Why Identify as An Addict ?

by Coach Ellie

I’ve never been much of a joiner. Group activities have traditionally just stressed me out. Why confront my social anxiety when I could simply stay home? Growing up I sucked at all sports -even hopscotch. I never enjoyed any sense of belonging to anything. That all changed though when I joined three different 12-Step recovery groups, and worked the steps in all of them,concurrently.

When you attend any 12-Step group –these are groups that are spin offs of the OG, Alcoholics Anonymous 12-Step program– you state your name and the nature of your addiction. I found it liberating and still do. And I wish to explain why as I notice that others shy away from and even condemn referring to oneself as “an addict.”

The reasons I do and always will identify as an addict include:

A Sense of Community

Real Self-Empowerment

A Way to Stay Humble


Until I became a dedicated 12-Stepper I shunned the concept of community. I used to make a point of pronouncing that word with as much contempt in my voice as possible; breaking the word down into a nasally “Cah-muh-ni-teey.” I long thought this word represented a con job.

At one time, I had the job title of Community Relations Manager. It was a sales job. My role was to foster a sense of “cah-muh-ni-teey” so that the company I worked for could win lucrative business contracts.

But listening to strangers share, the most private details of their personal lives possible, impacted me. It reduced my antagonism and hostile attitude. I started seeing myself in the people sharing.

For too long, I held on this idea that my obviously terrible relationship and the fact that I couldn’t leave it made me a loser. And as strange as this might sound, I sort of clung to that as evidence of my unique sorrow. I mean, at least I had that.

Image by Kaboompics on Pexels.

Thankfully though, I learned that my pain is ordinary. As it turns out, I’m not that special.

Others, from all walks of life, and even very attractive, rich and famous people (these meetings were in Los Angeles, after all), ache like I ache. They harbor deep shame and suffer with hopelessness.


Welcome to all my fellow addict “losers” out there! We may all be swirling in chaos but, together we provide a supportive family for each other. The kind we rarely had growing up.


When I first started attending groups, I would marvel at people who could talk about what a shit-show their life had been and still be so self-possessed. Confident, even. They were sitting there holding forth about everything we’re NOT supposed to talk about in public.

It took me about three months to open my mouth.

The first time I shared about my situation it was an out of body experience. In fact, in the moment, I didn’t believe anyone was listening. But, after the meeting a couple people came up to thank me for my share and add that they too were going through something very similar.

I was shocked.

I genuinely didn’t think anyone was actually listening to me. I thought that wasn’t possible. That might sound unbelievable. Or maybe you can relate to feeling invisible?

But in my experience, a big part of what makes me a love addict is never feeling valid or validated. I see things differently now. I grasp how similar I am to others. Eight years ago though, that wasn’t possible. To see that would mean then that there is absolutely nothing special about me and therefore there really is no purpose for my existence.

Sounds too heavy right?

But that’s the thing about love addiction, similar to alcoholism this process addiction is hard to comprehend. It’s “cunning and baffling” as the AA Big Book says.

When I identify as a “codependent, adult child, anorexic, sex and love addict,” I am free. Today, I recognize how what happened to me in childhood misdirected me. And what’s more, I know what to do about it. I am no longer locked in this cage with invisible bars.

These days you can accuse me of being a childish, selfish, people-pleaser and I won’t flinch. Yea. That’s me! But that’s not ALL of me.

While I am not my addiction, its formation and my study of it has played an integral role in shaping who I am today. My unfortunate tendency to catastrophize and default to black and white thinking is something I can own now. You can call me out on it, I and I won’t have temper tantrum (well, most days anyway).

And what’s even better, because of my mistakes and subsequent recovery work, I also feel deep compassion for myself and others. That’s nothing to be ashamed of.


A spiritual element exists in all 12-step programs. In my opinion, this is exactly the special sauce which makes them effective. That said, the “G” word made me nauseous, at first. Had I not been in so much pain, there would have been an Ellie sized hole in the wall at the first mention of the big guy.

But the candor with which people shared in those meetings impacted me.

It gave me the courage to admit, to them and myself and how badly I had messed up my personal life. What started out as scary became humbling.

As it turns out, I’m just a human. I am not uniquely terrible. Staying with someone out of a sense of guilt and desperation is not healthy but, it’s also not uncommon.

My road to spirituality was bumpy.

I struggled with the concept. Anytime “God” or “higher power” was mentioned I would just replace it in my head with human flatulence. “Step Two: Came to believe that a FART SOUND could restore us to sanity.”

Eventually, I replaced the whoopee cushion higher power with a picture of a what I imagine as a monkey from a 1960’s Kung Fu movie. I played in my head, a mental GIF of a golden monkey with a pillbox hat clanging symbols together.

What can I say? That’s what worked for me. It was a benign place holder that slowly got replaced with simple humility.

Today, uncertainty is my higher power.

As I mentioned earlier, one of my biggest addict mindset problems is a tendency to dwell on the negative. I have a history of being Debby-Downer on steroids. But because I attended meetings, religiously (heh), I retrained my thinking. Week after week, month after month, year after year, I was listening to and talking about my love addiction, codependency and adult child characteristics.

I got very real about addiction’s consequences; low self-esteem, chronic depression and a life unlived.

And that honesty did something to me. It allowed me to see how full-of-it I am every time I cling to an extreme thought or dire life prediction. Because my doomsday expectations rarely, if ever, came to pass. I was forced to confront how terrible I am at forecasting. And as a result, learned to acknowledge that anticipating the worst is a sad attempt a control.

It was shocking to see how I, with so little confidence, could be so pompous.

An inability to see the middle-way and to only anticipate disaster is a form of arrogance. Humility provides me the grace to admit that, I actually don’t have a crystal ball. I can let go; let life unfold as it will and trust that I will handle whatever comes.

Gabor Maté, disagrees with me.

Maté, is a well known physician, author and lecturer on the topic of addiction. I greatly admire his work. And from what I’ve heard in interviews, believes it is not a good idea to identify oneself as an addict. He believes it is self limiting and deeply shaming.

He also says he has never attended a 12-Step group with any regularity. And that, I believe, is why he thinks like this. To an outsider, someone who does not believe the label “love addict” suits them, the moniker sounds harsh.

But when you are part of a group and you keep coming back, you build a bond.

You see the patterns in your own life and in that of the others in your group. People who you would normally never encounter in your own social circle but, whom you now suddenly share a deep connection. It makes transformation and healing possible.


When other people in my support groups do not identify as addicts, I get upset. Here I have tried to show you how enlightened and compassionate I am but, I also get judgmental when people self-identify as “gratefully recovering” or a “grateful member of this program.”

Image by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.

My eyes, nearly roll, straight out of my head.

There is a part of me that wants to mock. “Oh! Well well well…lookee here, look how EVOLVED and special YOU are! Not only are you not an addict but, unlike the rest of us, you are eternally ‘grateful!’”

As you can tell, I still have issues.

My more recovered –aware of how controlling I am– side can let these people be. That need to regulate what people think and say is at epidemic proportions these days. I wish I could claim to be above it.

So while, I personally do not like it when my recovering brothers and sisters shun the addict label, anything other than accepting what works for them, lands me back into an addiction mindset. I’ve never asked anyone who is “gratefully recovering” why they say that. Likely because I don’t trust myself not to bully them into thinking like me. But I suspect it’s similar to Gabor Mate’s reasoning.


A big part of my recovery has been about learning how to express myself in moderation. It has been surprising to see how I have, unconsciously, sought a kind of hurried or forced intimacy through out my life. An example of this is oversharing personal info with people I hardly know.

It’s an unfortunate side effect of love addicted thinking.

Because appropriate communication was rarely modeled for us AND our own feelings were routinely shamed or suppressed we can easily fall on our faces in social situations; we over share. Let me not shame you for that, just help you stay aware of the tendency.

Fortunately, because I pick “addict” as my affinity group and fully participate in the recovery process, I have a new way to understand myself. As I listen to the struggles of others I, ironically, can see myself more clearly. I can calm down; give myself some breathing room. Which provides me the grace to pause before I dump a hard, personal truth on an new acquaintance.

Addict membership has its privileges, indeed.


  • I still identify as an addict because doing so provides me with: community, self-empowerment and humility

  • Listening to and relating to others who share vulnerably about themselves can be very healing.

  • My pain is ordinary. Although my personal love life has left a trail of tears it has also made me compassionate for myself and others.

  • Being honest about the true nature of my mistakes has given me freedom to be imperfect and human.

  • As an addict I get to be very real about my failings and still love myself and others.

  • For me spiritually is a form of humility. It means I don’t know everything and I can’t AccuWeather predict the future.

  • When I have a melt down about the future or start panicking about my choices I can turn to spirituality (which in my case is humility).

  • Due to circumstances beyond my control, I became an addict, but now as an addict in recovery, I know I am best served placing my focus on what I CAN control.

  • I think Gabor Maté disagrees with me because he, himself has not attended a 12-Step group with any regularity. He has likely never experienced sitting in a drafty room, with strangers on sad furniture and fearing you’ve gone to the DMV for therapy and then end-up bonding with those strangers.

  • Even though I hate when people don’t identify as addicts in 12-step meetings, I recognize that people have a right to express themselves as they wish.

  • As an addict in recovery I get to better understand myself which means I can handle myself better around others. It’s a win-win for all.

So I say, drop the Groucho Marx routine. Come join us as a fallible member of the human race club. You might be pleasantly disappointed by how much we have in common.

Curious about what being coached around the topic of love addiction might be like? Schedule a no obligation conversation with me, today.

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