recovered alcoholic and hear their story, it’s up to you what to focus on. If you’re looking for ways to convince yourself that you’re not an alcoholic, you’ll always be able to find some difference to latch on to. But, if you’re looking for ways to overcome your addiction, you can find some similarities instead.
It doesn’t matter that our stories don’t always match up perfectly. That’s just part of being human. We each have our own lives with our own habits, quirks, and stories. However, despite those differences, we also have a lot in common, and that’s where we can find ways to grow.
When I started to listen for the similarities, I was amazed by how much I had in common with my fellow alcoholics. Even people who on a surface level appeared completely different from me, who had backgrounds totally unlike mine, nonetheless had many overlapping thoughts and experiences.
Finding those connections was one of the most important steps that I took for getting sober. It was what helped me to start believing that sobriety was even possible.
I learned that all of the weird little habits and quirks that had developed around my addiction weren’t nearly as strange and alienating as I had believed. I met people who had gone through the same struggles as I had and come out happy on the other side.
If you’re stuck listening for the differences, you’re always going to find a reason to tell yourself that you’re not an alcoholic. The excuses are there if you want them.
But if you stop searching for excuses, and listen for the similarities instead, you’ll be surprised by just how many you find.
Every alcoholic is their own unique person, but we sure do share a lot in common too.
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