Coming Out Of The (Recovery) Closet

by Amanda Hughes
Originally Published: 
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“Hello, my name is Amanda, and I am an alcoholic.”

The words so easily stated years ago in anonymous rooms have me wincing as I type them now. I feel naked and exposed as I reveal a part of my past of which I rarely speak. Now that I have years of sobriety under my belt, few people in my daily life really know I am a recovering alcoholic, and that is largely due to my reticence.

Initially my reasons for non-disclosure were justified: As someone fresh in recovery, I was too raw and vulnerable to worry myself with the inevitable judgement and stereotyping from others—or so I told myself. Now that I have some space and years from my past incarnation, I see that I just wanted to re-form myself in a new image. I desired to become a better version of myself, free from the low expectations I assumed others have of a recovering addict.

For so many years, my fight with my demons was so all-consuming that it was all I could think of, and all I could be. My other characteristics faded into the background. I found it deeply scarring and disconcerting to have my disease so strongly outweigh my personality. It is oddly defeating to arrive at an event and meet a mutual acquaintance for the first time, only to have them be oddly attentive and obvious in steering you far clear of the free bar.

It was obvious people knew about my affliction. And although there is no shame inherent in having a disease, I remember feeling reduced to the label of alcoholic, robbed of my identity. I remember feeling that I had a scarlet “A” on my chest, and that my alcoholism followed me around everywhere. Once I got sober and began recovery, I vowed it wouldn’t define me any longer and I would step out of the shame. I would be somebody else.

And I am. Now years sober and a whole new life started, I overcompensate with my level of dependability. It drives my husband nuts; I am fit to be tied if I think we might be two minutes late anywhere. Lord help me if I forget to send a permission slip to school with my son. I am a mom and an adult, and it is terribly important to me that I be on top of things, that I be a responsible adult, and that I be seen as such.

I think my years of underachieving inspired in me a desire to be organized and accountable so that nobody can ever question my together-ness. So that nobody could ever question my worthiness for these kids or my health or house or marriage or any of this embarrassment of riches. And that’s what I think it comes down to. I think my years of drowning in the bottle injured my self-worth in profound way. I wanted to put distance between who I was then and who I am now. I put up walls to protect myself, but as the years passed and injuries scabbed over, I never bothered to take the barriers down.

And I have betrayed a huge part of my past and strength—because my strength comes from my journey, and I walked through a deadly affliction and came out the other side. I should not be ashamed; I should speak my story out loud for all to hear. Keeping quiet implies there is something shameful to hide. I am starting to see I should be grateful and proud. I do not want my silence to perpetuate in others the same shame that I felt.

We all have our own redemption songs, and I guess this is mine:

“My name is Amanda, and I am a recovering alcoholic. I was delivered from the depths of hell. I found hope and beauty and a second chance at life, and no matter your struggle, you can too. Come join me in the sun.”

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