In movies and TV shows, there’s one thing you will always notice about Alcoholics Anonymous meetings:
Before someone speaks, they always introduce themselves by saying “My name is [name], and I am an alcoholic.”
The entire room then responds, “Hi [name].”
“I Am an Alcoholic” and the Importance of Self-Identification
There is no rule in AA or any other 12-step program that says you have to identify yourself as an alcoholic, addict, etc. It’s simply a tradition that originated from the first AA meetings.
When AA first formed, they had to decide who they would limit membership to. They didn’t want to exclude anyone who they could help, but they also recognized that they could only help other alcoholics. So, when new members introduced themselves by saying “I am an alcoholic,” that meant “I am one of you.”
Identifying with the Group
One of the reasons 12-step programs are so effective is the value of one alcoholic helping another, as this little story illustrates:
An alcoholic fell into a hole and couldn’t get out. After a while, a doctor walked by. The alcoholic asked him for help, so the doctor wrote him a prescription. But he remained trapped, and then a priest walked by. The alcoholic asked him for help, so the priest said a prayer. But he still remained trapped until another alcoholic walked by.
When this alcoholic immediately jumped in the hole, the other said, “What are you doing! Now we’re both trapped in here!”
The second alcoholic said, “Don’t worry. I’ve been in this hole before. I know the way out.”
When you say “I am an alcoholic,” you’re letting everyone around you know that you’re an alcoholic. That means that other alcoholics are qualified to “jump in the hole” and help you. It’s not that doctors and priests are useless—they’re very important—but only an alcoholic knows what another alcoholic goes through. And only a recovered alcoholic knows the way out.
What You Are vs. Who You Are
Many people think it’s unhealthy to constantly say “I am an alcoholic.” Why constantly remind yourself of this depressing fact?
Actually, it’s not so self-defeating. Identifying as an alcoholic helps to distinguish between what you are and who you are. Most alcoholics come into recovery ashamed and regretful of what they’ve done. They think of themselves as liars, cheaters, and criminals. Yet, that’s not who they are.
In recovery, you get to re-discover the true you. You’re more than just a low-life alcoholic. You can be an artist, an athlete, an intellectual, or a businessperson. Free from alcohol, you can be anything.
Keeping Yourself Grounded
Finally, even though you find out who we really are, you must always keep in mind what you are, have been, and always will be: an alcoholic.
If you are an alcoholic, then there’s nothing in your drinking history to suggest that you can ever drink safely. The moment liquor touches your lips, everything you’ve worked for in sobriety disappears. That’s why everyone in AA always opens with “I am an alcoholic.” They must always remind themselves of what will happen if they relapse.
Whether they have one year, ten years, or fifty years sober, it’s all the same. They’re still one drink away from oblivion. When you recognize that, you will never have to go back to it.
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