Don't Assume These Things About Recovering Addicts

I’ll admit, at first I was stoked to write about being in recovery for drug and alcohol addiction. It’s a topic I've gotten to know quite well, but not one I've written or even spoken much about. And the more I’ve thought about it, as I prepared to write about my experience, the more anxious I’ve become: Am I even qualified to be making clarifications on this issue, an issue that is, for so many, private and painstakingly preserved? Is there any way to talk about addiction and recovery without unwittingly giving the impression that I'm trying to make blanket statements about what these things are like for everyone?

I quickly realized that the answer is simple: Yes, I am qualified to speak about my life, and I can do so without generalizing the experience of recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. It doesn't look or feel the same for any two people who fight daily to maintain it. I can't speak about my life under the assumption that, in doing so, I am speaking for anyone else's. I can, however, share my own experiences, and maybe someone else will identify with them, and find comfort and healing in that. And maybe people who don't identify when the reality of being a recovering addict or alcoholic can learn a little bit more about what it's like, even if just for me.

As far as making assumptions about recovery is concerned, I've been on both sides of that fence. I was once a staunch opponent of sobriety. A few folks I knew, friends and family members I kept in the periphery of my life, were clean and sober, and I wanted nothing to do with them. I assumed that, without alcohol, these folks led unfulfilled lives, just barely getting by on a day-to-day basis, chewing their fingernails off, and mourning the social life they’d once enjoyed. Obviously, that perspective was...a bit delusional. My assumptions about recovery sprang from a deep well of denial. Many people who don’t understand addiction and alcoholism do not think this way.

Which isn't to say that my thinking is flawless now that I’m sober; I've caught myself mentally declaring others as addicts and alcoholics. I've thought this about people I hardly know, about whom I have absolutely no business making suppositions. I'm sharing this so that, as a reader, you know I'm being as objective as I possibly can be with this endeavor, this sharing of my experiences being judged by others.

Which, in the end, is the one thing I think most people in recovery have in common: Being judged; having assumptions weighed against us; having other people's experiences projected onto our lives, even by people who have no idea about our lives. Here are some of the common assumptions that I’ve had made about me as a person in recovery:

I'm judgmental of people who drink

Like I already said, judging people who drink is an easy enough thing to fall into. Sure, I could make a hair-trigger assumption about you if I see you drinking. But anyone could. As a rule, you should assume that I don't actually care that much about whether or not anyone else is drinking. When I’m physically around people enjoying alcohol, I find I’m less concerned with the actions of others and more concerned with my own. I become sort of hyper-aware, both of myself and of my surroundings, while outwardly trying to pass myself off as someone completely at ease.

I have a horrible time around people who are drinking

It's not like I don't get the logic of people assuming that someone who is a recovering alcoholic is totally incapable of having a good time if there's drinking happening around them. And I think for some people, this might be true. For certain recovering drug addicts, being around drug use could be especially damaging to their immediate happiness and general sobriety. But just as much as that can be true, it's often not, and when people assume you can't have fun in alcohol-filled situations, they are not only being offensive about your ability to deal, but they are robbing everyone of a chance to have fun together.

For me, I'm not necessarily unable to have fun when there's booze around, though I have experienced it. If I feel strong in my recovery, confident in my network of sober friends to whom I can reach out, and confident in myself that I will reach out should the need to do so present itself, then I’m typically just fine. If I start to feel a little...twitchy, I don't hesitate to leave, and it's honestly not a big deal if that happens. I've gone to bars since getting sober, though not many and not often, to hang out with friends, sing karaoke, and eat appetizers. I do find them a lot less appealing these days, but not nearly as unappealing .

I think about drugs and alcohol all the time, and how much I miss them

This was true for me when I was first got clean and sober, but with time, it gets a lot less sober. I think this kind of assumption—when you go through some major life thing that, for a time, defines your life like getting sober, or getting married, or having a baby, or whatever—people have a hard time moving past that, and letting you go back to being a well-rounded person who isn't solely defined by that one thing. People will want to define you by your relationship to drugs and alcohol and therefore assume that you define yourself that way too. Like, it's surprising to people that I'm not constantly thinking about drugs and alcohol.

Don't get me wrong, I do think about my recovery a lot. It’s probably the most important facet of my life. Without it, I might not have the job I have now, or the friends, or my girlfriend, or food in my fridge, or clean socks and underwear, or working electricity in my house, or my house, for that matter. Since I also enjoy thinking about myself a lot, and recovery has a lot to do with me, I don’t find these thoughts tedious. But the obsessive pining for drugs and alcohol? Today, I'm happy to say those thoughts are gone.

I'm super religious

This one is touchy because, to be fair, a lot of people do have a really strong religious or spiritual component to their recovery, and that's totally cool. First of all, I am not bothered by people being religious—even super religious—unless their beliefs affect me in a negative way. I won’t get into my own spiritual convictions here, but what I will say is, when alcoholics and addicts in recovery get together to offer support to one another, it’s a powerful thing. Is there prayer involved? Sometimes. But I’ve never been ordered to pray. Is God involved? For many people, yeah. But the concept of God is very different from one person to another, which is why this topic is so touchy. I will say this: I do not belong to any sort of "cult." Hell no. Given my personality, if I can’t be the leader, I’m not going to join at all. So if you're going to make any assumptions about me, let it be based on those other parts of my personality because, like with anyone else, those are really the things that dictate who I am.

Images: Will Folsom/Flickr; Giphy(4)