Addiction is a leveller. It makes no distinction along the lines we construct to distinguish ourselves one from the other. Rich, poor, male, female, celebrity, unknown, and regardless of ethnicity or sexuality, addiction does not discriminate. We share stories about celebrities going into rehab, “coming out” as having an addiction, cutting back for fear that their alcohol consumption is getting beyond their control. These stories demonstrate that we are all the same, we have something in common, can share the limelight with successful icons of film, theatre, television and the performing arts. We even claim them as our own and mourn when they die from overdose or alcohol related disease. Once we have woken up to and accepted our own addiction we no longer wag our fingers at others in the same boat.
Prior to our own awakening, in our hedonistic days of playing hard and drinking harder, these same celebrities were our heroes, looked up to for their ability to party the night away and still show up and glow, still manage their hectic celebrity lives in front of the cameras, facing the world, like the analogy of the swan, gracefully gliding on the surface and paddling for dear life beneath. When they fell from grace and disappeared from the public eye, dropped by their agents, contracts torn up and left to fend for themselves, for my own part I know that I pitied them but ceased to relate. They had taken things too far, allowed the fame to go to their heads, not their fault but that wasn’t going to happen to me. When they died my heart went out to them and I carried on drinking.
It’s quite extraordinary how much we have in common, those of us who have a dysfunctional relationship with alcohol. When we share our experiences with other Soberistas we discover that most of our friends are also heavy drinkers, which can lead to problems in a friendship group when we stop drinking, withdraw from the shared social lubricant that had united us for years. We cultivated friendships with people who would not look critically at the amount we drink, who kept us company into the wee small hours of the morning, and even those whose excesses we could compare favourably with our own – we’re not as bad as them we whispered to each other when they were not around.
We all developed strategies to keep our working lives on track, manage childcare, do everything socially acceptable in order to portray a certain image to the world, an image that is least likely to draw attention to our drinking. This is particularly pertinent to women who are, as Ann Lloyd (1995) put it, “doubly deviant, doubly damned”. Damned for not living up to society’s image of the good wife and mother, and damned for letting her drinking get out of control. Let’s face it, we’ve all done it, witnessed a woman in a beer garden, at a party or social event, drunk with a couple of children in tow, and we’ve frowned to ourselves, we would never do that, we don’t drink in front of the children. Making comparisons is a necessary part of the territory, the need to convince ourselves that we are “not that bad”. The trouble is that the hardest person to convince of this is our own selves, it is after all our own standards by which we are judging ourselves. When alcohol is in control we fall below our own standards in many ways and on a regular basis.
The problem is that whilst “enjoying a drink” is perfectly acceptable, normal and encouraged by the wider society, having a problem with alcohol is frowned upon, denigrated, elicits a punitive response from those who manage to keep their drinking under control. This has the effect of making us feel guilty and ashamed. We are reminded on a regular basis how much our problem drinking is costing the taxpayer, the burden we present to the NHS, with no mention of the financial contribution our drinking makes to the public purse. You might be forgiven for thinking that if alcohol was at fault for our inability to control it then it would be banned. The same argument was made about tobacco too. The more likely truth is that if either of those substances were to appear on the scene today, in 2018, knowing what we do about the damage they cause to physical and mental health (not to talk for the moment about our spiritual well-being – but we will return to that!), they would be classified and stringently regulated.
The addictive nature of alcohol is well documented (see for example: Why is Alcohol so Addictive at https://drugabuse.com/library/alcohol-addiction/). According to Eckhart Tolle, addiction is characterised thus: “… you no longer feel that you have the choice to stop. It seems stronger than you. It also gives you a false sense of pleasure. Pleasure that invariably turns into pain.” (The Power of Now)
As previously noted, addiction does not discriminate any more than cancer, coronary heart disease or HIV. It is therefore a leveller. Addiction to alcohol is widespread precisely because it is so readily available and has such a central role in our culture. We use it to celebrate and commiserate, and increasingly just to get through normal everyday life situations. Although our life circumstances may differ enormously, as members of Soberistas we discover that there is much more that unites us than separates us. We are connected to one another through our shared struggle to rid ourselves of a poison that makes life miserable and unmanageable, that tears at our body and soul, but that ultimately through our combined efforts can be brought under control, we can reclaim our lives and live them to the full.
Set yourself free.
 We didn’t all drink hard and play hard, of course, many people always drank in secret, with no less guilt or shame.
 There are a range of ways to describe people who encounter problems with alcohol, I don’t have strong feelings one way or another and use a variety of different depictions interchangeably.