Kelly Fitzgerald is a writer based in Southwest Florida whose work has been published on sites like the Huffington Post, The Fix, Ravishly, BuzzFeed, and SheKnows. She is best known for her personal blog, The Adventures of a Sober Señorita, where she writes about life as a former party girl living in recovery.

Alcoholism, addiction, addict, alcoholic – we’re constantly bombarded by these stigmatized labels. It’s no wonder we’re hesitant to call ourselves any of these things. The media tells us one thing, science tells us another, and what we feel deep down in our souls is something else. Deciding if we have a problem if hard enough.

If you’re like me, it could take you years to decide if you’re actually an alcoholic or not. Depending on how you drink and use drugs, who you surround yourself with, and if denial plays a role, admitting you’re an alcoholic may take a while.

wine-addicaidThen when you decide you want to change your life and give sobriety a shot, emotions are at an all-time high. Eventually, you’ll have to explain to your loved ones why you chose sobriety and what caused you to make such an important decision.

Figure out what feels right to you first.

It can take time to figure out what you feel. In my case I was in denial about having alcohol issues for a long time. I was convinced that I could control my drinking habits on my own. The last year of my drinking I was completely miserable because I was attempting to regulate my drinking without success. I would try things like no shots, no liquor, only 2 drinks, only 3 drinks, etc. and with each new game I played, I would fail again. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t just get this “drinking thing” figured out. I beat myself up about it. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me, and yet I still didn’t believe I was an alcoholic.

I believed that alcoholics were like the stereotypes that are portrayed in the media. The homeless 60-year-old man who lives under the bridge and drinks beer out of a paper bag, or the person who wakes up shaking needing a drink to get through the day, or the person who drinks home alone in their house every night. Because that was the idea of an alcoholic I had in my head, I didn’t believe I could be one, because I didn’t do those things. I thought I was a care-free party girl who just knew how to have fun. I would go days without drinking. I never drank in the morning. I was able to keep a job (for the most part). I was convinced these facts meant I was not an i an alcoholic?? - AddicaidWhen my moment of clarity came in May of 2013 and the pain was too great to go on like I had been, I knew something inside me was different. I was willing to admit I shouldn’t drink or use drugs anymore, but I wasn’t willing to admit I was an alcoholic until a year into my sobriety. Did the label at the time matter? I don’t think so. If you’re not comfortable with the word “alcoholic” that’s ok. You might change as you go along in your sobriety and adopt it later, or you might not. Either way, you can still stay sober.

Figure out how you want to approach the conversation. If you want to tell your loved ones that you decided to quit drinking, go for it. If you want to tell your loved ones you think you’re an alcoholic, I encourage you to do that as well. If you’re looking for help, I urge you to ask for it, whether it’s at an addiction treatment center, Alcoholics Anonymous, or any other recovery group.

Be honest and gentle.

After you feel comfortable about what exactly you’re going to say to your loved ones, you must decide how you’re going to approach them. First, I think it’s important that you know that you should tell your loved ones. When addiction has us in its grip, we often live double lives, we lie, and it can be hard for us to be honest and take responsibility for our actions. When we become sober or decide to start on a journey of recovery, we can often feel overwhelmed by feelings like guilt, shame, and remorse. That’s why it’s imperative to be honest with those around us, especially our loved ones.

When I say be honest and gentle, I don’t just mean with your friends and family, I mean with yourself too. It’s easy to be hard on yourself after realizing you need to stop drinking. In some cases, the last thing you want to do is admit that fact to your loved ones. But this will be the jumping off point to your new life. This will be the groundwork that will be the foundation of your new life. Telling your loved ones that you’re an alcoholic shouldn’t be a punishment or a shameful act, it should bring you relief.

addiction-therapy-help-addicaidWhen I told my friends and family that I needed to stop drinking I was terrified, but I was met with love and support. Once I got over that initial fear, I knew I had done the right thing. I was honest with myself and those around me. I was surprised to find that everyone who loved me just wanted me to be healthy and happy and if sobriety was the way to do that, then that’s what they wanted for me.

My best advice is to be true to yourself. Be authentic, real, and honest. Don’t let fear get the best of you. After all, that’s what it has been doing all along. But now that alcohol has been removed from your life, the fear should subside too.

[ by Kelly Fitzgerald. Find Kelly at The Adventures of a Sober Señorita.]

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