Hi. I'm Maggie, and I'm an alcoholic.
I said those words many times over the last 20 years. That's how long I've been sober, and almost how I've gone without talking -- or writing -- about it. Why is that? Well, for one reason, I've been busy.
In these last 20 years, I:
1. Well, got sober. Obviously. That was the beginning.
2. Applied for, was accepted by and graduated from one of the most prestigious journalism schools in the country.
3. Walked into a karate dojo and earned a black belt four years later.
4. Changed careers.
5. Hounded -- er, persuaded -- the editor of the local daily paper to give me a weekly column.
6. Met my husband.
7. Married him.
8. Had a baby.
9. Had another baby.
10. Wrote a book.
11. Wrote another book.
12. Wrote a third book.
So, yes, it's been a busy couple of decades, as compared to the decade prior to sobriety, which consisted of:
1. Getting hammered.
2. Waking with hangover.
3. Dragging ass to 9-to-5 job.
4. Leaving at 5 p.m. and starting it all again.
However, there's been another reason, I think, for this egregious lack of conversation about those earlier years. On some level -- well, actually, on a very conscious level -- I am ashamed of them. And I think that the concept of anonymity helps to perpetuate that shame.
Now, before you start getting all hatey on me, listen up: I support AA. It helped me get sober, and it helped me stay sober. Any group that offers support for someone trying to get healthier is a good group. But I think it's time for a name change. The "anonymous" part is maintaining the shame.
When I suggested this to a friend, a non-drunk, she was horrified. "But if it's not anonymous, people won't go for help!" she said. I hung my head for patience. "And therein lies the problem," I replied. "Why do alcoholics feel the need for anonymity? Because we're ashamed. Why are we ashamed? Because society told us we should be. We need to stop that. I'm tired. Shame is hard work."
And again in defense of AA, when the group was started in 1935 by Bill and Dr. Bob, alcoholism was shameful. According to "Understanding Anonymity," from AA-approved literature, "they knew from their own experience how ashamed most alcoholics are about their drinking, how fearful they are of public exposure." AA did what was necessary to get alcoholics through the door to recovery -- promised them no one would know who they are. And that assurance has been the backbone of many support groups ever since. That assurance is not the problem.
The problem is that we still feel the need for that protection. Knowing what we now know about alcoholism, there should be no shame attached. People should no longer need the protection of anonymity in order to seek help. My generation -- and possibly even my children's generation -- are probably too inured to the way it's been to stand a chance at total elimination of the shame factor, but future generations still have a shot. And maybe a place to start is our language.
Maybe the name could be changed to AIR -- Alcoholics In Recovery, or some similar phrase -- a phrase that doesn't immediately, right off the bat imply that an alcoholic need be ashamed. With the "promise" of anonymity in the title, alcoholics looking for recovery don't really have a chance to not be ashamed. Language-based theories including neuro-linguistic programming would suggest that the behavior can't be changed without a parallel change in language.
Do I blame AA for the perpetuation of the shame associated with alcoholism? Of course not. AA has probably singlehandedly done more for alcoholics -- including me -- than any other organization, belief system or treatment known to humankind. I'm simply suggesting that they use their power and influence to now take it a step further -- keep the support, keep the confidentiality, but lose the anonymity. Take a step toward eliminating the shame.
My behavior when I was drinking was shameful. My my actions were atrocious, my treatment of others was atrocious, and my treatment of myself was atrocious. It was not my proudest moment, that decade, for sure. But you know what? I was drunk. Now I'm sober, and through the years I've apologized to hopefully everyone I hurt back then. So I'm done being ashamed. And the first thing I'm going to do is introduce myself again.
"Hi. I'm Maggie Lamond Simone, and I'm an alcoholic."