On Sunday, I had the opportunity to share my story in a women’s recovery meeting. These days I rarely get nervous, largely because of this blog. After all: I’ve already told you everything.
Ironically, I used to worry that my story wouldn't be enough about booze. Certainly, I'm an alcoholic - but with every year, my story becomes less about drinking, and more about relationships. How can I sanely show up for others? For myself?
In women's meetings, these questions fit right in. I can unapologetically share whatever is true. The question becomes not what can I share, but what am I willing to share? What can I share unapologetically? What am I ready to say aloud?
To say it aloud, I need to be a step ahead of my shame.
I’d spoken in this particular meeting before, and typically I’d feel self-conscious sharing the same story twice. But here's the thing: It's not the same story. For many parts of it, I'm only recently fresh off the boat of shame. My story now includes things that, until recently, I could scarcely admit to myself.
This contrast inspired me to make a list - first handwritten in my journal, and now here.
1. I'm an alcoholic. Obviously. Even in sobriety, it was sometimes hard to say this to people. I used to fantasize that others would think I wasn’t drinking because I just "wasn’t in the mood,” or maybe I just didn't like the taste. Maybe they’d confuse me for a moderate drinker or someone with a discerning palate. (Similarly: an anorexic dreams of being confused for someone who just “doesn't like food that much.")
I once asked a partner how he felt about me being alcoholic. It was indeed a trick question, and there was indeed a right answer. (Like I said: My problems are relational now.)
“I mean, it’s fine. I don’t love it; it’d obviously be better if you weren’t.”
I suppose he thought this was generous. After all, he didn't say he hated it, and he was brave enough to date me anyway. For me, however, that response wasn't good enough.
I now know it’s more than fine that I'm alcoholic. In fact, it’s better this way. The guiding principles of recovery, the straightforward structure, and the continuous community are a blessing, a clear-cut path to improvement.
2. My eating disorder. Admittedly, it was never quite so hard to talk about anorexia; the culture mistakenly awards those folks a sort of mystical superpower. I mean, yes, they’re mentally ill, and continuously preoccupied by the task of slowly destroying themselves, but their self control is miraculous!
Anorexics, however, typically struggle with over-eating too, both pre- and post- starvation. Like many others, those who starve often eat too much, eat to escape, eat instead of feeling. Until recently, that part felt shameful. After all, the culture is less forgiving of "emotional eaters." These days, I talk about it (maybe too much). These days, it's part of my story.
3. Loneliness. It used to be a huge point of shame that I hadn't found "my people," the elusive crew who simply gets me. I did and still do find it hard to make friends.
Indeed, that was one of the driving motivations behind drinking in college. It was about more than “fitting in" or "peer pressure," the dismissive and diminishing labels of parenting manuals. It was about something bigger, more timeless and existential; it was about belonging. Knowing what I'm doing this Friday is code for knowing who I am. And not knowing - loneliness - felt wrong.
I now know that loneliness is not wrong, and it doesn’t have all that much to do with friends, either. Loneliness is not about your Friday plans, how many texts you sent today, how many people want to know you. It’s about longing, that ache for connectedness that is actually fundamental to the human condition. To want - more, closer, kinder, deeper - is to be human.
I’m glad that loneliness is part of my story, and I'm glad now that I can say it out loud. After all, loneliness is the story for most people I love. Paradoxically, my experience of loneliness helps me to connect.
Shame has been a major player in my life, and thus recovery from shame requires at least two posts. Next time, we'll address three more. In the meantime, challenge yourself: What are you nearly ready to say out loud?