You Don’t Drink?

“Words are important. If you want to care for something, you call it a ‘flower’; if you want to kill something, you call it a ‘weed.'” – Don Coyhis.

I want to begin by stating nobody owes anyone an explanation for their personal choices. I choose to do so because I was tired of continually hiding pieces of myself. This is a personal decision every individual must decide for themselves.

“What do you mean you don’t drink…ever?” Ugh! That question used to make my stomach tighten up in knots. I knew it would inevitably be followed by, “Why not?” Alcohol is the only substance we have to explain why we don’t use. I would become uncomfortable and shifty. I felt unprepared, uncertain of how to answer this question. But, saying, “because I am an alcoholic and drug addict” did not sit well with me. I am not these things; my addiction is a chronic brain disease I live with.

I was all too aware of the judgments and stigma from John Q. Public to follow after revealing that self-declaration. Sometimes I would try to laugh it off, tell people, “Oh, I am allergic…it makes me break out in handcuffs! Haha!” People in recovery know that comment was only meant as a bit of self-disparaging humor. But, I failed to realize the message I was sending when using that particular joke. John Q. Public hears, “I am someone who may be dangerous, probably has been arrested a few times, and I’m not trustworthy. Better watch your wallet!” This, of course, was not the image I was going for. It most certainly didn’t validate that addiction is not a moral failing. Thankfully, I was educated by others in recovery of another way to share my story. I was taught The Language of Recovery, a way to share my truth without shame or stigmatizing labels.

I noticed others being very open about their addiction recovery, not identifying themselves as members of a particular fellowship. That would break traditions. They spoke openly and appeared extraordinarily comfortable and confident while doing so. This got me curious. I had read their blogs and seen comments they posted on social media. I particularly noticed the words they used when sharing their experiences and the absence of familiar terms. Because of their example, I reached out to learn more. They told me they were a part of the new recovery movement, a social movement led by people in addiction recovery and their allies. The movement’s aim is to change public and professional attitudes toward addiction recovery. Breaking the stigma associated with addiction requires changing public perceptions, which means changing the language we use when we talk about it. Addiction is a medical condition, and the language used to describe it and those living with it should reflect that.

When I became a recovery advocate, I believed that I would be fighting against others’ stigma and misperceptions. I slowly realized how embedded the old languaging and thoughts were within myself. I began to see that I held some of these stigmatizing beliefs and spoke words and phrases that disempowered me and others. So for me, the first audience I needed to make an appeal for change was with me.

I decided to stop using phrases that diminish and demonize addiction and replace them with terms that speak to addiction’s true nature: this is a disease, not a moral failing. Using terms such as “clean” to describe abstinence insinuates that someone not yet in recovery is the opposite– “dirty.” This does not describe someone who is suffering from a disease who is worthy of recovery. Using the term “abuse” (drug/substance abuse, alcohol abuse) only reinforces the negatively held image. Think about it, what images, ideas, and phrases come to mind when you hear the word abuse? Making these changes took a lot of practice. At first, it felt awkward. I’d spoken those terms for so long, and others around me were still using them. But with practice, it has become a natural part of my speech when I speak about myself or recovery. Today, some even refer to me as “the language woman.” It’s a title I’m glad to have.

Finding my voice has been one of the greatest gifts I have received from joining the recovery movement. Now, when I am confronted with the question, “Why don’t you drink?” I am empowered to say, “I am a person in long-term recovery, and for me, that means that I have not found it necessary to use alcohol or other drugs since August 3, 2013. Recovery has brought stability to my life and to my family. It has allowed me to earn a master’s degree in social work and become a clinical therapist. Recovery gave me a voice and allowed me to work as an advocate. All of these gifts have allowed me to help others and to strengthen my community.”

I have found great strength in being able to share this truth with people. It has been instrumental in helping me let go of the self-imposed shame I had been carrying around about my disease since I was a teenager. Shame that I feel kept calling me back out to drink and use in an attempt to prove that I was not “one of those people.” Now, I speak out as “one of those” people with pride, as a person in recovery. I speak out because recovery has enabled me to change my life for the better. I must pay it forward and make it possible for others to do the same.


  • Precision guided Behavioral Health-Diagnostic Assessments. Individualized Treatment Planning
  • Psychiatric and Psychological Evaluation (where clinically indicated).
  • Family Counseling
  • Trauma Touch Therapy®
  • Intervention Program: Triage and screening of the client’s needs, a comprehensive clinical assessment, report writing, family consultation\counseling and case management\care coordination for placement in a compatible treatment program.
  • Coordination of Medication Assisted Treatment & Medication Maintenance Treatment (where clinically indicated).
  • Coordination of Primary Care, Health\Medical and Medication interventions, education and monitoring.
  • Group & Individual Therapy\education.
  • Relapse Prevention-Basic and Advanced utilizing the Gorski-CENAPS model. Design and integration of support systems that enhance wellness and recovery efforts.
  • Coping and Life Skills development.
  • Spiritual Exploration and Formation Counseling.