Labels Get in the Way of Making Values-based Choices
~Sara Suman, LMSW, SMART Recovery Volunteer
“But I’m not an alcoholic!” I cannot count the number of times have I heard this statement. I’ve said it to myself numerous times over the years. I’ve heard it from newbies at SMART Recovery meetings, and I hear it in the groups and individual sessions at the treatment center where I work. I witness people with substantial substance abuse problems wrestle with these words/labels to the point of not being able to start on the journey of recovery. SMART helped me realize that these labels are not necessary. The way I relate now to these loaded words is a reflection of my own process of coming to terms with what it means for me, “to have a problem with drugs and alcohol.”
Without getting hung up on labels, SMART helped me cut to the chase by identifying the most important things in my life through the Hierarchy of Values (HOV) tool*.
This is mine:
1) Family & Friends 2) Health/Mental Health 3) Career 4) Financial Stability 5) Spirituality
Were drugs and alcohol getting in the way of any these values? Yes, every single one of them, each in bigger and smaller ways. And that’s what it came down to for me, not whether I was an “alcoholic” or an “addict”, whatever that actually means. All that mattered was this simple fact — substances were getting in the way of every aspect of my life that was most important to me. And that is the most common understanding of what a Substance Use Disorder (SUD) is: continued use despite negative consequences.
And even more basic, drugs and alcohol were putting at risk this one little life that I have the opportunity to live out these values that I hold so dear. I have only one life and one chance at reaching these goals: of one day being a mom, of being a loving wife, sister, daughter, friend, clinical social worker, responsible, self-actualized world citizen. If alcohol is getting in the way of these fairly universal human goals, then why not get rid of it, especially if it’s something that I have control over. The exciting part is that the nano-second that I committed to stop drinking and using for good is the nano-second that I was able to start living the life I desired.
*SMART tools such as the HOV (Hierarchy of Values) can be found in the SMART Handbook and online at SMART Recovery.
About the author: Sara works at an outpatient substance abuse treatment center for dually diagnosed, mostly mandated clients. She is a SMART Recovery online member and a former online meeting facilitator. Currently, she continues her volunteer support for SMART in the 3D world by speaking in support of SMART in the NYC area and arranging SMART presentations in different settings.
**Photo courtesy of: Addiction and Art, a website devoted to continuing the Addiction and Art project, ‘Innovators Combating Substance Abuse’, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation national program to foster innovation in the substance abuse field.