My voice was shaking as I stood at the podium and stared across the sea of faces. A friend had asked me earlier in the week to share my story as part of a panel at a local recovery center and I was starting to wonder if I had made a mistake. It’s one thing writing about my story from the comfort of my own home, but standing in front of others and sharing the details of my life is a different thing all together. But, at this point in my life and recovery, if something makes me nervous or uncomfortable, it’s usually a sign I need to take the plunge and face my fear – this was one of those times.
As I began to speak, my body relaxed and I continued to share my story with those in the room. I was the first to speak and was relieved when I was finished. As the other speakers followed me and shared their stories, I started to feel a dangerous sense of superiority. Instead of focusing on our similarities, I started focusing on our differences, which is a really bad place for this alcoholic to go. Out of four women and one man, I was the only one who hadn’t spent time in jail or prison; I was the only one who hadn’t gotten a DUI; I was the only woman who hadn’t had her children taken away from her; I was the only one who hadn’t been addicted to pills or meth; and I’m pretty sure I was the only one sitting up there with a graduate degree. So, immediately my mind went to, “Wow, I was never THAT bad,” “Boy, compared to them I really had it together.” HA! And, this people is the crazy, insane mind of an alcoholic! And, with that I found all those old judgments, insecurities, fears and better-than-yous coming back in vengeance – the same stuff that made me drink.
And, from there, for only a slight second, my mind went to that very scary place where I started questioning if I really had been THAT bad. And, then with one quick interaction with the woman sitting next to me, I remembered that, yes, I was THAT bad. During a short break we had started chatting and I joked that my story looked pretty uneventful compared to hers, and she looked at me and said, “But, yours is just as important because not everyone is going to relate to mine.” No, I hadn’t been arrested or spent time in prison, I hadn’t gotten a DUI, I hadn’t lost my children, I hadn’t lost my marriage, I hadn’t been addicted to pills or meth – YET. None of those things happened to me, but my life, as I knew it, had become completely and totally unmanageable because of one cunning and baffling reason – alcohol. And, I’m convinced that if I hadn’t stopped drinking when I did, those things would’ve happened to me – and maybe worse.
As I sat there and looked out at the other men and women in the room with their family members sitting by their sides, I wondered if anyone related to my story. Did anyone see the similarities or were they simply focused on the differences? Because, until we can stop looking at our differences and instead focus on what we have in common, there will be no hope.
After the discussion was over, and I was signing out, two women came up to me and thanked me for sharing my story. They saw themselves in me and could relate to much of what I said. While both older than myself, they found the similarities and it gave them hope.
Despite my initial reservations, I plan to keep going back and sharing my experience, strength and hope.
I’m here because others chose to share their stories with me. It’s my responsibility to pass it on. That’s what we do.