My name is Shannon, and I’m an alcoholic.
It’s been more than 12 years since I realized that: 12 years, 2 months, and 17 days, since my last drink, to be specific. I knew that night that I wasn’t living a life aligned with the values I professed, but it would be another few days before I realized I truly had a problem. I told my best friend almost immediately. It took a week before I told Lee, my fiancé at the time.
Tomorrow I’ll go to my first AA meeting.
I’m stable. I’m not going because I’m in rocky territory. I'm going because I think there's something powerful and sacred of being in community with those whose stories overlap with your own. I’m going because I always meant to go to meetings, even though I've never been to one.
Tomorrow that changes.
I don’t know if I’ll keep going after tomorrow. Lee will be with me this time. Our new church is just beginning to host meetings, and this first one is open. Anyone can come. Subsequent ones will be closed, meaning they’re just for those trying to live sober.
Next week, I’m planning to go by myself.
That’s fitting in a way. In the beginning, I had a lot of support. Newly sober folks need that. I had a therapist and a supportive fiancé and some phenomenal friends. Then I got married and moved to Raleigh.
And I tried to go it solo.
Technically, I stayed sober. I haven’t had a drink. But I kept my hard-earned sobriety a secret. Instead of celebrating what God had done in my life, I hid it. I kept my head down, kept my mouth shut, and kept myself away from alcohol. I was scared I would be defined by my addiction alone if I told anyone. I didn't want to be treated as fragile if I told new friends I had been sober for exactly 15 months on the day I moved back to North Carolina. So I kept quiet. And I was part of denomination known for abstaining from alcohol, so that fit. Most people assumed I was opposed to alcohol in general.
I’m not. Have a drink for me if you can drink in moderation. Seriously.
(And if it’s a margarita, martini, or glass of Riesling, all the better. Yum.)
This year, I switched things up. The morning of my soberversary, I texted some friends to let them know what the day was. At least one had no idea about my alcoholism until that text. I told my husband. (He knew, obviously, but I'd never made a big deal about the date so the specific day wasn’t on his radar.) I sat in my therapist’s office that morning and started by saying, “So, 12 years ago today I had my last drink.”
She congratulated me.
And I realized I wanted to do something special to mark the occasion, for the first time ever.
Lee and I threw together a date at the last minute. Our usual sitter wasn’t busy, surprisingly. I suggested we should go out drinking to celebrate my sobriety, because if you can't make jokes about addiction, what's the point? He nixed that idea. (Spoilsport.) Friends on social media responded to my request for date night suggestions. We ended up at Cowfish.
It felt good to celebrate.
Before March, I felt ashamed of the years I used alcohol to numb my feelings. This year, I’m smiling about the years in which I’ve felt everything so much more deeply. No shame.
I wanted to go public on that soberversary but I wasn’t ready then.
Now I think I am. (Too late now if I'm not, huh? Hi, interwebs. This is the week in which I share all my secrets, it seems.) And I’m heading to an AA meeting. I’m done with shame. I’m done letting the stigma of addiction close my mouth. This story, like the painful story I shared last week, is part of who I am.
But it’s not all I am.
Alcoholism isn’t my sole identity. It won’t be the sole identity of anyone else at my AA meeting. I’m still everything else you know me to me: A wife. A mom. A Christian. An advocate. A writer. A speaker. A Netflix binge watcher. A lover of coffee and bacon. (God, please don’t ask me to give those up.)
Whatever you struggle with doesn’t define you either.
I’m Shannon, and I’m an alcoholic. You’re you, and maybe you struggle with something in secret* too. And? That’s okay. It’s okay to not be okay. I’m more than just an alcoholic, and you’re more than your secret struggle too. Jesus was and is perfect. We don’t have to be. Thanks be to God.
*I hope I'm not overstepping here, but if you have a secret struggle too, might I encourage you to tell someone? Not to blurt it out, of course, but to be intentional and vulnerable with someone who has earned the right to hear your unedited story? Shame doesn't go away without empathy, and isolation only lets it grow in the dark places where it whispers lies in your ear. The internet isn't the place for most of us to broadcast our personal struggles - and my choice to do so has been intentional and calculated, both weighing the costs and choosing the words with care - but total silence doesn't lead to healing either. Find a friend or maybe a therapist. Life is too hard to do it alone.