Even though I abandoned my anonymity more than a year ago when I started using my real name to write about my recovery from alcoholism, I still struggle with my identity.
Today, I celebrate 20 months of continuous sobriety. It has not been easy. Some days I’m on cruise control, not even thinking about having a drink. Other days, I white knuckle it though one minute at a time, reminding myself how incredible I am and how amazing my life is because booze isn’t ruining it. But, sometimes, I feel like I don’t even know who I am.
Yesterday, my portrait and story went live on I AM NOT ANONYMOUS. It felt like a whole new declaration of my identity. I was overwhelmed with emotion. Seeing the gorgeous photo Kate Meyer took of me. Reading my words on the website. Sharing with my tribe on social media. And, then I remembered my double life.
It’s not a double life. Not really. But sometimes it really seems like it.
When I first started writing about my journey to recover, I was anonymous and, other than my story, I brought nothing personal to the table. Not my name. Not current photos of me. Nothing.
Then, I slowly began sprinkling in tidbits of my identity. A photo of me with half my face covered. A portrait of my kiddos. A photo of me with friends.
Friends and relatives who were paying super close attention might have picked up on what I was doing. I knew I could be outed by the social media Gods at any time. Heck, these days Instagram notifies all my Facebook friends about my @QuitWining account even though it was set up using a completely different email address. WTF? I have people I know in real life following my recovery journey on Instagram after refusing my previous friend requests on Facebook. Seriously? Whatever. That’s not what this is about.
Sometimes (all the time!), I am afraid of being so open. There’s that stigma thing. Right there. See it? I like to pretend it isn’t real and doesn’t bother me, but it is and it does. I worry all the time that people I work with will decide they don’t want an addict working for them. Or that if I make a mistake or don’t reply to an email quickly enough they will assume I’ve relapsed. I live in constant fear that sharing the darkest parts of my story will make people wonder whether I can be trusted or cause them to doubt my abilities.
And, then I remind myself – I have a proven track record of professional success, and I built my business from the ground up long before I got sober. I am good at what I do.
People who don’t know my “backstory” ask me to join Boards. Part of me cheers. It feels so good to be wanted and valued and respected. Part of me shudders wondering what will happen if they ever find out about my demons.
My children are growing up in an incredible community – one we carefully selected (long before they were born) because of its public schools, among many other things. But, I am plagued by how my kiddos may be perceived by those who know about me. When they struggle with something, have conflicts to resolve, misbehave, or hit their own speed bumps in life, my mind conjures up the worst conversations among their teachers or their friends’ parents: “Well, you know, their mom had a drinking problem. They’ve had it pretty rough.”
There will always be skeptics. But, I will not stop sharing. Why? Because I am helping people.
Hold the applause. That’s not what this is about. I am not looking for kudos or to be called brave and inspirational or to be admired for my courage. I don’t deny that I am brave and courageous; I’m not that humble. I absolutely love that my story inspires others. There was a time I needed someone like me.
But, be warned. I am not quite a plucky as I might seem.
I hold back. All the time. I get caught between what feels like two identities – the alcoholic in recovery and the business owning married mom of two. I feel like I don’t share enough of my everyday life with those who follow my recovery story, and I feel like I don’t share enough of my recovery story with those plugged into my everyday life.
I think what it comes down to is I don’t want to be in anyone’s face with my addiction and recovery. That said, I got a little bit bold yesterday and shared my IANA portrait on my personal Facebook page. Were there people who didn’t know? Maybe. I’m not sure. But, there were absolutely people I touched, and several of them reached out to me privately and shared personal stories about the role alcohol has played in their own lives and the lives of people they love.
Their words moved me to tears. I cried last night. A lot. And I thought a lot about how I’ve really only scratched the surface of the story I need to tell. I am not sure I can fully merge these two identities – the one wanting to recover out loud in the biggest way possible and the one hiding secrets capable of irreparable damage to unconditional love I don’t have the heart to destroy.
It may be a while before I find what I need to dig deep enough to unearth the rest of the story. It’s pretty buried. It might make a decent book … someday. For now, though, one thing is certain: I am not anonymous.