I HATE saying I’m SOBER.
For those of you who don’t know, in a little less than a month, I will be 4 years sober. I HATE saying I’m sober. I HATE saying I am an alcoholic. The words SOBER, ADDICT, and ALCOHOLIC are shame-based words. I see people physically cringe when I say them. Not to mention, it brings forward some judgement.
“Addict” is a strong word linked to a lot of judgement. When I was drinking, I would often tell myself there was no way I was an alcoholic. I would justify it by saying things like, “it’s not like I’m drinking everyday!” My anxiety would get so bad that I would compare myself to people who had “real drinking problems” and I justified my behavior by saying, “I only really drink on the weekends.” The people I surrounded myself with thought nothing of it. I was “fun”, the life of the party, and no one over questioned my out of control actions. But no one ever saw that aftermath. The anxiety and the depression would sometimes get so deep that I would call in sick to work, cancel on my clients, and completely hide from the world in my apartment.
My perspective shifted when I attended a seminar with one of my favorite trainers, Todd Durkin. He talked about how so many people live double lives. They put on a façade around people, but actually are living in a completely opposite way from their front. But the quote that resonated with me most was this: “In order to be a leader, you must be the example.”
On that day, I came to terms with my toxic anchor. I realized almost everything I did was to make myself feel accepted by everyone, because I didn’t accept myself. I had lived my life with the label of being the wild child and the black sheep of my family. I told myself that if I was going to have that label, I would accept the role and play the part like a star. The truth was that I wasn’t the black sheep, or a wild child. I just gave myself those labels. I was too scared of finding out who I really was without anything to hide behind.
I called my business partner the next day and asked him to go on a run. I stopped midway up a hill and said something I’ve never said before, but something I had known my entire life. I’d avoided saying it out loud in fear of rejection, judgment, or abandonment. I said, “Stephen, I am an alcoholic.” He responded with tears in his eyes. “It’s about time. Now that you’ve said it, let’s move forward.” There was never any judgement or shame, only forward momentum.
None of this is easy. Making a change, sticking it through, writing this blog – it’s all hard. Change and openness is challenging, and it’s why most of us go back to what we know. It’s just easier to give in. Whenever I thought of giving up alcohol, I would ask myself: how will I ever meet anyone? Who wants to go on a date with someone who can’t have a glass of wine? How will I ever go on vacation, celebrate birthdays, go to parties, holidays, survive my family without alcohol?! It’s overwhelming to think of everything I’d have to give up. The mere thought of giving up alcohol usually made me want a drink!
There were a few conversations I’d had with friends who couldn’t imagine me without a drink. One friend said, “I don’t understand why you just can’t have one or two drinks, I just don’t get it.” Then another friend said, “you can’t trust people who don’t drink.” Funnily enough, a couple years later that same friend called and wanted help quitting his addiction to soda. We don’t have to understand people’s personal struggles. What we do have to understand is that we are all struggling, and other peoples struggles are not better or worse than our own.
Here is the truth: we are all fighting something. Alcohol, drugs, shopping, food, gambling, porn, people pleasing, and yes soda; these are all the same thing. When we avoid feeling our own reality or becoming our best selves, each of us reaches the same finish line – a life lived without fulfillment. When we lack self-acceptance and self-love, we look to unhealthy habits and other people to fill it. It’s impossible to learn how to love yourself from the approval of other people – it must come from within. It’s time we stop filling our voids and start loving who we are. I’m still loud, fun-loving, and super fun, but now it’s on my terms. I love who I am and I love where my life is going because I no longer sit in the passenger seat, I’m the one driving the car.
I’m giving you permission (not that you need it) to know that whatever you are going through is not too big or too small. Whatever you’re fighting, if it’s holding you down, holding you back, if in your gut you know you are better, here is the moment you can cut the rope to your toxic anchor. It won’t be easy but it will be worth it. There is a direct correlation to the happiness and success I’ve found in my life today and that decision I made 4 years ago. Love who you are and realize that your happiness is more important than other people’s. It will change everything. I am so grateful to be on the other side of this and to know that what I used to think what defined me is what was holding me back.
I love all of you, thank you for letting me tell my story.
ALIVE and LIVING,