(You may indeed by traumatized or have been abused or be the child of an alcoholic, but that is not all you are. It isn't even the main part of who you are, even though it may understandably feel like an overwhelming part of you at times.)
In addiction therapy, clients are often programmed to see themselves forevermore as addicts.
In today’s world, a person who hasn’t had one drink in 10 years will still call himself an alcoholic.
“Alcoholism is a disease,” they’ll tell you. “It advances within your body even when you’re not drinking. That’s why if you have a few drinks after several years of abstinence, you’ll get drunk much faster and feel sicker.”
Ooh, it all sounds so sinister!
The thing is, the reason why you get drunker and sicker after 3 beers rather than your former 8 is because you built up tolerance back then and needed more to get you drunk. Now your tolerance is way down (baruch Hashem!) and so it all hits you harder and faster. No disease, just normal body chemistry.
This Western idea of defining people by one negative trait, even when they do everything they can to resist that trait, is very damaging—because it just isn’t true.
YOU are not an alcoholic when you’ve been sober for 10 years.
YOU are your soul, which emanates from a special place in Heaven.
I mean, what do you think your soul was doing back in the Heichal Haneshamot (Palace of Souls)? Swigging back martinis? Nope!
I read about a former alcoholic who insisted on having one beer a day just for the discipline of not having a second beer. He did this for years and never got drunk.
Is he an alcoholic?
In Judaism, we have the idea of a “baal [fill-in-the-blank].”
“Baal” means “master of” or “owner of.” It also means “husband,” so it implies that you are married to the trait.
- A person consumed with pride is called a “baal gaava.”
- A person consumed with base physical desire is called a “baal taava.”
- A person addicted to lashon hara is a “baal lashon hara.”
Not someone who occasionally indulges in the above or someone who struggles hourly fighting the above. But someone who genuinely and regularly indulges in the above.
Yet there is the good side too:
- A person consumed with emuna is called a “baal emuna.”
- A person just bursting to the seams with good traits is called a “baal middot.”
- A particularly generous donator of charity is called a “baal tzedakah.”
- And a person who has repented of his sinful ways is called a “baal teshuvah.”
If you no longer drink yourself into oblivion, you are not an alcoholic, nor are you a recovering alcoholic. You are a baal teshuvah (at least in this area).
In fact, there is an idea in Judaism that true teshuvah transforms you into a new creation. Meaning that you yourself are a new entity of sorts, spiritually speaking.
This idea that you are always an addict of some sort, a recovering [fill-in-the-blank], or anything else negative is fear-based thinking. It means that you always have to be vigilant because you could come crashing down at any moment, no matter how much work you’ve done on yourself and no matter how much progress you’ve made.
All your efforts and investment are pretty much meaningless because you are an alcoholic.
Except that you aren’t.
Yes, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov said that this world is a very narrow bridge…BUT.
He also said in the same sentence that the main thing is to have NO FEAR AT ALL.
(In the interest of full disclosure, I actually have a lot of fears and anxieties. But my goal is to rid myself of them. NO FEAR is my destination of choice.)
Pride also plays a part in this. People overcoming a trait often take a great deal of pride in doing so.
But really, we should feel pleasure, not pride. It’s great to feel pleasure at overcoming your demons and to feel flushed with gratitude at how much Hashem, in His Great Love for you, is helping you overcome all your stuff.
But people can get so dependent on that burst of pride they feel every time they overcome their anger/alcoholism/envy/fear/laziness/etc, that they just focus on that and can’t see much beyond it.
This “Damaged-and-Doomed” Model so popular in Psychology is neither true nor helpful. In fact, I think it’s telling that they insist that the only road to healing is to spend years paying LOTS of money to your therapist, who promotes this model.
Self-serving? Not consciously so, but yeah.
You are not your flaws.
As long as you are consciously working on rectifying your flaws with Hashem, you are NOT defined by that flaw.
Yes, you may act out in wonky ways sometimes because of how bad experiences have affected you. You may feel worn out from fighting your demons all the time.
You are not an alcoholic, a druggie, a pothead, a heretic, a liar, a bum, a hopeless case, a manic-depressive, a Narcissist, a space cadet, a jerk, a glutton, a [female dog], a klutz, a wimp, or anything else as long as you are actively trying not to be one.
Even if you sometimes fall on your face as you struggle, those falls do not define you.
You are not your flaws.