I was going to write about something else but this stupid thing keeps doing the broken record routine in my head. (do people even know what a broken record is anymore?). I’m not clear in this moment what this has to do with recovery but I’m sure I’ll get there eventually.
Here’s the story. I went to an event last week called “Let’s Talk About Your Drinking”. It was an exploration of drinking culture and the event description made it abundantly clear that its focus was on moderate drinking, not “problem drinking” (in my case, I don’t know what the difference is) and how it negatively impacts our community. The first question that comes to mind is: Why are we talking about this? If it’s ‘moderate’ why is it ‘negative’ when we’re not talking about problem drinking? We all chased our tails on that most of the afternoon but that’s for another blog.
At the beginning of the event we were assigned to tables, the participants were a mix of NGOs, mental health and addictions professionals, the alcohol industry, researchers, government folk and community members. I sat down at my table and was asked to introduce myself. Here’s the thing, I hate public speaking even when it’s a small group of people. I get nervous, I get sweaty, my face goes red, I usually choke on my own tongue and my mind tends to go completely blank. I’m an absolute star at networking events.
The other thing to know is that over the years I’ve been paying close attention to the language we use around addiction and recovery. When I was new at this recovery thing I identified myself as an ‘addict’ then I switched to a ‘recovering addict’. From there I changed it to ‘in recovery from substance abuse’ and now I say I’m ‘in recovery from substance misuse’ or just ‘in long-term recovery’. Words are powerful and the changes that we are seeing in our language are born out of a need to reduce the stigma attached to them. It’s a beautiful thing, and again, fodder for another blog.
So when I introduced myself to the table of my peers that was made up of three women and one man, my shaky voice (instructed by my blank mind) said something to the effect of “I’m in recovery from substance abuse”. It’s pretty much the only term that no one uses anymore. It was a complete brain fart. As soon as it came out of my mouth I winced. But if 8 years of Royal Conservatory Piano has taught me anything, it’s that you don’t stop when you make a mistake, you just keep going. And so I did.
Once I had finished, the sole male at the table decided to correct my introduction and inform the group that, “we don’t use the term substance abuse anymore, it’s substance misuse.” Now I’m not sure why he felt the need to do that, it could have been that he wanted to make sure I didn’t go around using out-dated terminology in this crowd and it was meant as an act of kindness. But what my brain heard was “YOU HAVE NO RIGHT TO BE CALLING YOURSELF A PROFESSIONAL IN THE RECOVERY FIELD IF YOU CAN’T EVEN BE BOTHERED TO GET THE LANGUAGE RIGHT. YOU ARE A FRAUD!” Seriously, this is what was screaming in my head for the next three hours. I barely spoke after that.
Since that day I’ve realized how absolutely mind-blowing it is that I gave one small comment from a complete stranger the power to call in to question every bit of confidence I have in my abilities. And the pisser is that none of this has anything to do with him. As much as I’d like to blame the white, middle aged, male windbag for my shitty feelings about myself…I can’t. These are my feelings, I am responsible for them and if I deconstruct this, I know that my fear of being rejected, even by people I don’t know, is alive and well.
And here’s what this has to do with recovery (told you I’d get there at some point). The thing we all want most is real connection and the thing we all fear most is rejection. We go into isolation when we decide (consciously or unconsciously) that having connection isn’t worth the risk of rejection. One of the problems with isolation is that, in addition to not putting ourselves in the way of connection and creating opportunities for it, we are also losing our resilience for coping with rejection when it does happens.
Vulnerability is a muscle, you have to use it. I’ve been home all weekend doing reps.