“My name is Ryan, and I am an alcoholic.” I hated this phrase for a long time. This phrase brought along so many different emotions for me that kept me sick while trying to get clean and sober. As a person full of fear, scared of judgement and so invested in what other people thought of me, I struggled with the fact that I had to label myself as an “alcoholic.” Not only was this a label to me, but it also brought along a stigma of negativity, shame, guilt, and weakness. In my struggles during my road through recovery, I have learned that none of those stigmas are true. They are simply feelings that I allowed myself to believe were true, and they have all proven to be the furthest from the truth.
When I first realized I had a drinking problem, I was in college. I couldn’t admit it to myself then. How could somebody in college be an alcoholic? I was raised in an amazing family. I had many friends. I had so many things God had blessed me with in my life. I didn’t want to believe that I was powerless over something. The negative labels that go along with “alcoholic” in my opinion, were not something I was willing to attach to my name. My ego would not let that happen. In fact, my ego did not let it happen until a few more years went by and alcohol had me beaten down. It took away everything I loved. Anything I had built up, relationships, jobs, material things were mostly taken away. Not to mention it robbed me of any emotional or spiritual connection with myself, others, and God.
My dignity - Gone
Self Esteem - Broken
Faith - None
The only things that were left, were the unconditional love from my family and a few friends that have never turned their back on me. Other than that, I was stuck with an empty bottle filled with, fear, resentment, and disgust with myself.
One of the biggest obstacles I faced before being willing to get better was the stigma that goes along with “addiction” or being labeled an “alcoholic.” It kept me out of 12 step fellowships, it kept me isolated from my friends. I felt different. I felt “less than.” I felt scared and alone.
I would like to be able to say that the first time I admitted that I was sick and needed help and sought out recovery, was the only time. But that is not my story. I have had major setbacks. Brief times of sobriety followed by relapses. I have gotten material things back during sobriety. I have gained respect and trust back from some people during times of sobriety as well. However, I have also hurt the people I love the most.
During this last relapse, I managed to lose a few of the most important things in my life. I lost a relationship that I thought I would never lose. I betrayed my families trust once again. The guilt, remorse and shame that I felt was debilitating.
I would not wish any of the things I experienced in active addiction on anybody. The things that I have put my family and friends through, might never be able to be reconciled. I have to accept and live with that. However, I am not going to allow WHAT I am, dictate WHO I am.
I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. All the struggles I have been through, all of the gifts and blessings I have experienced, are all a part of a larger plan. I can look back on all the mistakes that I have made and dwell on them, or learn from them and choose to grow. Today, I am choosing to grow. Everything I have been through has led me exactly to the point in my life where I am today. I am not perfect, nor do I wish to be. But I am blessed.
I came across this movement and I immediately felt a part of it already. I completely related to the message because it stood for something I struggled with for a long time, acceptance. Accepting that it’s okay to be in recovery. It’s okay to be different than others. It’s okay to be who God made me. I struggled with this for so long and it kept me sick. I wish I would have heard some of these stories sooner. Other people who aren’t scared of embracing recovery instead of hiding from it. I was already full of fear in all aspects of my life. It was hard to accept the fact that I struggled with addiction, but I have learned that it is a matter of perspective. I don’t have to comply with the world views of “alcoholics.” Throughout my time in and out of recovery, I have met some of the strongest, compassionate people I have ever met. People who will go out of their way at any moment to help somebody else. People who are, contrary to belief, some of the most selfless people one could meet. When do you hear about that when the media talks about addiction? When do you hear about the people who get up at 1am to go help out a fellow person in recovery? Or spending time with people in the hospital who are scared after a relapse when they have nobody else, when do you hear about that?
You don’t unless you experience it.
I wanted to join this movement to bring awareness to the real world of recovery. Not just the stigma that goes along with the label.
If there is one thing that people get out of this story it’s that you don’t have to be scared of the label. Recovery is what you make of it. YOU HAVE A CHOICE ON HOW YOUR RECOVERY GOES.
I wish I would have come to this realization sooner for myself and maybe I would have been able to save my family, my friends, and myself some pain and suffering. However, everything I have gone through has brought me exactly to where I am today.
Today, I have a group of people around me that I actually consider real friends. I am gaining some self-worth back. I am rebuilding the relationships I have with my family and friends. I am building a relationship with God and learning to trust in Him. And I am learning how to live free.
This process has not been easy. I have hurt a lot of people I love. My family and friends are nothing short of angels put here from God. Thank you to anybody who has helped me out during this journey. I am eternally grateful for my family and a certain people who have stuck by me and loved me when I needed you the most. Mom and Dad, Lindsay and Jamie - I love you guys more than you will ever know and I would not be here if it wasn’t for your unconditional love and support. It does not go unnoticed.
I’m tired of being just a label. I’m tired of being scared and ashamed of my disease.
Today I have a choice. I don’t want to be anonymous anymore.
Recovery is everywhere. It’s time we start talking about it.