I’ve always been envious of those who wore sobriety on their sleeve from day one. You know the type: loud and proud. Maybe that’s you. I’m not completely anonymous, so I fall somewhere in-between advertising my sobriety and staying private. Lately I started wondering, “What am I afraid of?” Am I scared someone will find out that my big secret is that I don’t drink anymore, or is there a bigger fear? Is that fear justified?
I got sober five years ago. I started out at 12-step meetings, where anonymity is literally the rule. I assumed it was put in place to make us feel safe at meetings—like, if I saw a neighbor there, we would nod to each other discreetly from across the room and the fact that we saw each other would stay there. In early sobriety, privacy felt important because the act of seeking help from a group of strangers felt as shameful as my drinking.
Later, I learned AA put anonymity in place to protect the organization and those who seek its help. They don’t want self-appointed spokespeople talking up sobriety only to relapse later. It might scare people off to see that the program doesn’t work for everyone. So let’s assume AA has the anonymity rule in place to keep meetings simple and safe. But since I don’t go to meetings anymore, I don’t have to be anonymous.
I write a sober blog, and pretty early on I attached both my photo and first name. A year or so later, I linked to articles I’d written online using my full name, so my identity is far from secret. Other sober bloggers range from complete anonymity (fake names, no photos) to loud and proud with their full names and faces for the world to see. (These are usually the ones who go on to bigger things, like books and podcasts, suggesting there may be tangible reward to breaking anonymity.)
Then there’s social media. I never set up separate accounts for my sober blog because, well, I was lazy. The idea of keeping up separate identities in sobriety seemed just as exhausting as active addiction. Family and coworkers follow me on social media. My daughter and some of her friends do too. This is not the same audience as my blog, where readers are either in recovery, getting there or choosing to read anyway.
Social media recently became the perfect place for me to be more open about sobriety and how much it has done for me. For the past five years, I feel like I’ve had sobriety drop me off down the block so I can show up and be like “hey, I’m naturally this way.” While one could argue that sobriety is absolutely a natural state, a lot of work and change went into getting there and I didn’t do it on my own.
Then AfterParty Magazine launched their Share What Helps You Stay Sober Project for September, which is National Recovery Month. Staff, writers and readers were asked to post pictures or tweet about things that help them stay sober using the hashtag #APM30days. The hashtag is my favorite part because when I click on it, I find other people just like me. They share pictures of overstuffed bookshelves and fluffy cats and enough dessert porn to let me know I’m not alone with my not-so-little sugar problem. I recognize some of these people as pillars in the recovery community, but there are new faces too. I see quiet, normal people that I would never guess are in recovery, and I identify.
The beauty of breaking anonymity is that we also get to chip away at stereotypes and stigma, one share at a time. Over the years, I’ve had mostly positive or neutral responses from others when they find out I don’t drink anymore. But people can be unpredictable, and it was that wild card reaction that I was worried about. Since I can’t control what other people think, I also can’t let fear of being judged by them hold me back. Someone else may relate.
So what do my relatives and daughter’s friends and random coworkers really think about my new, still tentatively-out-and-proud sober posts? Just like in real life, I don’t always know. I’ve gotten the usual likes and comments, which reminds me sobriety is not a big shameful secret that I need to keep hidden like my old drinking habits. I may have surprised a real-life person or two. Maybe they think differently of me now. Maybe they wonder why I had to stop in the first place, imagining things worse than I actually did but never the things I wish I would go back in time to change, those awful but private moments that pushed me to stop drinking more than anything.
Sobriety has been my redemption. I’m not a religious person, but it saved my soul. Sometimes I think the answer couldn’t have been as simple as not drinking anymore, but it was for me. I want other parents to know that “wine o’clock” doesn’t bring the relief it promises and I want teenaged girls to know they don’t have to drink in the first place and they’ll be better and stronger if they build healthier habits. But, if anyone drinks and gets into trouble down the road like some of us do, they can always stop and find new peace and happiness. A lot of us have.
That’s why I’m posting fun pictures of trees, cats and dessert with a sober hashtag through the end of the month. It’s been fun appreciating all of the little things that keep me sober and seeing bigger forces at work. The other day I saw that one of my favorite sober bloggers joined Instagram. She told me she’d been inspired to sign up after hearing about the Share What Helps You Stay Sober Project. Just like how she turned me onto running and new ideas and introduced me to people who have helped me grow, I imagine her reaching a new audience and having fun with it. This is what really keeps us sober: each other.