more than an alcoholic

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 secrettoo. 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. 

thank you for your outrage about the Stanford rape case

Outrage has gotten a bad reputation lately. I'm not sure that's fair. Sure, we shouldn't be fired up all the time. But? If we're never outraged in this world full of brokenness, then we're either heartless or simply not paying attention.

(That said, give yourself permission to not pay attention sometimes. If you need to step away from all media outlets from time to time because life hurts too much, you're not alone. Step away. Take care of you. The world won't suffer without your outrage. Promise.)

When outrageous events occur, outrage should follow. That's logical. Healthy. Good. Deserved. Meanwhile, if we can stay silent in the face of injustice, something inside us is woefully broken.

Lately the main topic of social media outrage is one million percent deserved. When news stories about a heinous crime lead with descriptions of how much alcohol was consumed and what a skilled athlete the offender is, that's not okay. When a judge handing down a shockingly short sentence on three violent felonies expresses more concern for the rapist's future well-being than the victim's, that's not okay. When the only truth teller in the room is the one who is still recovering from her trauma, that's not okay. When the perpetrator talks about wanting to address the drinking culture at college without acknowledging the rape culture, that's not okay. When the felon's father refers to the rape as 20 minutes of action as he excuses his son's behavior, that's not okay. When black criminals are identified in the press by their mug shots but it takes public outcry to get the white swimmer boy's, that's not okay.

When so much is not okay, outrage is the righteous and just and proper response.

I haven't shared a single post about this situation, though. So far, I've been silent. But I've been soaking in your outrage. It's been a gift, truly, because this feels personal to me.

I wasn't behind a dumpster. I didn't face my attacker in a courtroom. I couldn't speak with the survivor's eloquence until years later. I've never publicly owned this part of my story before now. I don't see any benefit to you or me in offering specifics, but let's just say that I identify with the brave girl in the beige cardigan in more ways than one.

Yes, I am a survivor of sexual assault as well.

I don't think we need to be inflamed by every topic of potential outrage in our Twitter and Facebook feeds. But this one has been so worthy of our outrage. And with each post someone has made, it's felt like you're not just saying that she is worthy of more than what she has endured.

I'm hearing that you believe I'm worthy of more than what I endured.

Other survivors are hearing you too.

And? We are thankful for your outrage.

And finally, to girls everywhere, I am with you. On nights when you feel alone, I am with you. When people doubt you or dismiss you, I am with you. I fought everyday for you. So never stop fighting, I believe you. As the author Anne Lamott once wrote, “Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.” Although I can’t save every boat, I hope that by speaking today, you absorbed a small amount of light, a small knowing that you can’t be silenced, a small satisfaction that justice was served, a small assurance that we are getting somewhere, and a big, big knowing that you are important, unquestionably, you are untouchable, you are beautiful, you are to be valued, respected, undeniably, every minute of every day, you are powerful and nobody can take that away from you. To girls everywhere, I am with you. Thank you.
— the survivor in the Stanford rape case

So, please, keep being outraged. Keep speaking up. Keep saying this is not okay.

Some of us can't speak out like the Stanford survivor did so powerfully, maybe not yet or maybe not ever. If you can and you do, your voice matters. I truly believe that righteous outrage can make a difference.

After all, rape is always bad. Outrage isn't.