#3 Liquid Language – The Semantics of Sobriety

This is the post this whole blog is named for – a must read for anyone who wants to change their thinking around ethanol.  One crazy thing is: The words I refuse to ever use, like alcoholic, sobriety or relapse, are the exact keywords I must use so anyone looking for help can find it!

“Sticks and stones will break your bones but words can never hurt you.” “The pen is mightier than the sword.” I don’t know about you, but I’m with the pen. It’s my experience that words are very powerful, and they can lift you up or push you down; they can make you feel happy, sad, good, bad, guilty, defensive, insecure, and in some cases they can even be devastating.

My awareness of the power of words has caused me to be vigilant about how I speak of having become a non-drinker of ethanol. I watch the words of others and the effect they have on my inner self. When I am in a conversation, I can actually feel how certain words and phrases tend to manipulate; I can feel their power viscerally, and that is why I am careful and aware. We are saturated with language around drinking, alcoholism, and sobriety that is generally accepted by society and the medical industry, addiction “experts” and everyday people — words that assume, judge, and condemn. 
In becoming a “non-drinker,” a person who doesn’t drink ethanol, I needed to change the language. Here are some words and phrases that I find especially tricky, and have either consciously stopped using or changed the use of my language around them:

Sobriety — The word in and of itself sucks and has taken on a different meaning than its intended quality of being staid or solemn; seriousness, dignity. Today’s sobriety reeks of booze and sacrifice — things given up, rather than wonderful things like clarity, health, joy and even dignity regained. I’ll take dignity and clarity over sobriety any day. I’m not sober; I’m free!

Quit or Give Up — I did neither; I simply stopped consuming ethanol, so I do not utter such terms. Once again the language has deeper meaning than those simple words — to quit or give up has great overtones of sacrifice and loss. Stay away from those words, they are not helpful.

Recovery — This term has a wicked complicated tapestry of convoluted meaning. It is another setup for failure in the sneaky addiction industry lingo. If you are “in recovery” there is an understanding of something medical, something disease-based ongoing, like cancer remission (temporary recovery) — very iffy; you can’t trust it.

Remission also means pardon, forgiveness, as of sins or offenses. So, if you find the need to use a word that embraces the nebulousness of your state of not drinking ethanol, “remission” might be better, since it connotes the false disease model more clearly. If somebody says, “I’m a recovering alcoholic.” or “I’m in recovery.” it doesn’t necessarily mean “I’m returning to a normal state of health, mind or strength.” It tends to mean, “I’m in this shaky process of self-denial, a sort of remission, that I have been told I can’t trust and I could ‘relapse’ at any moment.” I remember joking that I was a “recovering alcoholic” when I’d have a lay-low hangover day because I was indeed recovering after ingesting way too much ethanol.

Alcohol — Ethanol, the stuff that goes in your gas tank and shouldn’t go in your body. Also note the warm and fuzzy booze advertisements that aim to make you sentimental about your relationship to it, how it’s seen as vital to enjoyment, celebration, belonging, and even commiseration. Believe me, it’s not vital; it’s a highly addictive poison.

Alcoholic or alcoholism — Words I refuse to use ever again, just say: someone addicted to ethanol or ethanol dependence.

One day at a time — A subtle societal setup for failure. It goes hand in hand with “How long?” and “sober” and “recovery.” The whole culture especially 12-step stuff is saturated with this time thing. Fact is, time is an illusion and there is only NOW, and that’s all I care about. I don’t drink ethanol now. When people ask that underhanded statement of sabotage my gut reacts as if it’s a threat, and it actually could be one if I subscribed to the common cultural myths surrounding white knuckle sobriety and recovery. I also notice that it’s the people who are concerned with their own intake of ethanol that tend to ask that question. And I don’t count days; counting keeps you in the prison you’ve already sprung yourself from.

Drink — How the heck did this word ever get to mean ingest ethanol? We drink tea, water, and all sorts of other stuff too. See how our language is so completely saturated in ethanol? Notice how powerful the language becomes when we stop using the word alcohol?

Withdrawal — OMG what a horrible sounding thing of loss, like you have to go to the bank and take out all of your money and be left with nothing! This is one of the terms that the addiction industry uses to help keep the addict addicted. This term helps to confuse people, make them fear cessation, make them fear pain that likely will never happen. I am happy to report that after more than 40 years of drinking just about every single night, I suffered no adverse “withdrawal symptoms.” I did notice a few changes. I stay up a little later; read later into the night; have better recollection of what I read; wake up in the morning feeling great; I’m more hydrated; I am happier; I find more joy in everything, I laugh even more than I already did, stuff like that. Woe is me, not. 
(Disclaimer: Some may take umbrage with this and if physically addicted may feel the need for medical help. I can only speak from my own experience, that the idea of a painful withdrawl that never happened kept me from stopping sooner.)

Relapse — WTF? This word reeks of ego and self importance, drama and codependence. Oh, poor you, you’ve been stricken with a symptom of that terrible alcoholism disease of which you were briefly in remission. That word takes away your personal responsibility and makes you powerless. It’s only the end of the world if you see it that way. For god sakes, we are these tiny creatures spinning around on a dirt ball in space. Give yourself a break.
If you swore not to ingest ethanol, and did, you did not have a relapse, you just drank ethanol against your better judgement. Get over it and move on.

Mocktail — Why make a mockery of your wonderful life-affirming change? Many of us drank to “flip the switch” from working to relaxing. So, the best word for a tasty ethanol-free drink at cocktail time is Switchflipper. Cheers!

Clean & Sober — Yuck, no thanks; I’m just Clear & Happy!

Wayne Dyer said, Change the way you look at things, and the things you look at change.
I say, Change the lingo; change the paradigm; change your world.

© heidimayo.com

31 thoughts on “#3 Liquid Language – The Semantics of Sobriety

  1. Good stuff Heidi. I went to one AA meeting and it felt so awkward having to stand up and say, “Hi my name is Paul and I’m an alcoholic.” It was bizarre. Now I know better. I was addicted to ethanol and I stopped. It makes so much more sense. Enjoying your blog very much.

  2. Great post. There is a lot of negative energy around many of those words and phrases. Maybe that’s why a couple of years ago when I went to AA and Al-Anon I felt so out of place. I respect those organizations because I know people have been helped by them. I am grateful to have found your site Heidi as well as HSM which allows me to me my true self with respect and personal growth. Thank You!

    1. What’s HSM? And wondering where do you go to find a support group in my area (Tempe, AZ) that is free and who uses this language? I’m also addicted to ethanol.

      1. Hi Sharon, HSM is Hello Sunday Morning. https://my.hellosundaymorning.org About a week after I’d stopped drinking, I signed up for a year HSM, so they do the counting for me, and I don’t have to think about it. Counting is another thing that keeps you in the prison long after you’re free. When my first year was done, I signed up for a 2nd one, and then last week, I got notice I’d completed my 2nd one, so I signed up for a third. It’s a big community that originated in Australia. Between that and This Naked Mind, I’m all cool. You could probably create your own support group in your area.

  3. Just found you, via links from “This Naked Mind” Today is my LAST day #1 and I love your semantics segment. Brilliant!!! and I agree with all of them. My personal worst is “sober”. How I hate that word. When I don’t consume ethanol- I am anything but Sober!!!, I am giddy with good living.

    1. Go for it, Glenda! And when you talk about it, use the word ethanol instead of the A word as it really gets the point across – you’re saying poison without saying it. When I use that word, people who wouldn’t otherwise get it, get it.

  4. Heidi, I absolutely love this blog! Today marks my day #1, again, as I drank ethanol against my better judgement last night. Ugh. I had committed to an AF life from January 1st of this year and was doing great. Feeling all those amazing things you feel after weeks of living AF. It boggles my mind why I have slipped back, but by golly I am not going to go back! These last few weeks have been so wonderful and eye opening. Life is so much better on the other side. Today I am pulling out all my resources and wrapping my head back around! Loving your story and finding great inspiration! It’s such a silly waste to spend any time or money on alcohol. I have no space for that nonsense in my life. Thank you for sharing your story and keeping up your site! Love the Switchflipper! 😂

  5. I just reread this. Oh my word Heidi! This needs to be published somewhere. I’m thinking many would stop drinking ethanol just by changing the language alone. And as far as my “relapse”….that word just makes me want to stay in the drama. It’s absolutely true that I drank ethanol against my better judgment and the place of power is in me and the point of power is now. Loved Wayne Dyer

    1. Hi Kim – It is published – right here! 🙂 You are welcome to share the link to my blogs anytime. I may turn my journey/journal into a helpful little book one of these days, but for now I share the link.
      When I visit communities like TNM and HSM I am struck by how the language keeps people in the prison. When I first embarked on stopping ethanol, the language was the biggest deterrent (to stopping) for me. It’s awful to be part of such a negative, hopeless dynamic – and in the process, I learned it’s all myth! So, that’s why I’ve changed it to better suit my reality. Sometimes I feel like a broken record bringing it to people’s attention.
      Feel free to post my links where ever they might help. And I’ll be sure to let you know if/when I make a book.

  6. Lucky you not suffering from “withdrawals”.I think your comments about alcohol withdrawal are flippant and at worst,downright dangerous.in case you didn’t, realise people have actually died from “withdrawals”.I wish,when I “quit”alcohol(sorry),that I could have simply stayed up a bit later with a good book!

    1. When I talk about the language, I am talking about the attitude of disease mentality and acceptance of myth. I do not pretend to be a healthcare professional, and people who feel they are physically addicted and need medical help should get it.
      I do know from my own experience that the mind is the biggest blockade to freedom, and if someone fears the dreaded “withdrawal” they will likely keep drinking in order to avoid it, or experience much more discomfort than someone who approaches it with an open mind beyond cultural myths – myths that, for me, were proven to be false after 40 years of habitual drinking rocket fuel (straight gin).
      I am however wise to the language that keeps people in the prison of addiction. Changing my language around the whole business sprung me from that prison. Try it. 🙂 Free, clear and happy here.

  7. I am SO grateful you shared your blog with me. I just read Liquid Language and I am so excited. I can’t wait to read more. Sober smober! I’m clear and happy!

  8. This is a great post. I have attended AA for six weeks now and although I find everyone friendly and supportive and the program is obviously effective, I am not sure if it is for me. I think part of that is the idea they have there that you are “powerless over alcohol” and the negativity discussed in your post. The language around ethanol addiction does indeed romanticize the consumption of ethanol and stigmatize the elimination of it. I never thought about it that way and your post does a great service in exposing that negativity. Positive language is better.

  9. I agree with Heidi Mayo! The language we use and even tones expressing the words is ultra important when communicating with our family, friends and community. I am comfortable in being mindful from now on about sending out the truth of consuming alcohol and its devastating affects it’s addiction creates.

  10. This post is such a GIFT, as is The Naked Mind by Annie Grace. Thank you both for helping me to re-structure my thinking, it’s a feeling of JOY to be ethanol free, to the point of tears. I stopped for 3 weeks after reading Annie’s book and felt amazing! I felt strong and that I was never going to look back, also lost 8 pounds without doing an extra darn thing! Then one evening without any rhyme or reason whatsoever, I accepted 2 glasses of ethanol at a get-together with friends who poured from their ‘top shelf’ wines and offered to me. It was like the Monster stepped into the room out of nowhere and caught me totally by surprise. Reflecting back to that moment I took the first glass, I remember feeling like I didn’t want to hurt their feelings, they’d pulled out their “good stuff”. I think if I had just said simply said no, they wouldn’t have ridiculed me and it would’ve been okay. (sigh). I am 55 years old, and surrounded by a HUGE culture of wine in my world, stocked in our home and our friends’ homes and we’ve all drank together since age 30. I think the biggest challenge I’m struggling with is how to tell them and hubby that I don’t want to consume ethanol anymore. I fear I’ll lose their friendships or that they’ll think less of me. A little anxiety over this. I have to just try to remember from reading Annie’s book that they will more likely envy the switch, and envy how I look and feel. I might become their example too. Your Liquid Language article helped so much to just say “I’m not drinking ethanol now” or I’m not having any tonight. So simple, no big dissertation. Also loved Wayne Dyer. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for posting this. I appreciate you!

    1. Hi – Worrying about losing friends because you stopped drinking? That’s that little fucking monster toying with you. Take control. Don’t fall for it. Starve that fucker. Your people will love you even better, and you’ll love them better too. In the two years since I stopped my interpersonal relationships have flourished with both drinkers (like my husband) and those few ethanol-free compatriots in my social life, and I am clearer and more present than ever and it shines through. I wish that for anyone who is struggling with any addiction.

      1. Thank you Heidi, it’s so true what you say, the fucking monster! I laughed out loud, but it’s the perfect analogy! It’s a beast. I have been slowly letting go of my nervousness about being ethanol free , although not 100 just yet. Still edgy about how it will go while husband still having his wine. I worried it would cause friction between us, that he’ll try to sabotoge, that seeing him will just trigger me to want a glass etc. But in fact, all the nights I’ve been AF around him since finishing Annie’s book, I find I laugh more and enjoy talking with him, even if he’s having his red wine before dinner. I have my ethanol-free bev and have better, deeper conversations, even if it’s something as mundane as ‘how was your day at work’. I’m more tuned into him, and it’s gone so different than how I thought it would go. It’s getting easier. 🙂 This blog is great and I love your articles, links, etc. They give me strength.

  11. Heidi, I come back to this blog time and time again. Language around consumption of ethanol is so powerful. The vernacular sold to us by the disease mongers puts up barriers to the joyful experience of being free and clear. Who wants to indentify as an Alchoholic? Who wants to hide out in a basement, anonymously, coming out to a room full of people who proclaim to be powerless?
    And…wonder when someone in the room just might share the dirty little secret? Unconscionable!

    A thousand thanks,


    1. Thank you, Cassie. I’ve been delinquent with the writing, but have a plan for a new post soon. One thing, now that I’ve been free and clear for well over two years, I need to keep the blog going for others who are just starting out. It doesn’t need to be confusing like the industries who stand to make lots of profits would like the little monster to think. 😜

      1. Heidi,
        Oh, please keep this blog going! It’s fantastic 😀 I too found you through Annie Grace. I think it’s important in the beginning of kicking the Monster to the curb, to stay ‘in the word’. I find that reading everything that I can get my hands on, including TNM, Allen Carr’s book, and blogs is extremely helpful. Thank you for being another great ‘weapon’ for me to kill the Monster, it works.

        1. Hi Wende – I have been in the middle of construction and moving, but do have a new post simmering, getting ready to serve up soon: Keeping up with the Joneses – thoughts on addictive thinking in general. I see you’ve subscribed, so you’ll be the first to know when I post it. Stay tuned, and STFM! 🙂

  12. I so identify with you, the years of drinking ethanol, the happy hours with husband and the sceptical view of AA
    You are obviously busy but hope you continue to post, I have read them all
    Thank you

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