When IÕm talking about substance abuse, I often say ÔitÕs
just behaviorÕ. The point of this isnÕt to diminish the harm you may have done
to yourself or others, or to minimize the consequences of drinking. It is to
get you to separate the behavior from your character and personality.
We are much more than the label people put on us due to
our substance abuse. I donÕt use the term alcoholic because I donÕt find it
helpful (you might). There is no shared definition of the term—there are
other threads on this topic if youÕre interested. I have no less than 18
different definitions of it, many of which contradict each other. But even if
you do use the label, it isnÕt the first, the last, or the only thing that you
Everybody has behaviors that could be described as
addictive. The question is whether they have become unhealthy or are
interfering in any way with the other parts of our lives. Substance abuse
exists on a continuum from total abstinence to total immersion. Some people go
from heavy to moderate or no substance abuse—and back—at different
periods of their lives. Others trade one substance or behavior for another, to
varying degrees. The world isnÕt divided into normal drinkers and alcoholics.
We arenÕt different or separate, and we arenÕt alone.
Maybe it would be a useful exercise to write what you are.
All the things you can think of: the ways you define yourself by what you do,
by what you believe, by what you care about. If you choose to put ÔalcoholicÕ
or addictive person into that description, fine—so long as itÕs only one
of the many things you believe you are. ThereÕs a complete person there, and
our obsession with altering our mental state has sometimes blinded us to the
other facets of our personality.
ItÕs interesting: if you ask most men Ôwhat are youÕ? theyÕll
answer first by telling you what they do. If you ask many (possibly most)
women, theyÕll answer by who theyÕre related to or care for—what they
perceive as their roles. People with self-image issues will list their personality
ÔdefectsÕ (ÔIÕm a procrastinatorÕ), while narcissists will rattle off their
special talents (ÔIÕm a great singerÕ).
We are all those things—our jobs, our hobbies, our
behaviors, our characteristics, our beliefs. So take a moment to write a
paragraph describing who _____ is. You could even post it here! The order in
which you put things can be revealing about the priorities in your life: first
on my list now would be ÔfatherÕ, but IÕm afraid that might not have always
been where IÕd have put it on the list.
Describing who you are can be a useful step towards making
some long term goals, because the next logical questions are....who do you want
to be? where do you want to be in your life five years from now? how do you
want to get there?
If you have trouble imagining things that far ahead, donÕt
worry. That is far more normal than actually having and acting on clear long
term goals, especially when weÕve been abusing substances. When weÕre doing
that, we tend to be just ricocheting from one emotional condition to another.
Life seems more like a roller coaster than a caravan. Developing emotional
control goes hand in hand with seeing and working towards long term goals. Just
imagining a brighter future is one of the benefits of long term sobriety.