…Just because you mean well doesn’t mean you’re not being rude.
I started drinking when I was very young. How young exactly, I’m not sure. I partied in high school, smoked a little pot, and on my 16th birthday, I snorted my first line of cocaine. I can’t recall the day it stopped being about having a good time with my friends and became a way to mask remarkable pain and morphed into an insatiable need.
Beginning at the ripe old age of 20, I started on a road to recovery only to relapse time and again, finally taking my last drink 19 years ago at the age of 28.
Getting sober is serious business and so much more than putting down the drink and the drug. It’s about making a daily resolution that this will not be the day I pick up one or the other, or both, and watch the pieces of my life that I spent years putting back together fall to ashes at my feet.
I had to leave almost every aspect of my old life behind, including many people. It was obvious I could never find support from people who were still using. Sure, friends and family try their best to be supportive, but that isn’t an easy thing to do when you are a casual, controlled player and not an addict. I made people uncomfortable, especially in those early days when I was still confused and fighting the demons, aside from the genetic predisposition, that made me an abuser and addict. So many people tried to say the right thing, but failed.
The truth is there are things that you just shouldn’t say to a recovering addict. 🙂 Here are just a few that I’ve had thrown my way:
1. “But … you don’t look like an addict.”
There is an enormous misconception about what an addict and/or alcoholic looks like. Not all of us are homeless, sitting under a bridge with a bottle in a brown paper bag or squatting in a crack house. All that statement does is compound the shame and fear that stems from the stigma of addiction.
2. “Why couldn’t you just stop?”
Little do you know how many times I looked at my haggard, hungover, sleep-deprived reflection and asked myself that same question. The truth is, the drugs and alcohol were not the problem. I was. Yes, I had a physical need once I started using, but when I got to the heart of it, I was broken – soul deep. I used alcohol and drugs to forget who I was and to mask the true issues at the heart of it all. If I could have stopped, I would have.
3. “Surely you can have just one drink, do one line.”
No. I can’t. It might not be that first sip or that first line that takes everything I have worked for away from me, but it will happen. I work daily, even after all these years, to do the next right thing so I don’t feel the need to have “just one.” I am an addict, and I will always be an addict. For me, there is no such thing.
4. “Surely you’re cured by now.”
I don’t have strep throat or the flu. I have a chronic, progressive disease. It is called addiction. Just like many other disease, it is likely to kill me if I don’t treat it the only way I know how and that is complete abstinence. There is no shortcut and there is no cure.
5. “Do you miss it?”
Sometimes I do. There is a part of me that is envious of my friends who can have a drink or two and walk away with their lives fully intact. My life isn’t perfect or absolutely carefree, but I’m happier than I’ve ever been and I am not willing to throw that away today.
6. “You have such great willpower.”
No, I don’t. It has nothing to do with willpower. In fact, I am completely powerless when it comes to my addiction. My recovery is another story.
7. “I’m so sorry.”
I have never understood someone else apologizing to me for something they had nothing to do with. Please, do not pity me.
8. “Look at you. It couldn’t have been that bad.”
Well, it was. If you’re fishing for horror stories, I’m not telling them. I lived it and I remember it well, but I’m not going there.
I admit to understanding that it is difficult for anyone who doesn’t live in the clutches to understand. I also get that people who ask these questions or make these statements are just trying to be supportive. This just isn’t the way to go about it. If you really want to encourage someone in recovery, accept them and respect the life they are working to live – today.