I hate the word alcoholic. This is the first time I've used it in this blog. I'm sure that my loathing of the term is partly why I didn't stop drinking years ago. By defining people as 'alcoholic' there's an implication that it's all very black and white: you're either a normal person or you're an alcoholic. Yet what I see all around me is - to coin a phrase - fifty shades of grey.
Several times over the years (usually after a big night out, with a crashing hangover) I've typed 'am I an alcoholic' into Google. Generally you get one of those quizzes (I've always loved quizzes!). The questions can vary quite a bit, so there's obviously no agreement on which are the best ones. Here's an example from one I Googled this morning:
1. Do you lose time from work due to drinking? No
2. Is drinking making your home life unhappy? Not really
3. Do you drink because you are shy with other people? God, no
4. Is drinking affection your reputation? No, I was very secret about it
5. Have you ever felt remorse after drinking? Is the Pope Catholic?
6. Have you had financial difficulties because of drinking? No
7. Do you turn to inferior companions and environments when drinking? Goodness no, only the very nicest wine bars with lovely friends!
8. Does drinking make you careless of your family's welfare? I very much hope not!
9. Has your ambition decreased since drinking? Yes, probably, but I only realised that once I stopped!
10. Do you crave a drink at the same time daily? Yes, absolutely.
There are ten more questions. I answered 'yes' to sleeping badly and drinking alone, but no to all the questions about being hospitalised, blacking out, seeing my doctor and so on. And after all that, what was the result? You may have a problem with alcohol or be an alcoholic.
Well I knew that I 'may have a problem with alcohol.' That's why I'm doing your stupid questionnaire! I want to know if I do have a problem with alcohol. And since I answered 'no' to 70% of the questions I'm thinking 'Well, that's all right then! Carry on! Crack open the Pouilly Fume.' But, quite obviously, drinking 1 or 2 bottles of wine a day for a decade is not okay, even if many of your friends are doing it too.
The amazing Jason Vale (read his 'Kick the drink, easily' if you haven't already) says, bravely, 'there is no such thing as an alcoholic'. He believes, and it makes sense, that alcohol is an addictive drug just like any other. Anyone who drinks regularly is an alcohol addict, it's just a question of how far down the slippery slide you've slid. And it's a very good idea to get of the slide before you hit 'rock bottom' or, what society defines as 'alcoholism', but Jason would call chronic alcohol addiction.
The problem is that we are terrified of getting off the slippery slide and quitting alcohol because then we will be admitting to ourselves and others that we are an alcoholic, and that word has a really bad rap. It comes loaded with terrible imagery of tramps quaffing methylated spirits and mothers passing out on the floor in a pool of vomit in front of their children. It means admitting to an incurable illness, and resigning ourselves to be miserable for the rest of our lives! Jason Vale points out that 'alcohol is the only drug in the world where, when you stop taking it, you are seen as having a problem.'
I was a terrible nicotine addict, but I gave up 13 years ago and I do not define myself now as a nicotin-aholic. I am a non smoker. I am nicotine free! I am an ex-addict who saw the light.
Likewise, I do not want to spend the rest of my life standing up in a church hall in front of strangers saying "My name's SoberMummy and I am an alcoholic." I do not want to define myself by a negative. I want to shout "I am a non-drinker! I am alcohol free! I used to be an addict - like millions of people worldwide - but I was brave enough and wise enough to quit. Hurrah!"
I honestly believe that when we manage to rebrand the ex drinker as wise, strong, clever and alcohol free, rather than an ill, sad, struggling 'alcoholic' far more people will jump onto the wagon. So, I'm starting a movement - one blog at a time. Anonymously. And isn't that ironic!
If you're reading this thinking 'am I an alcoholic?', then please forget the terminology, it's a red herring. You, like all regular drinkers, are probably addicted to alcohol. It's a horribly additive substance, so there's no shame in that. The sooner you quit, the easier it is, and - believe me, and millions of others - you'll never regret it.
Good luck this weekend, everyone! Let me know how you get on....
Related Posts: Secret Drinker Hits the High Bottom, Why so many well educated, middle aged women drink, Why ex-drinkers rock! Am I an alcoholic? Part 2