Sunday night, a woman on Facebook questioned how anyone can benefit from what I share because I am using a fake name.
I was just about to turn in for the night. But this bothered me. More than I care to admit. So, I guess I just admitted it. And I sat up another two hours stewing about my choice and whether it is the right one.
As I said in my response to the woman on Facebook, it is a great question, one which I am sure others who know I am using a pen name are also asking. And, I am not upset with her for challenging me. Since I have this little platform called a blog where I write openly and honestly, I thought I would more fully explore and answer the question, in case anyone else is wondering.
I indeed feel guilty about not using my real name. I feel shame. I wish I could tell everyone who I am. But, here’s my question: If I hadn’t said I wasn’t using my real name, would anyone have questioned the validity of what I am doing?
I could have presented myself as Emily Crawford and never told anyone it was a pen name. Plenty of recovering alcoholics use names other than their own and are not transparent about it. Who would have known?
However, knowing full well I plan to eventually use my real name, I had to set it up. To me, that’s the only way to be honest. If I hadn’t done it this way and then one day, months from now, decided to announce my real name, wouldn’t people feel duped?
Remember the movie Just One of the Guys? Well, maybe my reveal wouldn’t be THAT dramatic but, if you know the movie, you know what I mean. Terry Griffith pretends to be someone she’s not (disguises herself as a boy, lies, etc.) for her own personal gain (solely!) and hurts a lot of people along the way. Sure, I’m using a pen name for personal gain too – actually, it’s to prevent personal loss while I reap the therapeutic benefits of writing and having a project focused on my recovery – but am not passing myself off as a completely different person. Fake name, yes. But, real person with a real story.
I’m about to have someone write a guest blog post for me. We met through the Facebook page and she knows a lot about a topic I haven’t yet researched. She’s an alcoholic in recovery. I don’t know if she’s using her real name. What if she’s not? She still has a valuable contribution to make to this journey we’re all taking.
But isn’t it funny how we just assume someone is who she says she is. Honestly, how do we know anyone on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, or anywhere online is using a real name if we don’t know them in real life. Leap of faith, I guess.
You would have assumed my name is Emily Crawford had I not voluntarily admitted otherwise. At the end of the day, my story is simply that. My story. My recovery is mine and mine alone. I’m not making up any of it. If I told you my real name, we still wouldn’t know each other. If you know me in real life and I’ve shared the story of my addiction and recovery efforts, you know my real name. If you don’t know me in real life, my real name doesn’t matter.
So, how long is long enough? When will it be safe to stop using the pen name? Anyone can relapse anytime. I’m already proof of that. I have two clients now I’ve had since I launched my business eight years ago. I’ve done drunk work for four clients with whom I currently work. The work has never been substandard. Ever. I’m too much of a perfectionist for that. I’ve never missed a deadline. I’ve excelled and delivered tremendous results. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t still have a business. That said, I’m not ready to fess up to these folks or create a public “alcoholic in recovery blogger” identity new and prospective clients can easily discover.
I’ve been a complete and total rockstar, but I wasn’t always sober. And, for the better part of a year before I stopped drinking, I was drunk quite often – writing press releases, on conference calls. I even went to a client meeting after a few beers once or twice. And I still work with those clients. Honestly, I think if I told them now, they’d say, “You’re joking, right? What’s the punchline?”
So, dear Facebook visitor, again I say, “Great, great question.” And, I thank you for asking it. If you think you can’t possibly trust a chick who won’t reveal her true identity, that’s totally fine with me. However, if, with that knowledge, you are able to believe me and take my word for it that I am a real person, an alcoholic in recovery, and that the story I’m telling is the truth, let’s share our truths and support one another.
Another great question about using a pen name was posed to me on Twitter last month: how can we expect anyone to be proud of us if we can’t be proud of ourselves? Just because I am not willing to risk damaging my business doesn’t mean I’m not proud of myself. But, I do agree my choices with respect to anonymity absolutely contribute to the stigma.
How can I encourage others to own their addiction and recovery if I keep mine secret from my clients? Easy. If you want to shout from the rooftops that you are an alcoholic in recovery, by all means be my guest. But there are other ways to own it. And, you don’t have to share your story with everyone you meet. There are people I tell and people I don’t. If anyone were to ever ask me point blank, “Are you an alcoholic,” my answer would be 1,000 percent honest. Some people just don’t need to know about that part of my life.
Please understand that I am completely honest with people in my everyday life. While I never hide my addiction or recovery, I don’t always talk about it. One of my favorite things to do, on occasion, is to drop it like a bomb and watch people’s reactions. I’m still waiting for the, “No way! Me too!” I don’t yet have any sober friends in real life.
I hid myself and my alcoholism. From everyone. For a long time. Technically, I’ve been sober less than two months, because my seven month sobriety pre-relapse no longer counts. And, I’m exposing myself and my recovery more and more every day.
However, until I am ready to do any kind of public speaking about my addiction and recovery – I dream of this, truly – I can’t see any reason to place my business and, subsequently, my livelihood, in jeopardy by using my real name. I won’t be bullied to do it. Just like I won’t be bullied by those in AA who can’t accept that I am doing this largely without the 12 steps, and meetings, and Bill W., and The Big Book. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again (and again and again): It doesn’t matter how you get sober as long as you do.
I work really hard. And that’s not easy for me to say because I am not the kind of person who ever gives herself enough credit. Honestly, I started the blog and all the social media more for me and my own therapy during recovery than anything else. As a hobby. Because I love to write and have been wanting to start a blog for years (aside from the one on my biz website which is now even more neglected than ever). And because it would give me do something to do when I felt tempted to grab a glass of wine or bottle of beer.
Little did I know anyone would take notice or care. The beautiful side effect of it all has been the wealth of inspirational connections I’ve made with people either about to attempt sobriety or struggling with it, as well as those with a couple of years of recovery (or more) under their belts. I’ve been told my story resonates. I’ve been thanked for my openness and honesty. I’ve been called inspirational. I’ve been given the chance to think back on my early days of sobriety and remember how hard it was and how much I’ve accomplished, even with a brief relapse. I didn’t expect any of that.
I also didn’t expect to be challenged. But I like it! Go ahead. Criticize my choices. Turn up your nose, throw your hair over your shoulder, and turn your back because I’m not in AA. I usually shy away from drama and conflict, but I’m finding it very thought provoking and empowering. And, for once, it does not make me want to drink.
Finally, and randomly, a case in point about motivation vs. inspiration. This blog post is the result of inspiration at its finest. It didn’t take any motivation whatsoever to write this – there was something far more powerful at work.