I may be an alcoholic, but I refuse to be ashamed of it

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How often do you hear someone talk openly about their alcoholism or say they are an alcoholic? Unless you’re in recovery yourself, I’d wager it’s pretty rare. Typically, someone might say “I don’t drink” or possibly “I’m sober”, but almost never does the word “alcoholic” get used. 

Why? Well, for starters, the negative connotation around it. What do you first picture when you hear the word “alcoholic”? It’s probably not me: a 39 year old, sober for 3+years, mother of two, public servant, who considers herself happy and thriving. Instead, you probably imagine someone down on their luck, struggling, lost everything or had it taken away. 

That is why I never openly said “no thanks, I’m an alcoholic” when passing on a drink offered. The judgement. The shame. The stigma. That word itself is riddled with undertones of disgrace and assumptions of weakness and failure. The idea that you are less than because you cannot control yourself like “normal” people. While I may have bought into that for a portion of the three years that I have been sober, recently something began to shift. I started to question why I felt that I needed to keep quiet about something that took courage and commitment to acknowledge and work through. Why did I feel shame for something that wasn’t my fault? Why was I hiding something that had ultimately helped make me a better person?

When people are proud of an accomplishment they want to share it. I too wanted to shout from the rooftops about overcoming something that I had spent years fighting through. I was happy and successfully sober- so, why the secrecy? 

I decided that I wanted to break that stigma, change the misconceptions and stereotypes around what an alcoholic looks like, acts like, and lives like. I wanted to show people that you can be an alcoholic AND be a happy, successful, fun person. It isn’t all doom and gloom, nor a constant struggle of craving alcohol. The opposite, in fact. I wouldn’t trade a thing for booze. I love my life now and that is completely due to being sober.

I decided it was enough: I may be an alcoholic, but I am also proud of myself and who I now am, so why can’t I just say it?

So I did. I shared my story online and did an interview for CBC Ottawa Morning in September 2020. Once I had publicly spoken about my alcoholism, something inside me clicked and I thought: I have to keep talking. 

With that, I launched The Unashamed Alcoholic. I wanted a way to keep talking about alcoholism, addiction and sobriety, but make it not just about my story. I wanted to share other people’s stories, specifically people who have platforms and are open about their sobriety. The idea: talk openly and honestly with people who can spread the message that sobriety isn’t that uncommon, to show that addiction can affect anyone and hopefully to de-stigmatize addiction.

I have since spoken with some amazing people: Elizabeth Vargas, Debra DiGiovanni, Captain Sandy Yawn, and Theo Fleury to name a few. What strikes me every time I speak with someone new is how our lives are so different, yet there is always some way I feel deeply connected to their story. I have learned that I truly am not alone.

Speaking out showed me that not only can I talk openly about something that is traditionally stigmatized, but I can take pride in it and I can own my story. When I decided to share my story, it was as if I had suddenly stumbled upon what I was meant to be doing, something that could ultimately encourage others and maybe change the conversation around alcoholism. Because of that, I am now able to share my true self, unburdened by this weighted secret. I can finally be honest about a huge part of me and my life. I no longer need to be confined to anyone’s preconceived notions about what an alcoholic looks like. I can just be myself.

My name is Becca, and I am an alcoholic (yay!)

Becca Atkinson is a mother and public servant, living in Gatineau, QC. You can find her on Twitter @UnashamedAlc 

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