Unashamed Alcoholic -Turning Shame into Freedom.Guest Blog from Becca Atkinson
Link to Becca’s podcast - https://theunashamedalcoholic.ca/podcast
I’m Becca, and I am an alcoholic. Does that make you uncomfortable? It made me uncomfortable for a long time. The word “alcoholic” – it’s a word loaded with assumptions, stereotypes and negative connotations.
Recently, I shared my story of alcoholism without really giving it a second thought. Actually, that isn’t true. I had thought about it for a long time, I just didn’t know how one went about sharing something like this or if I even could share something so personal and, from my perspective, shameful.
When I was online that night the other week and saw all the words of encouragement about Ottawa Senators player Bobby Ryan who had admitted his own battle with alcohol, I thought, “damn it, I am proud of my journey too” So I hit that “post” button fairly impulsively and went ‘public’, linking my name to a letter-to-the-editor I had written (Thank you, Bobby). In the letter I very clearly said: “I am an alcoholic”. There was no more skirting around it. No more trying to keep it casual with “Oh I don’t drink” or “not for me tonight” or “I used to drink, but I don’t anymore” (read: I WAS fun, I promise!)
Only after my story went public did I start to think of any aftermath. It was mostly stupid things like “will I ever get a date now that this is out there?”. Though I know, I know, of course I wouldn’t want to date someone that doesn’t accept me for who I am. It created this “well, it’s out there” mentality. There was no going back: I had been completely open and honest about something I had kept secret for years. Save for a few close people, no one had ever heard me say “I am an alcoholic”. Sure, many people knew I didn’t drink. Some of those people had even known me as a drinker. But I had never outright said I was an alcoholic. I had been embarrassed, ashamed, worried about being judged. But why? There are many, many people in the world with addictions or who are in recovery.
Like many people, I felt shame in my alcoholism. Like I said, that word itself is riddled with undertones of disgrace and assumptions of weakness and failure. The idea that you are less than because you can’t control yourself like normal people. While I may have bought into that for a portion of the three years that I have been sober, recently something began to shift. I started to question why I felt that I needed to keep quiet about something that took courage and commitment. Why I felt shame for something that wasn’t my fault. Why I was hiding something that had ultimately helped make me a better person.
When people are proud of an accomplishment they want to share it. Why couldn’t I shout from the rooftops about overcoming something I had spent years fighting. I was happy and successfully sober- so, why the secrecy? I wanted to break that stigma, to change the misconceptions and stereotypes around what an alcoholic looks like. To show people that you can be an alcoholic AND be a happy, successful, fun person. It wasn’t all doom and gloom, nor a constant struggle of craving alcohol. The opposite, in fact. I wouldn’t trade a thing for booze. I love my life now and that is completely due to being sober.
Part of me hesitated for a moment before going public in thinking about how this could impact my kids. Would they be made fun of at school about this some day? Will they be ashamed of me? I considered not moving forward and then I thought: no. That is exactly the opposite of the message I want to send. I want them to see that I am no longer ashamed and that I am proud of myself. I want them to understand the many faces of addiction and learn not to judge a book by its cover. I hope this could teach them empathy and compassion for others.
Looking back on my drinking days, I find it ironic that I could be belligerently drunk, day drink, or be horribly hungover, and all that was always somehow more acceptable than if I were to say “I have a drinking problem.” Flaunting that you need a drink because of the kids or buying into ‘rosé all day’ , is acceptable and expected, especially with the “mommy drinks” culture we have. Sobriety is what shocks people.
So, what I hadn’t told many people in person, was now on radio and in print. I don’t know why but for some reason, going extremely public was easier than telling people I am friends with or work with that “hey, I’m an alcoholic”. I just thought, well, they may hear this or read about it or they may not. Either way, so be it. Regardless, this way I didn’t have to have individual conversations. I just let it go out to the universe. It was a relief and a freeing sensation.
I enjoyed having shared my story immensely, though I couldn’t put my finger on why. Then I realized it: I had finally owned something that had felt like a shameful burden for so long. I OWNED IT and I took the shame out and instead I took pride in it. I refused any longer to be made to feel like it was something I needed to be embarrassed about or to hide.
The more times I listened to or read my interview, I felt an incredible sense of happiness and joy- for both myself and for anyone else listening who could relate. I would no longer let the word “alcoholic” embarrass me. I would take it and show people that while I do suffer from this, I am still a happy and healthy mom, sister, friend, employee, and daughter. I am successful in my story. I may be an alcoholic but I am also proud of who I am now because of it. I wouldn’t change anything because if I was still drinking, I would still be that selfish person I was for so long, trapped in a cycle of burying feelings and avoiding dealing with anything.
The added bonus of going so public rather than just sharing with a few close people?
A number of strangers messaged me with notes of encouragement or shared their similar personal stories. They thanked me for my honesty and courage to come forward. It made me feel more connected than ever and no longer alone. I suddenly felt more welcomed and more understood. Perhaps because I am now able to share my true self, unburdened by this weighted secret. I can finally be honest about a huge part of me and my life.
My name is Becca. And I am an alcoholic.
A bit about Becca -
My name is Becca and I am an alcoholic.
I've been sober for close to four years but I never spoke about my alcoholism because of the shame and stigma which surround it.
Well, it's time to change that. "Alcoholic" is not a bad word.
I am proud to say "I'm an alcoholic" because admitting that has changed my life for the better.
Once I went public with my story, I realized how good it felt to be honest. Saying "I don't drink" is true but it's not my truth. I want to be able to openly say "I'm an alcoholic" without shame.
I launched The Unashamed Alcoholic podcast in late 2020 with the goal to spark conversation and change minds about alcoholism, addiction, and sobriety. I hope to encourage others in recovery to proudly share their stories of successful sobriety.