“Alcoholic” and “Addict” Don’t Define Us. We Are Human Beings

Good parents always take care to correct their children’s negative behavior without labeling the kids themselves as “naughty” or “disobedient” or “ungrateful.”  Criticizing destructive or disrespectful behavior is appropriate and necessary, but we don’t want our children to start believing that they are bad people simply because they may occasionally make mistakes or show signs of immaturity. When we correct our kids, we must do so in a way that makes it clear that we still believe in them and know that they are capable of doing better.

But sadly, when we interact with each other in the adult world, we too often leave that caring and empathic attitude behind. When commenting on the behavior of others, we are frequently harsh, intolerant, and unforgiving; and when assessing our own behavior we tend to be even more judgmental, as if we expect ourselves to be perfect and react to any failing as if they were proof that we have little or no value as human beings. On Internet forums and social media sites, in text messages, in casual conversations, in our personal diaries, and even in our own homes in family settings, we routinely refer to ourselves and others as “losers,” “idiots,” “flops,” “morons,” “washouts,” “failures”—the list of such labels could go on and on, everyone seems to have his or her own personal favorites. Not satisfied to simply criticize bad behavior, now we hurl condemnations indiscriminately for sins both real and imaginary, holding each other—and once again, ourselves—to impossible standards that no human being could possibly hope to meet.

We would be well advised to do away with many of the negative labels we like to throw around when we are playing judge, jury and executioner. Rather than looking for any excuse to judge and condemn, we should instead be making a concerted effort to treat everyone, including ourselves, with the kindness and respect we deserve in all moments, even when we are disappointed in each other or in our own foolish behavior.

And if we do someday decide to start compiling an inventory of all the destructive labels we could really do without, here are two that we should seriously consider adding to the list—addict and alcoholic.

Who Are We, Really?

Drug addiction and alcoholism are life-altering diseases, and they will profoundly affect not only women who are chemically dependent, but all who love them and care about their fates and futures. But of course we could say the same thing about breast cancer, or heart disease, or a hundred other medical problems, and yet no one would suggest that women suffering from these conditions have been so consumed by their prognoses that they have literally lost their identity to their tormentors. Unfortunately the situation is different with chemical dependency: too often the victims of drug addiction and alcoholism are treated as if they have become permanently defective, and the labels “addict” and “alcoholic” are used to define who they are as human beings, as if they are nothing more than that.

Perhaps there is no need to entirely eliminate the words “addict” and “alcoholic” from our lexicon. After all, those who are described by these terms do in fact suffer from an identifiable condition. But we certainly need to change our perspective about what these labels mean. Rather than seeing them as being descriptive of people, we need to understand that they are descriptive only of activity; and furthermore, we need to realize that the women we call addicts and alcoholics are perfectly capable of changing their habits and recovering their sobriety and sanity.

But regardless of what the rest of us think, it is especially important that women who are addicted to drugs or alcohol learn to put their disease in the proper perspective. When woman who recover from substance abuse are asked what made the difference, many point to a “eureka” moment when they finally realized that they were more than their addictions. Absorbing the judgments of others while wallowing in their own sense of guilt and feelings of weakness, these women for a long time truly believed they were addicts or alcoholics above all else, and as long as they wore these labels as scarlet letters, they were unable to rise above drugs and alcohol and rediscover the inner selves they had lost track of so long ago. But with the help of loved ones and compassionate treatment counselors, they were finally able to break through their walls of false belief and see that taking drugs or drinking alcohol was just an unproductive activity they needed to stop and that it was not synonymous with who they actually were, deep inside.

Experiencing the Transformational Magic of Inner Healing

Drugs and alcohol are like magicians, and their ability to create dependency where initially there was only voluntary behavior requires some masterful sleight of hand. But any woman who has fallen under their spell is fully capable of pulling back the curtain to reveal the truth behind the deception—and that truth is that the person she was before alcohol or drugs entered her life was not lost at all, but had only gone into hiding. Underneath the mental and emotional turmoil caused by addiction, the person who existed before drugs or alcohol entered the picture always remains, waiting silently and patiently in the shadows until the time comes when she will be free to emerge from her enforced exile.

If a woman stricken by substance abuse is willing to make a concerted effort to reconnect with that part of herself that has been missing for so long, her focus and renewed sense of purpose will give her an excellent chance of conquering her substance abuse demons. She must come to realize that in her heart of hearts she is neither addict nor alcoholic, but only herself, a woman with the character and strength to overcome any obstacle that stands in the path of her return to sobriety, and to her true identity.

Posted on May 28th, 2013

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