Let’s play a quick game of opposites, shall we? I’ll list a series of words, and you try to come up with the opposites. Just go with the first word that pops into your head.
So, if you’re like me, your opposites were weak, sad, thin, hot, full, white, off, dark, and drunk. Is that right? Let’s try a couple more…
Those were a wee bit harder, right? I came up with non-smoker, not-bulemic, not-suicidal, not-addicted. Yeah, pretty lame, I know.
I find it interesting that we don’t really have good words to describe people who are no longer smoking, no longer vomiting their food, no longer contemplating suicide, or are no longer addicted to (not-alcohol, not-nicotine) other things. But the word we use to describe people who are no longer drinking is frequently “sober”. I’ve even used the word to refer to myself, with pride even. “I’ve been sober for 6 months…”
But the scary part for me about the word sober is that the contrasted word that easily comes to mind, the word that will run through everyone’s head is “drunk”. I’m sober now. What was I before I was sober? Was I drunk? Not always. Not even a majority of the time. Was I “a drunk”?
I don’t like the idea that perhaps, under some people’s ideas of “a drunk”, I just might have been one. But that would only because I had told you the extent of my drinking habit. But I’m pretty sure that, without these blog posts, if you had asked 100 people who knew me well, if I was “a drunk” that only one would have answered with a tentative affirmative. And that one person is the one who knows me better than anyone else. So, ok, maybe I was “a drunk”.
But now that I’m not “a drunk”, if I tell people that I’m sober, they immediately assume that I used to be “a drunk” and whatever that image conjures up in their head. Then there’s the judgement that comes along with that mental image.
Contrast that with someone who hasn’t smoked in 6 months. Someone in this position might, tentatively describe themselves as someone who “quit smoking” or they might just say “I don’t smoke, or “I’m a non-smoker.” Although you certainly know what came prior to the “quit smoking” phase, I’ll wager the judgement you’d place on them for having previously smoked is way less condemning than the judgement you’d heap on “a drunk.”
“But alcoholism is so much worse than smoking” you may be thinking. And I might be inclined to agree with you. But is the ethanol addict any more to blame for their problem than the nicotine addict? That will likely be the topic of another post.
So although I admit that “sober” accurately describes my state of being for the last several weeks, I bristle at the contrast the word conjures up in the minds of people who know that I’m “sober”.