I used to wish, really hard, that I wasn’t an alcoholic. I wished it back when I was drinking, and I wished it after I got sober. If a genie appeared and gave me three wishes, after wishing for world peace and an end to climate change, I would absolutely use my third wish to make myself not an addict.

With that disclaimer in place, however: There are some good things about being an addict.

For one thing, being a recovering alcoholic means you have a permanent excuse to get out of unwanted social situations. “Want to come to this party full of people you don’t want to hang out with?” No, sorry – I’m a recovering alcoholic, it’s too triggering. “Want to go out for drinks sometime?” No thanks – I’m a recovering alcoholic, you see. “But there won’t be any drinks services at this party.” Uh … even being around large groups of partying people is a flashback situation, toodle-oo!

Being a sober addict means that you get to accomplish something every day. Even if all I do all day is lie around in my pajamas (which I try to do as often as possible), if I don’t drink, I can go to bed having accomplished something to be proud of. It’s good for self-esteem.

People with addictive personalities have a very easy time forming habits. It’s my experience that the brain of an addict is primed for routine and constantly seeking soothing repetition. The trick is to give it good habits to latch on to. If I want to put more vegetables in my diet or exercise more, I just have to do it a few times on a regular basis – then boom, the dopamine, and my craving for the dopamine, kick in.

Addicts can be intensely loyal and devoted. I’ve heard it said that substance addiction is a relationship – in many ways, a substitute for a human relationship, but a relationship nonetheless. (That’s one of the reasons addictions can tear apart relationships: It’s hard to be partnered to two things at once with equal devotion.) A therapist once told me that the opposite of addiction wasn’t sobriety; it was connection. When an addict forms that connection with a human, instead of wine, it’s intense. All or nothing. When I love someone, boom, that’s it, I’ll do anything for them.

The things that make me an alcoholic also make me dogged and stubborn. When I want something, I get it. When I decide I want to accomplish a goal, I pursue it with the single-mindedness of a bloodhound that’s caught a scent. I do not give up. I do not let things get in my way. I used to put a ton of mental energy into figuring out where my next drink was going to come from, and making sure I had a constant booze supply, and hiding all of the above from my family.

Now that energy is focused on getting other things done. Reading. Writing. Being good at my job. I’m not a particularly ambitious person, but I recently got pre-approved for a small mortgage loan. Why? Because I want it, and when I want something, I crave it, and when I crave something, I can move mountains.

Being an addict gives you an instant connection with other addicts. A complete stranger can say to me, “I’m an alcoholic, too,” and I immediately know their deepest, most personal struggles and triumphs, because they are my own. I mean, if I walk into a room with glamorous movie star Jamie Lee Curtis, we’re instantly going to have something in common. It’s like a secret society, although I’m not up on all the lingo quite yet. I ran into a couple not long ago who read my columns; while we were chatting, they said, “We’re friends of Bill, too.”

They meant “Bill W.,” a co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. I thought they were talking about Bill Nemitz, Portland Press Herald columnist. We continued chatting for several minutes under this misunderstanding.

But the greatest gift is the empathy. Not sympathy – anyone can do that – but actual empathy: the ability to know what someone is feeling because you’ve been there yourself. It’s hard to understand addiction if you’ve never experienced the chemical catastrophe of an actively addicted brain; from the outside, it can just look like a series of bad choices, rather than the complex and misunderstood physiomental disease that it is.

Hopefully I will continue to find more upsides to living with addiction, because the condition is fairly incurable.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: @mainemillennial


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