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'But I Don't Want To Be an Alcoholic!'

09/12/2013 12:19 pm ET | Updated Nov 12, 2013

In the past week, three different people have made the same remark to me: "But I don't want to be an alcoholic!"

It's an honest plea. A desperate declaration of resistance. But it's also kind of funny. One, because they're saying to me —I don't want to be like you! Please tell me I don't have to! And two, because absolutely no one wants to be an alcoholic.

I sure didn't. During my active drinking, it was like a constant mantra in my head: But I don't WANT to be an alcoholic! I will NOT be an alcoholic! I REFUSE to be an alcoholic! Glug, glug. Don't say that yucky word! Eeeew! Get it off me!

2013-09-11-Fotolia_48559085_XS.jpgSure, I wanted help to drink less. But not help that would mean I'm alcoholic. Not help that would slap a label on me. Not help that would drag me kicking and screaming over the solid line that separates normal and good people from the underbelly of society.

At the time, I actually believed in that line. I probably suspected that part of my reaction was pride. But I didn't think of it that way. It felt like a very natural rejection of something I didn't want to be. And no one should have to be anything they don't want to be, right?

So when I sit in my living room with a woman who is afraid she's alcoholic and wants to quit drinking but can't think of anything she wants to be or do less—I'm torn between two responses.

The first goes something like this: "If you suspect that you might be an alcoholic, you don't have to adopt any label or join any club or call yourself anything you don't want to. The universe has no rule about these things."

The second goes more like this: "If you are in fact alcoholic, I doubt that you can find freedom without laying aside your pride, admitting the nature of your prison, and becoming willing to go to any lengths to get and stay sober."

For most of us, the latter scenario happens best in the context of a recovery community. Some people need treatment before they can get much out of meetings. Others need only to show up with an open mind and heart. But if history has proven anything, it's that most of us can't do this thing alone.

I suspect we weren't meant to. I think God designed us this way—to need each other. Not so he could embarrass us, but because a special kind of healing happens when we become desperate enough to become vulnerable enough to reach out for—and to—others who battle the same demons we do.

During all those years when I was praying for a private, discreet miracle from God—one that would spare my pride and let me go on my way saying, "Whew! Glad that's over!"—it never once occurred to me that he was holding out for a bigger, better miracle.

The one that allows me to say without a trace of shame today, "I'm Heather and I'm an alcoholic."