There are so many terms and labels used to differentiate one person from another or one group of people from another, and these objective labels are used millions of times each day all over the world. Examples: male, female, man, woman, girl, boy, straight, gay, lesbian, Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, Muslim, Buddhist, Caucasian, Latino, Asian, Afro-American, American, Canadian, Syrian, French, German, Italian, President, Senator, CEO, Manager, Assistant Manager, short, tall, skinny, fat, obese, in-shape, alcoholic, addict, recovering alcoholic, sane, insane, bi-polar … you get the idea. The list could take up many pages. Suffice it to say we have so many of these terms to differentiate one person from another, some are labels we accept in common dialogue but some terms are disparaging and offensive.

What surprises me when I think of this endless list of words we use to describe ourselves, is the general failure to identify our similarities. Often the seemingly endless terms of distinction unwittingly separate all of us from seeing ourselves as part of the human family and if all these linguistic means of describing people are used as often as they will be used on any given day, are we not in fact enforcing the countless ways to separate us from one another? We may in fact be objectifying ourselves so often that as a society, many have lost their way and have become blind to that which unifies us.

Walt Whitman asserts this timbre of meaning in his poem, I Sing the Body Electric, describing a slave at auction:

Gentlemen look on this wonder,
Whatever the bids of the bidders they cannot be high enough for it,
For it the globe lay preparing quintillions of years without one animal or plant,
For it the revolving cycles truly and steadily roll’d.
In this head the all-baffling brain,
In it and below it the makings of heroes.
Examine these limbs, red, black, or whTite, they are cunning in tendon and nerve,
They shall be stript that you may see them.
Exquisite senses, life-lit eyes, pluck, volition,
Flakes of breast-muscle, pliant backbone and neck, flesh not flabby, good-sized arms and legs,
And wonders within there yet.
Within there runs blood,
The same old blood! the same red-running blood!

These few words from Walt Whitman speak volumes. One of the great lessons I learned very early in my sobriety while detoxing in a hospital, was embracing a genuine sense of humility. I no longer felt differentiated from others. I felt grounded and all the things I had ever been or accomplished were not important anymore. I was discovering something else. Yes, I was around ‘all kinds’ of people who were in the hospital with me for various, yet similar reasons – addiction and alcohol issues. And, yes, I was experiencing great pain withdrawing from alcohol while simultaneously realizing the tremendous harm and pain, I had inflicted on others. This may sound peculiar to people that have not gone through a detox, but, ironically, this is where I first discovered my true self and was able to see this certain key facet present in all of the individuals I shared this hospital ward with.

This unveiling of my true self continued for the next several days, weeks, months and now years and continues to this day. Previous outward accomplishments, awards, recognition, promotions, job titles -- those labels again -- that I had ever garnered during the course of my relatively ordinary life became insignificant and lacking real meaning. Before sobriety, I had let these external designations define who I was. I had become separated from that universal bond, that union with humanity and life and most especially, with myself. All of those labels and distinctions fell by the wayside. I am a person.

So many of the challenges we face in the world today have to do with the objectification of people and attaching that same shackle upon ourselves. External accomplishments and the winning and losing that go on in our competitive world can be just fine. But, losing sight of the real, true measure of ourselves as people can only create havoc in life and dismantle our awareness. Just as an individual that is in the midst of their addiction or alcoholism is unable to see their true self or have love and empathy for others, so too can the way we think of others perilously influence our own life. What really defines us has to do with our daily thoughts and actions. Quite simply put, how we treat ourselves, how we treat others. Look beyond the appearances . . . until next time. 

Imagine a pendulum as it swings back and forth. As it sways to the left, we have a person using drugs uncontrollably. As it swings to the other side, this same person is in recovery. What are the determining factors that motivate an individual toward the direction of recovery and allows that person to remain in recovery and what are the elements that contribute to a person swinging back into the direction of relapse and addiction – sometimes, over, and over again. This analogy of the pendulum and its oscillation from one pole to the opposite pole speaks volumes when addressing the issue of recovery and relapse because the extremes of these pivotal axes can actually be life on the one side and death on the other.

One of the key components that will always support a person during recovery is their own insistence and determination to remain clean and sober and ultimately forever change their life. This desire to change the direction of their life is an absolute – it must be unconditional. Without this inner commitment, a person can remain on a perilous path towards continual relapses. Another factor is undoubtedly the kind of help and support one receives when embarking on this new path. When the real work gets underway, the person that embraces these steps will most definitely have a far better chance at remaining clean and sober. Honesty is vital – honesty with oneself and with others. Equally important is being truthful enough to identify the signs that have camouflage and excuse-making written all over them. Seeing these warning signs and acknowledging them immediately is crucial towards avoiding relapse. Taking responsibility and ownership of your actions is a fundamental ingredient in sustaining the journey of true rehabilitation.  All of these elements contribute towards pulling this pendulum towards the side of clean and sober living.

I know in this moment that I do not desire to drink again. And unless I am researching material regarding addiction or speaking to others about alcoholism or writing about it, like in this blog – I never think about using alcohol, or go through my day thinking about drinking, or what I may be missing from having some drinks at a bar or the ‘feeling’ I got from drinking, or my former circle of so-called friends. There is not one shred of romanticizing my former use of alcohol – I have closed the door on consuming alcohol. Simply put, the desire to drink alcohol does not occupy my mind. I begin each day with my personal mantra, and it goes something like the following. I am present and conscious in this moment. I am free today. I love and care for myself today, and will offer love and compassion to others. I choose to live fully and freely, one day at a time.  Within this state of being, I am free from addiction. If, however, I were to sabotage this current state of sobriety, and take a drink, I am instantly no longer free. Therefore, that is why I unconditionally accept that I am and will forever be an alcoholic. This is why I will not let my guard down and become complacent or fool-hearty. I readily desire to attend AA and Smart Recovery meetings and other types of recovery groups for the rest of my life. I enjoy my time spent with these groups and never walk away without some wonderful realization or insight and sometimes was able to help another person. More especially, I love the fellowship I share with others – people in recovery mean so much to me.

Stay vigilant and compassionate toward yourself as you continue to live in Unconditional Recovery . . . until next time . . .

People can get hung up is on the label ‘addict’ or ‘alcoholic.’ There will be people we encounter in life that do not understand the nature of addiction and they may want to point their finger, judging and categorizing because it’s the easy thing to do (or through fear or denial). Perhaps these people are family or colleagues who knew the ‘before’ you – before recovery. These characterizations can potentially set you free in stripping away all pretence or hinder your recovery because you too may actually be defining your entire self through your addiction.

I remember with clarity when I first uttered the words, “I am an alcoholic.” It was actually freeing. All the shame or embarrassment that I thought I would feel, simply didn’t happen. The people attending that same meeting accepted me. I fully embraced this admission within myself. I was being honest. I was taking ownership of my dependence on alcohol. I am an alcoholic. It was enlightening and uplifting to my heart and I felt whole again, and such a sense of tremendous peace.

In accepting that I am alcoholic, that I am currently an alcoholic and will always be an alcoholic, it has not constricted me or how I see myself. My decision to be sober is an unconditional one and it explains the freedom I feel as I enter my fourth year of recovery. As one begins the journey of sober and clean living, the question foremost in their mind is:  can long-term – life-long freedom from addiction really happen and how does a person reconcile the word ‘freedom’ with the label – ‘alcoholic’ or ‘addict?’ 

Being free does not mean you are no longer an addict or an alcoholic. Being free means that you have chosen to live unconditionally -- free from your addiction.  We are all far more than ‘just an addict.’  Don’t let a label define you except as a tool to keep you honest and accountable.  It’s a choice -- one day at a time.  Until next time . . .