The ‘why I am like this’ category

That Word

October 31st, 2023


365 days screencounter


I had scheduled some bloodwork at my doctor’s office and had to fast until 9:15 a.m., so naturally, that was the morning I woke up at 4 when one of my daughters crawled in bed with us. I never fell back asleep, so by the time I made it to the coffee shop at 9:30, I had been awake for over five hours, most of which had been spent trying to convince my daughter to go to school. A hostile phlebotomist soured my mood even further, so when I finally slid my laptop out of my bag to start my work day, it seemed fitting that it was utterly dead.

As a freelancer, three years is my record of owning a laptop. Periodically, I manage to destroy the MacBook my entire life revolves around. In this case, I realized all too late that my glass water bottle had leaked, water pooling in the slick nylon bag, sealing in the moisture overnight. When I peeled open its titanium cover, mist wafted up from the keys.


I’m a veteran of this kind of calamity. I’ve had laptops stolen; I’ve had them get finicky and death spiral for no reason; I’ve spilled an entire Dunkin’ Donuts coffee on my keyboard on a plane and spent the rest of the flight watching the screen fizzle out. Where once, a circumstance like this would have sent me to bed, despondent, this time, I simply blinked. I have shifted to storing everything in the cloud, so I lost nothing but my dignity (and a lot of money, albeit tax deductible). Which isn’t nothing, but it’s better than my dignity, my money, and my files.

After the come-to-Jesus with a Mac customer support agent, I had a week to wait for a brand-new machine to arrive. In the meantime, I had a backup laptop to use, thank God. It was tiny and old and didn’t have my settings saved, but it would work in a pinch.

This is all scene-setting. When you have to look up all your passwords to get into your apps and accounts, you get an amusing tour of your past. I tend to choose unique passwords based on how I am feeling on any given day, and so when I signed up for an online sobriety support group a little over a year ago, I chose the long password string:


The person who chose that password had secretly grappled with sobriety for a long, long time. The person typing it into a sign-in box now has not had a single glass of wine, nor a sip of a cocktail, nor a glugg of beer in a year. 

The other day, a friend asked me about my sobriety. “Are you an alcoholic?”

“I am not an alcoholic,” I answered. “But I am not NOT an alcoholic.”

In fact, the word alcoholic bothers me. It divides people into two too-neat groups, when in fact, alcoholism is a spectrum with a vast amount of granular deviation. 

The simple and inconvenient truth is that alcohol is poison. Some people can tolerate poison better than others. Some people — like my husband — get tired when they drink and find it not worth the headache to overindulge.  Some can take it or leave it. Others can drink and drink and drink. Most people I know have at least some sort of relationship with alcohol (or pot, or whatever it is) they’ve formed over the years. Maybe you are one of them.

I have one friend who has lost everything and alienated virtually everyone he knows and spent time in prison and almost died in a wreck because, as he shrugs, “I really like wine.” I have a friend who owns a business and parents three children and is popular and beautiful and loved. She periodically leaves me messages that she feels bad because she drinks too much for her own comfort level. I once lived with a man who could drink whiskey and smoke cigarettes and weed all night long and get up and go to work the next day at his own business, claiming he had never had a hangover but that sometimes he would feel “tired” in the morning. His best friend, a beautiful, kind artist, died of liver disease at fifty. 

When I lived with this man, it was not infrequent for me to be so hungover I would have to lie in the bath for hours trying not to retch. Ridiculously, I was a yoga teacher at the time. Never once did he say, “Hmm, you drink too much.” In fact, there are not very many people in my past who would have pointed a finger at me.

I don’t know if I am an alcoholic, and it doesn’t really matter anyway. 

I don’t like the word alcoholic because it tries to turn something murky and abstract and dynamic over time into a definitive label — a disease, even — where I believe I have sovereignty over my choices. I’ve never had a DUI, thankfully. I have never been in a car accident because of my drinking or lost a job or ruined a dear relationship. I do know that when I drink alcohol — ever, even a little bit sometimes — I don’t feel clear. 

Just before I stopped drinking, a parent friend I was just getting to know asked me, “Do you drink?” I remember feeling called out by the very question, and as I usually do when I’m under pressure, I panic-blabbered in a way designed to sound authentic while masking the true nature of things: “Yeah, I often have a glass or two when the kids go to bed. But sometimes I end up drinking half the bottle.”

Sheepish, but also not true. In early October of last year, I was drinking an entire bottle if I poured a glass. There, now you know.

You can’t get enough of something that almost works.

Alcoholism, if you’re inclined to use that word, is deeply embedded in my genes. It is in my upbringing. It’s normalized in my social circles and in our culture in general, obviously. I had taken many breaks from drinking in the past, and they were all fine. But they always led me right back to where I had started. Something wasn’t right. When I looked inside myself, when I was really honest, when I didn’t try to put words on it but instead tapped into the feeling of my relationship with drinking, it was ominous. I felt trapped in it.

Over this last year, as I have given up drinking that beloved glass (or four) of Sauvignon Blanc at night, I’ve struggled with how to define my sobriety. I have felt this need to be able to explain it to people who ask, “So, why did you stop drinking?”

I stopped drinking because life is terrifying and hard and I want to get better at it so I can actually handle it. 

I have learned many, many platitudes about sobriety over the last year, some of them silly, some actually very useful. One of my favorites is this:

Being sober is hard. Being hungover is hard. Pick your hard.

The way I got sober was 25% conviction and 75% community support. That community, in my case, was the Luckiest Club. On a whim, last October, I signed up for a three-month program called the Sober 90*. At the time, I wasn’t planning on quitting drinking forever, but I wanted to take a structured break. 

During the first meeting, the host, Laura, warned the nearly 300 people on the screen that “This group is not for you if you’re just trying to take a break from drinking.” I nearly quit right then and there, but I had already paid the money and decided to just wing it. This was a decision I did not regret.

Now, as I celebrate my year anniversary of sobriety, I come back again and again to that word, clear. It’s a type of sovereignty over myself I have never had before. It hasn’t made everything better, but it has made one thing better. 

Which reminds me of another spiffy meme I recently saw and loved, despite The Word:

Alcoholism is giving up everything for one thing.

Sobriety is giving up one thing for everything.

. . . . . . . . .

Some of my personal favorite sobriety resources include:

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