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Coming Out as a Recovering Alcoholic

For many recovering alcoholics and addicts, getting sober can signal the end of a double life. We’re no longer juggling a host of barely-remembered lies and secret stashes of our drug-of-choice. This is often liberating; living one life is so much easier than living two.

But telling people can be complicated.

The stigma of addiction is real, unfortunately. Some people still believe addiction is a problem of the weak-willed or privileged, basing their opinions on celebrity DUIs and highly publicized rehab stints. And because many people still don’t understand addiction, “coming out” as an alcoholic/addict can seem as daunting as getting sober.

When I work with people who are new in sobriety, I’m often asked: “Why do I have to tell people that I’m sober?” I remind them that they never have to tell anyone.*

But they probably will get asked. Drinking alcohol is socially accepted and encouraged in many adult social situations. I often hear: “You don’t drink? Like, at all?”

When I went to my first big social event sober, a family member suggested that I explain my abstinence as due to another health condition I have. That would have been a perfectly reasonable excuse, but I decided to tell people instead that I wasn’t drinking anymore because I had “met my quota.” I got some strange looks, but most people just laughed and didn’t ask questions. Some people did inquire further, and I was surprised at how comfortable I felt explaining that I was sober and intended to stay that way.

In most situations, this has since been my go-to response.

Now that I wasn’t drinking, I didn’t care if my family and friends knew I was an alcoholic. And subconsciously, I think I wanted my social circle to know, to help hold me accountable. The more people who knew, I figured, the better chance I had of staying sober.

But not everyone in my world needs to know my history. It took me much longer to “come out” to my co-workers. Some still don’t know, simply because it hasn’t come up. Personally, I’d be comfortable walking around with a sandwich board that says “I’m a recovering alcoholic/addict.” But why should anyone care?

It can be reassuring to have sober friends in your social network but tricky questions can arise: Do you want to post your sober anniversary?

Most people don’t publicize their personal lives on a sandwich board. That’s what Facebook is for. This is another area where sharing about recovery can get complicated. Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter offer us a place to project a controlled, singular version of ourselves. It can be reassuring to have sober friends in your social network but tricky questions can arise: Do you want to post your sober anniversary? What about articles relating to sobriety (like this one)?

I waited until about a year ago, when I had five years of sobriety under my belt, to share my recovery on Facebook by posting an article I’d written. Until then, I had reserved that information for people who I believed would support my recovery unconditionally. But at a certain point, I realized I just didn’t care.

Turns out most other people didn’t, either. The article got some “likes” and comments, mostly from other people in recovery, or people who already knew. Then life went on as usual. I now realize most people are too busy worrying about their own lives to care about whether I drink alcohol or not.

Coming out as a recovering addict is not necessarily an all-or-nothing decision. Some keep it a secret for years, whereas others immediately tell everyone who will listen about their exciting new journey of sobriety. But I would recommend starting with just a few people—the ones you trust the most. Once you surround yourself with people who know about and support your recovery, you can decide who (if anyone) else you feel like sharing that information with. It’s up to you.

*There is an important exception to this statement: You should inform your doctor or health care provider that you are sober. Not only can they offer you confidential support and advice, but they should be aware of your history of addiction when giving future diagnoses and treatment suggestions.

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