3/13/2017

16 Years Sober and Why I Stopped Calling Myself an Alcoholic

16 Years Sober and Why I stopped Calling Myself an Alcoholic xAshleyNeese

Nine days ago was my sobriety anniversary and I forgot about it. This was a first for me as this has historically been a celebratory day in my life and the fact that I forgot felt incredibly significant. For the last week I have been reflecting on why this feels so important and how much my sober life has changed over the last several years.

On March 4, of 2001 I checked into a psych ward with the help of my parents and the following day voluntarily admitted myself into rehab for alcohol and drug addiction. At the time it was the most radical self care choice I had ever made. For years up until that point my life was all about how I could get out and stay out of my body as often as possible, preferably all of the time. I existed to hide in the shame of who I had become, the terrifying situations I found myself in, and the-obvious-to-everyone desire I had to disappear every day. Admitting that I wanted to live and needed help was such an honest action because the truth was, deep down I didn’t want to die, I just didn’t want to keep living in the spiral of darkness and destruction that encompassed my entire life. To this day, I am forever grateful that when presented with the opportunity to choose to try and live in this world I took it with out hesitation and never looked back.

Many of you know the bits and pieces of my recovery journey that I have shared on the journal. It has been very healing for me to be out regarding my experiences with addiction, choosing to have abortions, sexual assault, and what it means to live without any substances clouding my judgement, perceptions, and emotions. Gratitude doesn’t even begin to express the depth of how I feel knowing there is a safe place for me to share parts of my past with the single intention of letting you know that you are not alone. That has been and will continue to be the driving force behind my writing, teaching, and life.

So many things have changed around my recovery in the last handful of years and I have felt a little hesitant to share them here. A good indicator that I am onto something important with my writing is that I have some feelings around sharing it. The biggest changes that I have been sitting with as of late are my decision to stop calling myself an alcoholic/addict and saying that I am in recovery. After spending thirteen solid years in 12 step programs and spending the last 3 carving out a new path for myself, this too feels like a radical self care choice and one that I am ready to start embracing a little more publicly.

I teach my clients that the words we use and the things that we repeat to ourselves matter. There is nothing more powerful than the sound current of our own voice, it trumps what our parents, lovers, friends, and bosses say to us. It’s our own voice that calls the loudest to our spirit. Several years ago I recognized that I was no longer comfortable sitting in meetings saying the words, I’m Ashley and I’m an Alcoholic. While those same words were the medicine I needed years ago to heal through the process of naming, recognizing, admitting my struggles in public, and taking responsibility for many of my past choices, they no longer resonated with me. In fact, every time I said I’m Ashley and I’m an Alcoholic, I felt my body contract. It was in the moments of feeling into my body’s response to me saying those potent words, I realized it was time to let them go.

Often times my body knows what is best and it takes my head and blessed little ego a bit longer to onboard. While it might not seem like a big deal to stop labeling yourself as an alcoholic and addict to me it has been revolutionary. I stopped drinking a long time ago, I was young, desperate, on the verge of death, and needing a container to hold space for my healing. A.A. provided me with that and then some. It was amazing to be part of a secret society where I always had people to connect with and folks I could relate to all around the globe. I am in no way saying anything disparaging about A.A. or 12 step recovery groups, in fact I still pop into Al-anon from time to time because I’ve always needed more help navigating intimate relationships with people than with substances.

The thing is, I am not broken anymore. I am not crazy. I am not suffering and I have zero interest in connecting with people from that place. This has been a long time coming and far from an easy transition. I’ve had to release friendships I’ve had for ages as I’ve let parts of myself go that just aren’t who I am anymore. I’ve had to turn down the loudspeaker on the tapes that want to broadcast that I am still a fuck up. Because the truth is I never was a fuck up. I was in a tremendous amount of pain and doing everything I knew how to try and make it stop. In my first year of not drinking a man said to me that A.A. isn’t a bridge back to A.A., it’s a bridge back to life. I have never forgotten those words and know today exactly why he shared them with me.

Making the decision to claim my health, sanity, and joy has been the exact medicine I have needed these last few years. Relating to people from a place of strength, passion, creativity, and openness is far more powerful than relating from a place of pain, stagnancy, suffering, and unresolved trauma. This is something I have been meditating on a great deal, especially this past year. For a long time I thought that it was most healing to relate through the deep wells of our wounds and that relating through love and joy just wasn’t as profound. This is what I learned in A.A. and in the many other spiritual communities I have been a part of since. Our culture is so obsessed with trauma and being wounded. While I am 100% in support of doing our work to transform our traumas with whatever assistance we need, there is something to be said for up leveling the way we relate to people. This upgrade has never been more apparent than in my personal relationships and with my clients.

Sharing our stories from a place of strength is an art. Relating to people with vulnerability and courage takes practice. Naming our struggles, wounds, and traumas without dumping our stuff onto people takes us being resourced enough to be able to feel through the subtle differences between connection and off loading. Brené Brown talks about the power of waiting to tell parts of our stories until they are more resolved and I completely agree with her. Deciding to no longer call myself an alcoholic/addict has been one way that I move towards relating to people from a place of wholeness and it’s exactly this wholeness that has shifted the way I share about my life and on a larger scale.

There is something to be said for stepping into the light of no longer being broken. Making the choice to update my story and recognize that my alcoholism and addictions were deeply rooted in not loving myself which stemmed from a life of relational and some physical trauma. Working to heal the trauma through the somatic breath and energy work I practice and take my clients through has opened up my life to so many more possibilities than the limited framework of saying that I’m in recovery and needing to identify in that way. During my birthday soul reading in January with my dear psychic friend we had some good long, deep belly laughs (and I shed some big tears) about the fact that I am healed. I am whole. I am restored. I am joyful. And that it was time to invite even more of that energy into my life.

Will I still say that I am sober? Yes, I don’t have any aversion to that and now that being sober is trending like crazy it’s fun to say I’ve been doing this for a long time. Saying that I am sober doesn’t carry the same vibration as labeling myself an alcoholic or addict because the truth is I am not an alcoholic or addict anymore. I am healed. I choose to not drink or use drugs because I want to be embodied. I live for being present and I have no desire to check out in those ways. Getting to the actual root of why I didn’t feel safe in my body was the piece that ultimately healed my addictions. Not feeling safe in my body and growing up with intense relational trauma is what caused my addiction. I needed a way to cope and alcohol and drugs were  the remedy. I recognize this might seem like a radical statement but it’s really inline with what learned in A.A. about how alcoholism is a spiritual disease. Honestly I feel like ‘spiritual sickness’ is just another way of talking about trauma which is why we isolate and cut ourselves off. This feeling of being alone and like nobody understands you eventually leads to needing to self medicate if you don’t have any other tools or support.

My journey with choosing to not drink or use drugs has been one of incredible healing, profound learning, and it has taken me to places I never imagined I would actually get to. I am excited about what the future holds and am grateful that my parents showing up and offered me an opportunity to have a second chance at life. I know the decision to be sober is why I am who I am today, why I teach what I teach, and why I am so passionate about holding space for people to tell their truths. There are no mistakes. There are no accidents. We are constantly evolving, learning to love harder, and getting even more real with ourselves. No matter where you are on your path my prayer for all of us is this:

May we shine light on our darkness to illuminate the way for others.
May we radically accept our faults, limitations, and judgments with ease, grace and openness.
May we stay curious about each moment and willing to investigate the parts of ourselves that scare us the most.
May we be generous space holders for ourselves and our communities.
May we laugh loudly, shine brightly, speak with intention, and sing off key.
And may do our best to lead with love everyday.

x

 

Photo x Anaïs + Dax

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Comments

  • Christina Stack

    ✌💜. Thank you! I needed this!

    • ashley

      Oh you are so welcome Christina! Thank you for being part of this conversation. Sending love your way! x

  • Mar

    Happy anniversary, Ashley!

    I’m inspired every day by your strength and resiliance. Recovering from such things is no walk in the park. I read in a book last year that there’s a very tiny % of people who fully recover from addiction. You are amazing and I’m so happy I found your blog a few years ago. Keep healing dear.

    Love and hugs,

    Mar

    • ashley

      Hello Mar,
      Thank you so much for the well wishes and for being such a support. I really appreciate your thoughtful words and am grateful that you are part of this conversation. Wishing you a wonderful week! Lots of love. x

  • Kate

    Hi there Ashley. You are a beautiful person inside and out. I am so glad that I found you, you are an inspiration in so many ways.

    • ashley

      Thank you for taking the time to write Kate. It really means so much to me. Sending love your way. x

  • Marlon

    What a beautiful sentiment Ashley :) I attended a Yoga Recovery Philosophy workshop recently and I heard many amazing recovered women expressing your sentiments; that they felt words carry much power, and that addiction is a relationship. Identifying as an “addict” for their whole lives was not empowering. I find this movement really inclusive and hopeful; I have work to do myself surrounding addiction and part of my block entering into counselling or treatment was the language of committing to being an “alcoholic” forever.. Thank you so much for sharing.

    • ashley

      Thank you Marlon! Yes, this is exactly how I feel and it seemed like it was finally time to share that here. It was a struggle going through the process of re-identifying but it has made such a huge difference in my life. There isn’t just one way to be sober and the more inclusive our community is the better. Yes, the language around the label is simply not necessary or resonant for everyone. Healing is possible. Being recovered is possible! Thinking of you and sending love. x

  • Anne

    This post really crystallized for me a realization that’s been coming for some time. We put so much emphasis on recognizing our wounds and on healing, that we can be reluctant to recognize and celebrate when we’ve actually healed. I’ve never struggled with addiction, but I resonate with the feeling of being broken and wounded in various ways. The journey that started as an effort to heal those wounds isn’t over (and I think it probably shouldn’t ever be), but I realized thinking about your post that I am in a fundamental sense “healed” – whole, unbroken, happy and thriving. Thank you for helping me see this.

    • ashley

      Hi Anne,
      Thank you for being part of this conversation. I agree, we put a great deal of emphasis on our wounds and completely miss all of the healing that has transpired and the joy and freedom that are often part of that process. I appreciate you saying that you relate to the feeling of being broken and also the base line sense of being healed. Our work is never finished and that it is important to stay in gratitude for what we have accomplished. Your words mean a great deal to me and I am thankful that we are on this path together in our own ways. Sending love and light your way. x

  • Jessica riley-norton

    Dear Ashley,

    I hear you. I enjoyed this so very much, as I completely relate. I am blessed to have known this journey through AA, but I don’t like to say I am a recovering alcoholic. Amongst the many things I am, I thrive. I’m no long holding on to a life raft. Not only am I a strong swimmer, but I am having a lot of fun playing in the water! I carry the program in my heart, but my heart is whole. My tribe is people who don’t just survive, but thrive. There was a time I was just surviving, but I am so happy to say recevery isn’t limited to this space, and continues to unfold. We are all in some kind of recovery, aren’t we? Why does it continue to define alcoholics long beyond their last drink? And did you write the prayer/intention at the end? I love it!

    • ashley

      Hi Jessica,
      Thank you for writing and sharing your experiences here. It’s really affirming and powerful to read your words and connect with your strength. I love your distinction between surviving and thriving. I too am grateful that things are shifting and more people are coming out about their healing and recovery in a new way, without shame based language, and with much more inclusivity than I’ve ever experienced. And yes, I did write the prayer at the end. Feel free to use it whenever you want! Sending light and love your way. x

  • John

    Ashley,
    Thank you for sharing your soul with us all. Healing is owning our pasts and learning from our mistakes and moving through them. You’ve always been an amazing woman, I’m glad that you’re finally able to see it for yourself. Be well,
    Much love.

    John

    • ashley

      Thank you for the support and reflection John. I really appreciate your words and am grateful that you took the time to write. Wishing you a wonderful spring and sending lots of love your way. x

  • J.

    I can relate to this so much. 10 years ago, after many years of struggling with anorexia and bulimia and finally finding a treatment facility that met my needs, I left treatment. However I went kind of the opposite route that you did, as I wanted my eating disorder to be completely removed from my identity. So once I stopped doing all the “traditional” treatment things, I just never talked about it to anyone. Ever. In a way this was very healing for me, because I had been labelled for so long. “Anorexic”, “depressed,” “crazy”, whatever. I had just moved to a new town and it felt like the starting new was a gift. I didn’t have to identify myself as “sick” or “disordered”, so I didn’t. And that really helped me see myself as a whole person, not as a disorder I’d been labelled with.

    Unfortunately, this was also partially motivated by guilt and shame about my actions and behaviors. Even writing this comment, I didn’t want to use my first name because I have friends who read your blog, and many of my closest friends now do not know I ever struggled with an eating disorder. I can’t seem to ever find the words to talk about it, and I am at this point in my life attempting to sit with that shame and move past it. I have read some of your blog posts about your struggles with addiction and they have been really helpful to reframe my view of my own struggles. I still don’t ever want to be labelled as a “recovered/recovering anorexic”, but I aspire to be able to write/talk so openly and in the non-judgemental way that you do. You’re very inspiring. Thank you.

    • ashley

      Hello J,
      Thank you so much for taking the time to share your story here and my apologies for the slow reply. I am in the middle of moving and trying to keep up with a lot at the moment. Your willingness to be honest and vulnerable with what you went through here is truly inspiring. I am moved by your determination to not label yourself when you moved to a new town and really gave yourself space to start fresh. I also completely understand where you are now, uncertain about how to talk in depth to your friends about what you went through and how you are reframing your struggles these days. I hear you 100% about still not wanting to be labelled and I have a great deal of respect for your strength to not want to limit yourself in that way. It’s very powerful and I know many of us feel that way.

      Writing was the first life line I ever had and has gotten me through so much as a teenager and adult. Creative expression is such a potent healing tool and I encourage you to just start writing about your experiences more. Even if you aren’t ready to share them, put them to paper and see what wakes up in you. I have a feeling you have some important messages to share. Sending love and thank you for being part of this conversation. x

  • Alexandra

    Hi Ashley!

    I am new to your site and this is the first thing I read and I must say, thank you for your vulnerability in sharing your truth with the world. I have some friends who have gone through similar things and expressed the same sentiment. When it’s been so long and you have moved on from that phase in your life, it’s time to celebrate all of the things you are today. And if your body is physically clamping up when you say those words, it is very clear that you have done the work and do not need to identity as such. Some of my friends are in AA and I have noticed that there is almost a need to keep people in shame, that part I never got. There are no mistakes, everyone has a story, everyone has a past but it is the work you do today, the effects you make today that count. And no label changes that. Thank you for this, I will be sure to share it with my friends <3

    • ashley

      Hello Alexandra,
      It’s wonderful to connect with you! Thank you for being here and sharing. I love what you wrote about there not being any mistakes and that everyone has a story, I couldn’t agree with you more! Thank you for sharing your light and support with all of us, it’s clear you have a huge heart and loads of love to give this world! x

  • The Well Woman: an interview with Ashley Neese

    […] is a woman I admire. Her words are potent. She writes often of love, heartbreak, shame, sobriety, mineral therapy and the power of using one’s voice (among so much more). She shares wisdom […]

  • Corina

    Good for you, Ashley! I am not that familiar with A.A., but I always thought it’s strange saying that you’re an alcoholic when you are sober for quite a while. From my educational/teacher point of view it always sounded wrong and seemed like making people feel worse or less of themselves. So congrats to you for your next huge step and a big hug too. :-) Corina

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