I recently celebrated one year of sobriety: 365 days of putting one foot in front of the other, 365 days of wanting to drink, and 365 days of not drinking. But even when sober, I am an alcoholic. I am an addict. I needed and still need every bit of compassion given to me.
As I read a Twitter feed started by @mattieboyyy, I took a sip of my first cup of coffee from a mug with SOBER AF printed on the side. Mattie points out the hypocrisy of people who throw support like confetti to famous addicts, Demi Lovato specifically, but throw judgment and hate to those of us who hide in the shadows of our shame and not behind body guards and publicists.
Lovato is getting some negativity for her relapse because people are asshats, but she is also getting a TON of public support. We need to channel that kindness to everyone dealing with addiction, because sadly we unknown folks tend to get the stigma-laden negativity.
Many forget that addiction affects people—actual human beings with real feelings. We are worthy people with stories and emotions. We are flawed and broken, but we’re not lost causes. We can be put back together. There is good in all of us, but we need help. We need people to let go of judgment and fear. We need kindness.
When I admitted I didn’t have control over my drinking, I realized willpower wasn’t my problem. I had to give up the idea of control. And that felt impossible. When I finally accepted my alcoholism, I felt stripped of my humanity. I didn’t feel like I had a disease, I felt like I was the disease. I felt as if I would only ever be seen as an addict.
I was fortunate though. At the center of my fear and discomfort and self-loathing was also support. I had friends, family, therapists, and even online acquaintances to counter all the lies my brain wanted me to believe with truths I am still working on believing.
There is a misconception about addicts, the millions of us not making movies or albums or headlines. Because when people hear alcoholic, they often imagine a drunk, homeless person, an abusive spouse, or someone with a criminal record. When they hear drug addict, they imagine worthless junkies who are also drunks and who deserve to die of an overdose. People assume an addict’s goal all along was to create a life of pain and self-destruction. But we are everywhere, high-functioning but hiding; successful but in pain. Many people already love an alcoholic, but may not see the disease. They just see someone who likes to drink a lot.
Tiffany Jenkins, the badass woman behind Juggling the Jenkins, writes and vlogs about being a mother and recovering addict. She is on a mission to help other addicts and to help those around us understand the disease. She addressed the negative comments Demi Lovato was getting when the world found out she overdosed on heroin. She was clear that it wasn’t just about Lovato. She addressed the stigma around addiction in general. She asked everyone to spread love instead of hate because after the dark days of substance abuse, life is possible. There is hope for everyone.
When I started drinking in high school, it was to get drunk. I didn’t care about fitting in. I wanted to feel my brain swim. When I smoked weed, it was to calm my brain so I could focus on school work or my art. I would spend all night reading, painting, or drawing, finally relaxed enough to let my hands work without shaking.
When I went to college I preferred weed because it calmed my anxiety. My brain was and still is a sea of mental illness and addiction magnified by childhood trauma and sexual abuse. Over time, even with therapy, medication, education, financial support, and loving friends and family, I still turned to alcohol. My goal was never to hurt myself or anyone else. It was not to kill myself or self-destruct. It was to feed my addiction. My goal was to numb my feelings, to substitute real emotions with shame and guilt, and to keep the anxiety of not drinking away by drinking as much as I could.
My DNA, my predisposition to addiction, complicated by the effects of PTSD and OCD led me to my dark days of secrecy and shame. Addiction is not a choice, but I started to learn that with honesty and support, I can choose not to drink. This decision is really fucking hard some days. And the times I failed before I made it a whole year sober were the most shame-filled and embarrassing moments of my life. I was able to keep trying because I had people openly believing in me and loudly rooting for me.
When famous people admit their substance abuse, head to rehab, die from their addiction or by suicide because of their struggle with addiction, the public rallies in support of them, offering sympathy, even empathy. Poor tortured artist who just cracked under the pressure, right? They cracked alright, but they cracked the same way all of us addicts do. Addiction does not discriminate. Famous addicts are no better or worse than us everyday ones. They are not any more tortured. Their stories should not be romanticized. Their darks days should not be more palatable. Famous addicts are not more deserving of acceptance because they are presented in a prettier and more glamorous way.
I am so glad Demi has the support she needs, but if addiction doesn’t discriminate, neither should our outpouring of love for all addicts. I held myself accountable for my addiction, but the people who supported me held me up. A sober life cannot be led without the gift of compassion and kindness. Addiction can feel hopeless. You can offer hope by holding out a hand that leads us out of the darkness.
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