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A Few Words on Words


A magnifying glass on a dictionary

Words hold incredible power. The words we tell ourselves, the words others use to describe us—these have the power to shape not only our day to day behaviors, but also our potential. After deciding to remove alcohol from my life, I had to then choose what label I would adopt. A label would surely be needed to explain this departure from mainstream society. I could either take an active role in picking one, or have one assigned to me.



So You’re Sober, Right ?

There are lots of words out there to describe people who have little to no use for alcohol. Sober, nondrinker, dry, abstinent, on the wagon, temperate, straight, teetotal, alcohol-free… the list goes on. While nondrinker and alcohol-free are rather specifically about alcohol, others mean different things in different contexts.


It’s these other meanings I have trouble applying to myself. In addition to a direction or sexual orientation, straight also means properly ordered and arranged, honest and fair, and not deviating from patterns or the norm. Honesty and fairness are values of mine, but I certainly deviate from what is usual or proper from time to time. In fact, I’d argue giving up alcohol is a strong deviation from broad social expectations.


Except for when it’s used to mean “not intoxicated”, sober applies the least to me. I am rarely sedate, grave, subdued in tone or color, and anyone that knows me well would laugh at me being described as “showing no excessive qualities of fancy or emotion”. Simply put, sober just sounds boring.


While temperate refers to moderation, a state of being not too far in one direction or the other, abstinent takes a much stronger stance in excusing oneself from a particular behavior completely. However, the dictionary defines that behavior as is one that is “wanted or enjoyable”, which is not something I can relate to these days. What’s the word for not doing something you don’t want to or isn’t enjoyable? Maybe… being authentic?



Take Back the Power of Labels

People need labels though, I understand. It helps to make sense of the world when we can put people into boxes. So if it helps to use one of these for me to describe my behavior, go ahead.


The only one I won’t accept is alcoholic. Ignoring the fact that medical industry uses the term alcohol use disorder instead, what both of these terms do is focus on the individual’s behavior, not the substance. When someone quits smoking, we don’t refer to them as a “cigaretteaholic”- we simply congratulate them on their healthy new lifestyle.


But for something like alcohol, where we know it harms us physically but cling desperately to headlines that claim otherwise, putting the blame on the person means we don’t have to look at our own behavior—it’s a “them” problem, not a “me” problem.


I am not saying that everyone who drinks alcohol has a problem. What I am saying is that alcohol is an addictive substance, full stop. Acknowledging this allows space to stop blaming and othering the people who become addicted to an addictive substance. Instead, we should focus on the substance itself and the importance we place on it in our society.

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Marci Rossi

Hi ! I'm Marci

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