The Power of Labels

Are you an addict? How does it feel to think of yourself as an addict?

Perhaps you experience a sinking feeling of shame when you hear yourself say, “I’m an alcoholic”.

We live in a society that loves to give labels. Years ago I was lying on what appeared to be my death bed at the time. I had no idea what was wrong with me. I had rapidly lost so much weight that I was skin and bones and had a host of painful symptoms that were increasing daily.

The gastroenterologist known as ‘the best’ told me that I clearly had something far more severe than irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), but after a myriad of tests and finding no cancer, diverticulitis or other clear markers, he wrote “IBS” on my report. He admitted he didn’t have an explanation.

IBS is one of those “we have no idea” diseases. Many doctors admit that this is why children who can’t quite be diagnosed have “pervasive developmental disorder” or depressed and exhausted people are called “chronic fatigue.” We MUST give it a label even when we don’t know what it is!

But how is it useful to give names and labels to our problems? Whether or not you have a name for your condition, does giving it a name help you to turn it around? What does it actually do?

In my case, I would have died had I not sought the real cause of my illness. In fact I was following in the footsteps of my father who had died of the very same undiagnosed disease. Even more profound, I eventually discovered that my disease, labeled celiac, was diet correctable, as long as I had the discipline to change my relationship with food.

In this instance the label was important information to point me to the cure. Next, the cure and my work to achieve it was the ONLY focus I needed. The label itself was no longer useful.

So, must an addict call him or herself “addict” forever? Or, can it simply put him/her on the path to a cure, where the cure and the fullness of life becomes the focus?

We associate labels with a deep meaning which can be very disempowering and it leaves us wondering whether or not it’s something we can overcome. The label and prognosis influence the recovery we believe possible. Labels can also distract from the person. We tend to see the label first and the person second. 

It’s very important to understand that behind the labels there are very concrete core beliefs. Those core beliefs alone can make the difference in your recovery.

Unraveling core beliefs makes the difference in recovery.

This is not to say that you can’t call yourself an alcoholic or drug addict. The question is: Does it serve you toward your desired outcome of sobriety?

It’s very different to recognize and admit: “Alcohol and I don’t mix well together”, compared to labeling yourself an addict. The important thing is not to build an identity that there is something inherently wrong with you because you have this label called “alcoholic” or “drug addict”.

If you can say “I’m an alcoholic” while thinking, “Alcohol and I don’t mix well and this means I need to stay away from drinking,” that’s supportive. However, if you say “I’m an alcoholic,” and you think, “there is something fundamentally wrong with me,” that’s self-destructive and it will make it just about impossible for you to recover to full balance and lasting sobriety.

Once you’ve admitted your failures, your weaknesses and moved into solution-mode, it is time to drop the labels and fully embrace recovery—trading in old destructive mind garbage for clear, joyful channels of creativity and life purpose.

Do you remember at some point in your life having an obsession with someone? We often called it being infatuated. You simply were obsessed with that person and were constantly thinking about them. Eventually you matured yourself and grew beyond it. What if you could think of your challenge with alcohol and drugs in the same way? You have an obsession and you are ready to mature yourself beyond it. Become conscious of what you believe and pay attention to where you will end up if you keep believing what you believe. This will change your life.

Jean-Francois Benoist

PS: We have a private Facebook Support Group that you could join for sobriety support, help and inspiration. Request to join the group HERE.

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