Me identifying as ‘recovered’ isn’t up for debate. It’s a simple truth. But let's qualify it, again.
I am going to tackle a tough one in this blog.
I’d like to address an ongoing ‘’thing’’ that happens in sobriety circles which is one of the oldest, nastiest, and most disappointing conversations in the book ... and it pops up time and time and exhausting time again.
It’s this shitty thing we see when somebody (let’s call them ‘’Person A’’) in recovery resents another human in their circle of contact in recovery (let’s call them ‘’Person B’’) because Person A has found their way to freedom from the insanity and shackles of addiction. Ergo, Person B (still stuck and feeling low) refuses flatly to believe this thing is even possible, then declares Person B to be misguided / wrong / faulty / lying / or exaggerating… ‘’ (insert adjectives as you see fit here).
The ‘’recovering versus recoverED’’ debate literally sends people into a frenzy quicker than seagulls on a chip bucket.
It is a really unfortunate and miserable debate because at the end of the day the ONLY person who can know where they are at in their deepest heart of hearts is the person themselves. When you know, you know. It is that honest-to-God simple.
For others to presume to know a person better than that person themselves is an offensive, ugly, petty human behaviour.
I’ll do what I always do, and throw myself under the bus for illustrative purposes to drill down a little further.
If I had a dollar for every time I have been told ''it cannot possibly be, Shanna, that you no longer want or crave alcohol !!’’…. well, I sure would be a wealthy woman. And yet, it happens. Over and over. It never ceases to astonish me.
I’ve had people diminish me, run me down, and make sly remarks about me. Those who refuse to take my word for the fact that I no longer crave alcohol.
For the sake of clarification, I will explain, again, what recovered means to people like me: Recovered does not ever mean ‘’cured’’. People like me are not idiots. We know, full well, that if we ever picked up a bottle of grog again and had a crack at moderating that we’d likely end up deader than dead in record time....
What it MEANS is that we are simply the happiest and most free version of ourselves we've ever been. When we say we are ‘’recovered’’ we are referring to the fact that we are recovered from the insanity alcohol wreaked upon us daily. We are referring merely to the fact that we are no longer bat-shit crazy and suffering from the insanity we suffered when thinking about booze every single miserable day and fighting the uncertainty of ''am I an alcoholic??'' every single day.
It means that we aren’t living in that special kind of hell of being a dry drunk is. For the uninitiated; a dry drunk is a person who is ‘technically sober’ but is bitter about it and miserable to boot - and they cannot work out where they’re at. They are constantly questioning, struggling, and morally wrestling with themselves. Will I drink? Won't I drink? And so on.
Let me ASSURE you I have been a bitter and miserable dry drunk. I spent about five years there. And it was hell on earth. So; as I head towards my sixth year of a life in which I wake up and go to bed with peace in my heart (around sobriety) and ZERO desire for booze; well - heck: I feel reasonably qualified to identify and speak about the crystal clear difference between me as the miserable human I was (then) and the recovered alcoholic I am today (now).
Myself and those who’ve been fortunate enough to find this freedom speak about joy because we want others to know it happens.
And again; to use my own early recovery as an example – I will never forget the two kinds of people I came across: Person A, who told me with a smirk: ‘’don’t worry mate, your happiness will wear off and you’ll be back to miserable and struggling in no time’’ and Person B who said‘’ there is a wonderful life outside of addiction. It isn’t perfect – but it’s infinitely better – and it’ll require you to work your ass off to get there – but it is 100% possible.’’
I chose to listen to Person B, because Person A made me think that defaulting to my position of contemplating suicide was the best bet. I heard no joy, hope, or freedom from them.
For me, today, I compare where I am at to being in ‘’remission’’ from a deadly disease. I have a clean bill of health and I wake up and appreciate every single day – and I work my ass off every single day to ensure my health and sobriety remains a top priority. I am neither complacent, nor foolish about it. That doesn't mean it's all roses and fairies.
So please do not presume to tell me or others what my (our) truth is simply because yours is different.
The fact I am recovered is not up for debate. It’s my truth, and it’s as simple as that.
That’s the entire reason I spent 10,000 hours working as a volunteer to launch a national conversation and charity and put myself in the trenches day and night to bring an inclusive, hope-filled conversation to those who don’t understand that there is a way out. Because I, too, was once dubious about ''all this nonsense'' and now, I understand why others persisted with helping to educate me on the better life that was waiting.
We can't force anybody to be honest with themselves - but we can lead by the example of our own changed lives.
Let me say it again loudly for those up the back: life does not suddenly become all rainbows and unicorns when we cross the line. Life is still life. It is still hard.
Some of my greatest life challenges have occurred in the past five years of sobriety. But the simple truth is that not once during those yawning, cavernous dark times has the tiniest part of me even contemplated turning to alcohol over it. Frankly, I’d rather put a loaded gun to my head than go there again.
And that’s why I will remain vigilant, grateful and focused on a healthy life helping others while ensuring that my own sobriety is my own non-negotiable priority.
How others label or identify themselves is none of my business.
My business is in giving hope to those who have none.
Because if a trainwreck like me can recover – anybody can.
Again: me identifying as ‘recovered’ isn’t up for you to debate.
And believe me when I tell you that is not said with an ounce of arrogance, entitlement, or foolishness. It comes from the deepest place of faith, gratitude, and sincerity. Always. But I will stand by it and I will stand by it very, very firmly.
If that makes you so uncomfortable you want to take me down - then the problem does not lie within me, and I hope you can find your way past it.
Let us practice tolerance in ALL our affairs.
Yours in peace -
Shanna Whan is the founder and CEO of national charity Sober in the Country. She got sober in February 2015 after almost losing her life. She has not wanted nor thought about having a drink since the day she chose to admit she was an alcoholic and face the truth. She believes in miracles.