“Congratulations!”

It’s day #670 on this particular journey. I’m writing today about something that probably doesn’t apply to most alcoholics. Either in recovery or not, this is something that is all Dave. That being said, we’re a group of similar people, so who knows!

Getting sober has taught me a million things about myself. Among those things is that I don’t do well with compliments. It’s paradoxical because I want people to like me, (everyone wants that!) I want people to approve of me and think I’m interesting. But for some reason if someone says something complimentary of me it makes me uncomfortable. Even my partner, Elli, complains that she can’t just say something nice to me and not make me uncomfortable! Again, it’s a paradox; all I want is to make her happy and proud of me, but god forbid she express these things!

I’m sure deep down there is some reason for this, but on the outside people think that I’m being insincere. Because I’m an extrovert people assume that I want nothing but praise and attention. But this isn’t the case. So you can imagine that when people say “Congratulations!” in reference to my sobriety. It really brings out the smart ass in me. I fantasize about saying “What in the hell are you congratulating me for? All I did was get myself out of a hole I’d dug for myself; and jumped into willingly!” But what an ass I’d be to be rude and disrespectful to someone clearly being kind. But it’s these mixed emotions that come from years of drinking away my feelings, thoughts and emotions; I am still learning coping skills.

I sometimes feel like congratulating someone on their (hard earned) sobriety is akin to congratulating someone who has just finished serving a prison sentence on finally being released. They were just being punished for being bad. They got what they deserved and eventually were allowed to return to society… But then it isn’t. Obviously getting sober is an incredibly good thing. I feel that way because I have a great deal of trouble being kind to myself. For most of my life I’ve hated me. Really hated me. (I still do, but I work on it now.) So when people are saying congratulations on getting cleaned up I feel a lot of “I don’t deserve this” emotions. Ultimately deep down I probably was punishing myself with my addiction. For what? Who knows!

There has been a steep learning curve in life for me over the past 607 days. Really steep. I am still learning how to cope with life. I’ve been fond of describing my reasons for drinking like this:

I drank to forget the bad days. I drank to celebrate the good days. I drank because it was a Tuesday.

I’ve had to learn how to understand people by their motivations. I’ve been learning how to treat people with the same respect I treat my actions. I don’t judge myself on my actions, I judge myself on my motivations. So, rather than give someone hell for daring to say something kind to me (drunk logic, eh?) I’ve learned to understand what they are really saying: “I’m happy you aren’t sick anymore”. That phrase blows my mind. This takes it from a comparison to a criminal serving time, to a person coming out of hospital after an illness. In a word: supportive. Being a drinking alcoholic makes you a shitty person at the best of times, but I think even “drunk Dave” would have been okay with someone being happy that I’d recovered from an illness and that’s exactly what this is.

I never really understood why alcoholics would call alcoholism or addiction ‘a disease’. A disease was an illness that wasn’t earned, but simply happened. To me, addiction was someone letting something get out of hand as a result of their own stupidity. To a certain degree, I still see it that way. But now I’m not silly enough to think there is any sort of “letting” something like addiction get out of hand. A drinking drunk sees their drinking as ‘the norm’ but once you’ve gotten out of that life you can easily look back and see that you were suffering from a disease. You had an illness, that being the alcoholism. You had a ‘cure’ (which is sadly very inaccurate) which is the alcohol. In a lot of ways there are parallels with an illness in the traditional understanding.

In either case it’s hard to imagine not feeling for someone in that position. One of the worst parts of being a drinking alcoholic is that everyone else seems to figure it out before you. So they see you’re ill. They aren’t unsure, they know. Often times you’ve stepped on their toes. You’ve been nasty, hateful or otherwise unpleasant. You may have been a drain on them emotionally or financially. They have seen the toll and probably paid it, too.

When these people say ‘congratulations’ after you’ve sobered up they are seeing you become healthy again. They are seeing the illness end. So the Congratulations really does become “I’m happy to see that you aren’t ill anymore.” It’s a beautiful thing! So I take the congratulations from anyone who offers them, now. I try and be happy and take it as what it is: support. Love. Help and hope.

My name is David and I can not drink today. That’s about as far as I’m willing to go.

Thanks for reading. I wish you another 24.

Sincerely,

A friend of Bill

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