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On a number of occasions I’ve been asked by friends about how to determine whether or not they have a drinking problem. Many of them have expressed concern about the label, “alcoholic,” with good reason. It carries a stigma. It conjures up images of unshaven men in ill fitting clothes drinking from a paper bag in a back alley. It is a label of the problem not of a solution.

Now, I needed to accept that I had a problem like anyone else who enters recovery. Step 1 is critical. It’s the only one that you have to get 100% right. But even though I owned the label “alcoholic” in my early recovery I struggled with it.

Today I refer to myself as a person in long term recovery. I don’t reject the past but I don’t wallow in it either. I believe we become the stores we tell ourselves. I tell myself the story that I am in recovery because that’s where I want to remain. I want to focus on the solution not the problem.

When someone asks me a variation of the question, “Am I an alcoholic” I ask them to put that question on hold. I don’t think it’s the right question. Here are the three questions I have them ask themselves:

  1. Am I happy?
  2. Am I healthy?
  3. Am I free?

I know that when I was in the depths of my addiction I was not a happy person. Everything felt closed off. The world was small and I was afraid. I hated myself and what I’d become.

My health was in the toilet at the time. I frequently had bouts of diarrhea. I carried all manner of medications, baby powder, and wet ones in my briefcase because I never knew what ailment would hit when. I had pain in my right side under my rib cage. I had a mysterious bout of hearing loss in my left ear. I had symptoms of nerve damage in my left arm. My triglycerides were high, well over 280. I was concerned that I wouldn’t live to see 50.

And I was in prison. Not actual prison but a prison of my addiction. An emotional prison. I rarely went out socially. I rarely exercised. I rarely hade friends over. I never left the house after dinner because I was too drunk. I was stuck.

Today things are different. Today, I am genuinely happy and content in my life. I find joy in the small things and I relish time with my wife and son and our friends.

My health has dramatically improved. I’ve lost 29 pounds and my triglyceride are now down below 190. I look different and I feel different. Better. Well. Healthy.

And I am free to do what I want when I want. I no longer feel chained to my house. I no longer feel trapped in a life that I can’t escape.

I believe that anyone who has a problem with alcohol, if they answer these questions honestly, won’t be able to say that they are happy, healthy and, free. And if you can’t say these things because of your drinking, then you should probably reassess your relationship with alcohol.

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