If I may congratulate myself on anything beyond staying alcohol-free, it would have to be the ongoing willingness to consider new ways of understanding myself and others. This is HUGE shift for someone so deeply invested in the need to be right in order to feel safe.

There were a lot of inconsistencies in my beliefs about, well, everything. I don’t know that I’ll ever get it completely right, but at least I’m curious.

We feel so sure we know ourselves, and that what we feel is real, and what we know is true.

One thing I wrestled with was how to define myself as a sober person. It took a long time to shed the shame attached to quitting alcohol. I did not want the stigma of a label. On my first day of sobriety, I chose the name “UnPickled” for this blog to indicate that I was changed in a way that couldn’t be entirely undone. (Also, I hadn’t lost my sense of humor!)

Over time, I came to see that shame and stigma comes from inside of us. It is a power that we give to ideas and images. Books like I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t) by Brene Brown, You Are Not So Smart by David McRaney, and Attached by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller help shine a light on patterns of human behavior that commonly cause problems and what to do about them.

When we realize that we are internalizing judgements about ourselves, thinking we are bad people because we have done or said or thought things we feel badly about. I’m a bad friend/parent/spouse/human because I did _____.

In 300+ Bubble Hour interviews, I’ve heard other people fill in that blank spot with all kinds of things: passed out in the driveway, embarrassed my kids, cheated, stole, wet my pants, betrayed a friend, failed at work, hurt others, hurt myself. I definitely had my own file of evidence against myself, proof that I was certifiably terrible.

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Sometimes it actually feels better to beat ourselves up that to forgive and nurture.

What if we came to realize that the behavior is a sign of pain? What if we bravely lifted to rock to see what’s underneath? What if we stopped punishing ourselves and started healing and changing instead?

Yes, we have to take responsibility for our actions and make things better. But then we have to let them go and stop using them for self-identity. This is how we free ourselves up to grow.

I don’t shy away from the word “alcoholic” anymore. In some circles, it’s useful because it describes a way of thinking and living as a sober person. But I also recognize that other times, the word can elicit confusion or negativity. In those cases, there are better ways to describe my life: alcohol-free, in recovery, sober.

I’m in control of the language I choose to use, as well as the way I see myself.