“Addiction is an experience, not an identity.” – Hip Sobriety
When Holly Whitaker of Hip Sobriety posted this message on her social media pages a few short months ago, I wanted to scream from the rooftops and share it across my entire network. It was my truth. Addiction was an experience; it was part of my life. But do I have to wear it on my sleeve for the rest of my life?
Is that what will make me remember to NEVER forget?
I don’t think so. I remember every damn night what I used to be. And then, I thank God, every damn night, for what I am today.
I am not the girl I once was.
I am not a label or a stigma. I am not an addict. I am no longer homeless. I don’t live in my car. I don’t swallow half a bottle of pills to get away from the voices in my head. I don’t wake up to a few lines of cocaine on my nightstand. I don’t hide men in my room in female sober livings homes and give them water bottles to pee in so they can stay there for nights on end. I don’t cry out “why me?” I don’t hate life. I don’t want to escape the pain of betrayal or loss. I don’t exist in that world anymore. That’s not me.
I am not an addict.
When I first heard about the Recovery Messaging movement, I was in shock. And I was kind of pissed. I lived in the 12-step rooms. They were my existence. How could they take away the very thing that kept me alive?
Didn’t I need to remind myself daily that I was an addict and always would be?
“Addiction was an experience; it was part of my life. But do I have to wear it on my sleeve for the rest of my life?”
In case you are not familiar, Faces and Voices of Recovery define the recovery messaging movement as “a way to describe and talk about recovery so that people who are NOT part of the recovery community understand what we mean when we use the word ‘recovery.’”
For example, I would say: “My name is Lara, and I am a person in long-term recovery, which means I have not used Adderall or drank any alcohol for more than two years.” Some people put a different spin on it and would say: “My name is Lara and I am a person in long-term recovery, which means I am able to be a godmother to my niece and a loving daughter to my parents.”
The general idea is that you say your name and identify as a person “in long-term recovery” and describe what that means to you.
Well, I was NOT going to do that. I was an addict. Period.
I started hearing this shift in recovery messaging when I was a little over a year sober, and I couldn’t get behind it.
I thought they were stealing my identity.
I was told I needed to say I was an addict in order to fully surrender. I was told that if I did not identify as an addict, then I was in denial.
I thought these people were in denial, too.
Months went on, and my sobriety began to grow. I started looking at resources outside of AA. I started reading more books, watching recovery conferences, listening to recovery podcasts, and educating myself on the science of addiction.
What I once knew as truth was no longer my truth.
It started to make my skin crawl to say I was a “recovered addict.” Something didn’t feel right. Why did I have to keep labeling myself? Why was I shoving myself in a tiny box?
Dr. Wayne Dyer speaks extensively about labeling. I read his words and started to hear why the label didn’t feel right for me and why it no longer worked for me. He says that “anytime you start a sentence with ‘I am,’ you are creating what you are and what you want to be.”
Do I want to be an addict? Hell NO.
He also says: “Individuals who use self-labels are stating, ‘I’m a finished product in this area, and I’m never going to be any different.’ If you’re a finished product all tied up and put away, you’ve stopped growing.”
Did I want to stop growing? Hell NO. Hell to the N-O.
“It started to make my skin crawl to say I was a 'recovered addict.' Something didn’t feel right. Why did I have to keep labeling myself? Why was I shoving myself in a tiny box?”
I am not saying Dr. Wayne Dyer is the end all, be all. I fully believe in the process of choice. You have a right to label yourself and you have a right to remove the label. There are no set guidelines. There are no rules.
There are no restrictions.
You can choose to be whoever you want to be.
And I chose to be me, Lara Frazier.
When calling myself an addict or an alcoholic started feeling icky, I had the right to choose what I was going to do with that. Was I going to stick to what other people told me about addiction, or was I going to own my right to choose?
I didn’t have to own the idea that I was in denial if I didn’t label myself. I didn’t have to keep that heavy burden on me. “I am allowed to change.” Thank you Laura McKowen for that one.
I talk about change often. Because in my recovery, I have changed immensely. Recovery has been a constant process in self-reflection, inventory, awareness, and growth. In my addiction, I believe I lost the power of choice.
Today, I own the power of choice.
Your decisions are up to you. If putting a label on yourself feels wrong, don’t do it. If calling yourself an addict or alcoholic makes you feel like your sobriety is strong and sturdy, and you feel empowered to own that label, then do that.
Do what feels right for YOU. Do not let anyone steal your power. Even me.
When I walk into the rooms of AA, I have no problem calling myself an alcoholic. I really don’t. Maybe one day I will. But, today, I don’t. I get it.
But I don’t do it outside the rooms. I say who I am. I am Lara. Hi!
“If calling yourself an addict or alcoholic makes you feel like your sobriety is strong and sturdy, and you feel empowered to own that label, then do that.”
When I was first getting sober, it helped me to identify as an addict and an alcoholic. And even more, when they used the word “recovered” from the Big Book of AA, it made me feel powerful. I said YES. I can recover from this addiction. It gave me hope. I used to love calling myself a recovered addict. It made me feel proud and empowered.
Today, it makes me feel weak and unsteady.
There is nothing in me that would ever deny the 12-step process. Absolutely nothing. When I stepped out of my last treatment center into another sober living home, I embraced the steps. They were the only process I knew that had worked for anyone else. And I said yes. That’s all I had to do.
I said yes. And I recovered.
That is my story and my truth. However, after embracing other methods of recovery, I see and believe and know, wholeheartedly, without a doubt, that there are innumerable ways to recover.
The 12 steps are not the only way. And even if you want to stay in a 12-step program, there is no problem with evolving your path and adding other tools to your toolbox. You are allowed to change. You are allowed to build a program of recovery that works for you.
“... after embracing other methods of recovery, I see and believe and know, wholeheartedly, without a doubt, that there are innumerable ways to recover.”
You are allowed to un-label yourself.
It is your choice, and furthermore, it is your universal right.
Call yourself whatever you want. Live in your recovery. Thrive in your truth.
Just don’t call me an addict. I don’t live there, anymore.
“Transcending labels that you’ve placed on yourself or that others have placed upon you opens you up to the opportunity of soaring in the now, in any way you desire.” – Dr. Wayne Dyer
Today, I choose to fly.
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.