Ever since I started writing about my alcoholism and sobriety and recovery, I’ve received a lot of praise from people congratulating me not only for acknowledging and battling my addiction but also for being brave and courageous and honest and truthful in the way I tell my story. While I appreciate their kindness and respect and the time they took to share with me their words of love and support, I’m not doing this for the praise. And, I have never been very good at accepting kudos. I want them. Heck, yes. But, I never feel worthy. I’m working on that. I’ve got the gracious “thank you” under control most of the time.
Part of my problem is the fact I feel like a fraud. My story is true. All of it. But, it’s incomplete. And, I’ve consciously tried to control who does and does not read what I write.
I share my story here on the blog and via my @QuitWining social media accounts. In the beginning, I told no one I knew (short of a few special family members and friends) about what I was doing. I insulated this part of me from most everyone already in my life, going so far as to use a pen name for the first seven months. I needed to write. I needed to share. But, I wasn’t ready to publicly alter my persona.
Months passed. I was welcomed to the sober influencer community by incredible writers and sober sisters and brothers. I ditched the pen name and began writing even more publicly – on TODAY.com and Huffington Post. A few Facebook friends noticed what I was doing. I was terrified. Then relieved. Yet, I vowed to maintain a separation between my blog’s social media and my own.
Last night, as I scrolled through my Facebook newsfeed to see what’s going on in all my friends’ lives, I caught a post by an incredible woman I met several years ago because our daughters are the same age. I have admired her since day one and have always wanted to know her better. She is boldly, bravely pursuing a new chapter in her life and shared her latest blog post. Normally, I would save the post to go back and read it another time. Last night, I tapped the link and realized she was talking to me.
Before I share the impression her words left on me, here’s what happened first. My friend’s new blog has a Facebook page of the same name. I’m a fan, of course. Yet, it was her personal share of her latest post that caught my eye.
She’s transitioning from one professional life to another, navigating right before our very eyes when we read the words she so beautifully strings together. I’m so proud of her. Slightly envious of this cool thing she’s doing and all the support she has from her friends. And, I thought. Wait a minute. I have a cool thing, too. And, while I have boatloads of support from those who know my story, there are so many who have no idea about the journey I embarked on more than three years ago. The truth is, even though I ditched the pen name almost two years ago, I’ve been hiding. From a select few clients. But mostly from my parents. And they’re not even on Facebook! But, their friends are – a handful of dear people I’ve connected with on social media because I’ve always been very fond of them and I truly treasure them and the relationships they’ve had with my folks and our family over the years. And, sometimes these people see and/or talk with my parents.
I’d rather my parents not know about my blog. Sometimes I write about them. Like, right now. And, the guilt rips apart my insides every single time. My addiction and recovery aren’t topics my parents and I discuss. Ever. Because my parents will never be able to speak the language I do about this disease and how it works and why I drank. Ever. Because I have forgiven them for the things I wish they’d done differently in raising me. For the things I wish they’d said. And not said. For the things I wish they’d done. And not done. I don’t blame them for my alcoholism. I own it.
I don’t want to share my recovery with my parents. They have no idea how bad my drinking got. They don’t know I wanted to die. They don’t inquire much about my life at all. And, unless it has to do with the kids, I don’t offer up much information. I don’t think they understand my world; I’ve done a lot of forgiving this year and I am at peace with my relationship with my parents. These are two people who discouraged the younger me from pursing just about every dream I ever had. While I am proud of everything I have accomplished and all they have given and continue to give me, I had different dreams for myself. To my husband who’s reading this now and to my children who may one day read this, I love you beyond the edges of the universe; I do not dream those other dreams any longer because there’s no chance I’d ever trade you for any of them.
So, here’s the thing. I’ve been living authentically and sharing exclusively in this @QuitWining space. Because I am afraid my parents might find out I’ve written something less than lovely about them. And, now I’m a fraud for not telling people who I really am.
That ends this minute. Because I’m doing a cool thing, too. And I’m doing it because at the very darkest, most desperate, horrible time in my life I didn’t know anyone who’d ever had a similar experience. Because I wanted to know someone like me. Because alcoholism is real. And awful. And, we all know someone who has struggled or is struggling.
And, because I am tired of contributing to the stigma I claim I’m trying to erase. Over the weekend, someone asked me about the date on my necklace. He called out to me from about 25 feet away and, had I answered without moving closer, at least 20 people would have heard me declare, “It’s the day I got sober.” It was a work situation and I got nervous so I moved closer to the man before speaking. I told him I didn’t want to just shout it out. Then he told me he’d been sober for 28 years and I should be proud. I tried to explain that I’m not ashamed and I have a blog but I fumbled my words and paused to catch my breath. He jumped in. I listened to him share for 20 minutes and I treasure every second of it. At the same time, I can’t stand that I’m so much better at talking about my sobriety and meeting others in recovery online than I am in person. This goes beyond the whole introverted thing. This is me still getting used to my sober skin and accepting who I am and not being afraid.
This is where the topic of my friend’s blog post last night comes in. She wrote about how our cast of supporting characters changes throughout the different chapters of our lives. How hers is different today than it was just a few months ago and how she has a heightened awareness of her supporting role in others’ lives.
… while it’s great to be the hero – the one around whom the plot revolves – it is equally gratifying to be in someone’s Cast of Supporting Characters, to urge them through their challenges and to applaud their success as they seek their own Happily Ever After.
And, I thought about why I started writing my story. I remembered. It was because when I first realized I needed to get sober, I didn’t know anyone like me. Not in real life. Not virtually. I’m not writing because I want to be a hero. I’m my own hero every single day, whether or not anyone reads my blog. I don’t need to be anyone else’s hero. But, if my experience can help someone feel less alone, not so lost, more hopeful, or even validated, then I’ve done what I set out to do. And, that’s not heroic.
Taking a break from tapping all these thoughts into the Notes app on my iPhone while my husband fought his eyelids on the sofa across the room and the Yankees busted up a tie game against the Mets in the eighth inning, I scrolled through my Instagram feed. Another gem. Another sign I need to make a change.
In her Instagram post, sobriety warrior Laura McKowen addressed a question someone recently asked her. Basically the person wondered if she could get sober without changing her life because she sees Laura has made her whole life about recovery and she doesn’t want to do the same thing.
Regardless of my thoughts on the subject of completely changing your life (getting sober) without really changing your life, my immediate reaction was, “I do want my whole life to be about recovery!” Truly. It’s in this space where I am my best. I am my most authentic. And, it’s because I haven’t made my whole life about recovery that I feel like a fraud so much of the time.
I’ve insulated my recovery life from my former life, leaving Facebook alone for the most part short of the obligatory Happy Birthday (which I’m terrible about anyway – I always think the very biggest most cheerful happy birthday thoughts for people but forget to write them notes) and the increasingly sporadic kid photo then putting back on my sobriety hat and feeling authentic and free in my cyber sober space where most everyone on my Facebook friends list doesn’t see me.
For years I’ve said I’m recovering out loud. But, I haven’t been. Not completely. I’ve been recovering. I’ve been out loud. But, mostly within the recovery community. And, that’s why I feel like a fraud. Perhaps one of my Facebook friends needs me in his or her cast of supporting characters but has no idea I’m suited for the role. I’m still not planning to climb up to my roof and holler, “Hey! Look at me!! I’m in recovery from alcohol addiction!” But, I’m definitely giving up what’s been feeling like a double life for a long time now. The only part I want to play is me.