Labeling. It sounds like something that is just bad. It has a negative connotation. Slap a label on something and call it a day. Like it is our job to label something and once we label it we’ve figured it out and can move on. The reason labeling feels bad is because we know we are more than a label. There is more to me than being a ‘Working Mom’ or a ‘Party Girl’ or ‘Bossy Pants’. Even when the label isn’t necessarily ‘bad’ it can feel bad for that very reason.
But the act of labeling saved my life and for that I’m grateful. It isn’t always bad; it doesn’t have to be yukky. In fact, it can be life changing if we can label ourselves in a manner of self-reflection and with love that gives us clarity about who we are in this world at this time.
I was in the car with my Mom. I was 24 years old and I had just moved back to Madison from Los Angeles. I was in between places and not sure where to go or even what to do next. I was living an incredibly fun, exciting life and my goal was to try and figure out what kind of work could support my crazy fun lifestyle. My label at that time was Crazy Fun Party Girl. It worked really well for me, or so it seemed. My mom was working as a Massage Therapist and a Social Worker. She is brilliant at talking to and with people in a helpful, non-judgmental, loving way. At that point in time she was worried about my drinking habits and my lifestyle. I partied. A lot.
In the car that afternoon she asked me what it was like when I went out at night. She specifically asked me if after a couple of drinks my body knew when to stop or not. She got technical with me about how the brain works and she used herself as an example. She told me that after she has a glass, maybe two, of wine, she will physically not want or even be able to have another one. Her brain sends her body a signal to stop. She also told me about someone we both knew that had (maybe still has) a drinking problem. His body doesn’t give him the same signal. After a couple of drinks, when he is drunk, he keeps drinking. My mom asked me how it was for me when I went out with my friends. I immediately told her that I never get signals to stop. Ever. I told her that there had been times that I had challenged myself before going out to only have a couple drinks or to try having a glass of water between drinks but then somehow I’d completely forgotten the great plan and the next morning I’d be nursing a wicked hangover. As we talked in this non-threatening and informational way she told me she thought I was an Alcoholic.
Maybe it was the way she set up the conversation.
Maybe it was the way she made it sound like it wasn’t my fault; it was just the way my brain was.
Maybe it was just the right time for me to hear exactly what I needed to hear.
I don’t know, but it resonated with me and I didn’t get defensive.
It was that conversation with my mom that helped me label myself as an Alcoholic. This could have gone a couple of different ways; I’m quite aware of that. I could have been mad, resentful and defensive. Being an alcoholic is a bad thing, right? It’s a disease. Something you can’t cure. I could have denied this label completely because I didn’t need a drink every day. I could go a week without getting drunk. I was high functioning. No one else would have called me out on my drinking as being a problem. I was a ‘Party like a Rock Star’ binge drinker and most of friends thought I was awesome for that.
After that talk with my Mom I noticed myself playing with this label in my mind. I watched how I drank differently. I watched myself at the bar, working the bartender like I was on a mission. I wasn’t just there for the drinks, like some alcoholics might have been, I was there for the experience. If it wasn’t fun, we needed a new party. If there wasn’t a party going on, I was going to find one and if we couldn’t find one, I was going to make one happen. I wasn’t scared to go out alone. I always met people. I wasn’t scared of the shady people I met. I took my label of being Crazy Fun Party Girl very seriously. And now I had a new label. I was an Alcoholic.
I remember the first time I used my new label out loud in a social setting. I wasn’t at an AA meeting. No, not yet. I was at the bar and my friends were ready to call it a night. I had created a great flirtatious relationship with the bartender (who was cute as hell) and I had met some new random friends. I was not ready to leave. The two friends I had come with had to work the next day (imagine me rolling my eyes) and they were trying to talk me into going home. I made it very clear, “Sorry ladies, I can’t leave yet, go on without me. I’m an Alcoholic; I have to close the bar down with my new friends.”
After that night I referred to myself as an Alcoholic in an easy, fun way. I comfortably owned my new label. By the time I made it to my first AA meeting four months later I had no problem sitting in that first meeting and introducing myself to the group, “Hi my name is Sara and I’m an Alcoholic.” I thought it was a bit silly but I certainly didn’t resist or deny the label. I had made my way to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (I’ll save that story for another time) so my first AA meeting was with a bunch of old, white haired snowbirds from the US and Canada living in Mexico for the winter. Most of them had 20+ years of sobriety and I was still partying like a young rock star. The only thing I had in common with these people was this label, I was an Alcoholic.
For me it took a couple of months before I decided to try living one day at a time. It was a process. I hadn’t hit rock bottom. I don’t believe I ever did. It could have been so much worse. And yet, it was this one experience that I’ll never forget that really made it all come together for me.
I was at a bar one night in Puerto Vallarta with a bunch of new friends, having a blast. At the bar with us was this older woman, maybe in her 50’s. She was beautiful and funny and we all loved her. But she looked like shit. I know I just described her as beautiful; she was. But she also looked pretty beat up in the way that partying for that many years will do to anyone. From what I could tell she had no family. She created her family as she bar hopped. I knew that story well. That is how I traveled. That is how I met people. That is where I felt at home. At the bar.
The next morning I left my new apartment early to teach an English class with my sunglasses on because it was painful without them. I was hurting from the night before but I still could appreciate the magnificence of the morning on the beachfront boardwalk. The sun was peeking up over the mountains. The ocean waves were steadily, one after the other, rolling onto the beach. Ahead of me, walking towards me, was a Mother pushing her tiny baby in a stroller. She was wearing some sort of exercise outfit with colorful tennis shoes and a water bottle in the cup holder of the stroller. She was this vibrant, healthy Mother, moving her body with purpose. I had an instant gut reaction when I saw her; I wanted to be her. I wanted to be that woman. As I walked towards her I remembered the woman I had met the night before at the bar. I loved that woman and I was on track to becoming like her. She had fabulous stories, had traveled and lived all over the world, she was fun. And she was like family to me already in a weird, familiar way. But here was this healthy, vibrant Mother that I wanted to be too. How could I be both?
The reality was that I felt horrible that beautiful morning. I was hung over. I smelled like a bar. And the past year of fun exciting adventures had also provided me with some pretty horrible experiences that I was having a real hard time numbing out.
It was that morning walk to work that I knew I had a choice. I couldn’t be both and I had to choose one or the other. That experience made me feel empowered. I didn’t feel like a victim of my brain not working the same way my Mom’s did. I wanted to be able to say “that’s enough” to the unhealthy, very unsafe and dangerous lifestyle I was living. I wanted a new label so I became a Recovering Alcoholic. I was sober for nine years.
After five years in AA I quit going and stopped labeling myself a Recovering Alcoholic because there were things that didn’t feel right. Then I was just sober. After a couple of years I felt like it was okay for me to drink socially. I have no desire to live the life I was living. I know that there is a school of thought that says once an alcoholic always an alcoholic and that just wasn’t the case for me. Yes, you could say I have an addictive personality. I’m an extreme person so it is easy for me to jump into something so hard core that I have to pry myself out to seek balance and be healthy. People have called me a workaholic although I have never labeled myself that. When I work, I work intensely. When I play, I play intensely. That has worked for me. To each their own.
My story is that the act of me labeling myself as an Alcoholic saved my life. I believe that with every cell in my body. It caused me to really look at who I was, how I was in the eyes of others, and helped me realize that I could change that if I wanted to. There were so many magical moments that helped me get to that point and I do not take credit for being able to successfully turn my life around so dramatically in any way. I was open to the possibility that the Grace of God was pulling me, urging me, whispering to me along the path that I was on.
This concept that ‘labeling is good’ came about recently because my sister called me out on it. She noticed I was doing it a lot. Splattered through my blog posts, my writings and my stories were labels all over the place. Mostly I label myself but I’m quick to admit when I label others. I learned this through personality profiling when I worked at Keller Williams as a Realtor. It was a brilliant way for me to learn about myself, how I operate in the world, how I relate to others and how others differ from me and what I can do to help them based on their personality profile. I learned using the DiSC personality profile system (similar to Myers-Briggs and StrengthsFinder). I’m a high I/D. I have absolutely no S in me and a good amount of C. The DiSC helped me label myself as a Social Butterfly/Boss Lady: demanding, decisive, outgoing, detail oriented with a hint of perfectionism and the ability to be flexible and quickly change directions as necessary. This all resonated with me and made me feel okay for being the way I was. It gave me a label that worked for me. I clutched on to it and used it as an excuse when my weaknesses were glaring at me. Oh, it’s just that I’m a high D or I don’t have any S.
Last year I felt a pull. I wasn’t sure what it was so I hired a coach to help me. In the first conversation we had she told me about the egg and the sperm (like I didn’t know about that already!). It still makes me smile to think of that conversation. She described the sperm as fast and determined to get to that egg and make something happen. And the egg floated around in a slow, flowy, creative way knowing that the sperm would get there and it would all work out. There was no frantic energy in the egg. My coach lovingly noticed all the sperm energy I had. She helped me notice that I was more comfortable and accustomed to male energy and she asked me if I wanted to be a bit more eggy. I know it sounds weird but I got it. In that conversation it became very clear to me.
My label wasn’t working for me anymore and I was ready for a new one. What happened differently this time is that I didn’t feel like I had to give up one label to get a new one. This time I had a choice be less of the Bottom Line, Boss Lady and to become more of the Creative, Go with the Flow Woman. I wanted to add more of what I was yearning for and let go of some of what was burning me out. That was my new perspective. The male energy that I love, that drives me, was all of a sudden exhausting and because of the intensity I was getting in my own way of living the life I really wanted to live. The creative part of my soul that wanted to burst through had no space.
I knew it wasn’t going to happen overnight (damn it). It was going to take practice.
I was aware enough to see that the Bossy Lady label that I had created for myself, and owned like nobody’s business, was no longer serving me.
I had put myself in this bottle with this specific label on it. It felt safe and comfortable for a long, long time. Until it didn’t anymore. This time there weren’t meetings for me to go to. There wasn’t a tribe of people I could lean on and learn from. I had to create a new tribe. I had to put together a new tool box to help me when I slipped back into my old ways. Over the past year I have had some incredibly uncomfortable moments as I played around with slowing down, letting go of the need to always be involved in everything or saying yes more than humanly possible and doing more in a morning than most people do in a week.
I was so busy all the time. Success meant busy. Too busy to take care of myself. I couldn’t label myself as physically fit because I was too busy. Thankfully there came a time when I realized that wasn’t working for me anymore either. Something had to give so Carlos and I made the conscious decision to change our lifestyle. We wanted to be able to label ourselves as healthy and fit. We wanted to experience the benefits that came with that label; to have more energy, to know we would live longer, be good role models for our children and just feel better!
My self-awareness has helped me become the person I want to be. What does that say about labeling others? Nothing. And that is where the distinction needs to be made. Labeling others is a natural tendency that humans have and there are plenty of examples of how detrimental it can be.
The best things that have happened to me in my life in relation to personal and professional growth have been my ability to reflect on who I am, contemplate if that is serving me best or not and make the conscious decision to change it if I choose to.
I don’t regret or wish I hadn’t partied so hard, which led me to abusing alcohol and put me in dangerous places. I created some amazing memories and I had a lot of fun. I also learned a lot and have a unique perspective of gratitude for each day.
I don’t regret being a driven, ultra involved, hard working Mom, which created a lot of stress, unnecessary pressure and a lack in personal self-care. I loved creating our business, the professional success and I had a lot of fun. The amount of education I received through my experiences and challenges have been extraordinary.
I love being happy. That is one of my driving forces in my life.
I was happy, until I wasn’t.
I am happy, until I’m not.
And when I’m not happy it is my job to look deep, figure out what is working and what isn’t working and then take the responsibility to make a change, or two, and get myself back to the top of that happy scale.
Today I label myself as a creative and spiritual woman, an intuitive business owner, an aspiring writer, a fun mom, an engaged and compassionate community member, a romantic wife. I’m healthy and fit.
I’m not always these things but I know that if that is who I want to be, if that is who I label myself as, I’ll get there. I’ll practice more, and I’ll become more of the Sara I want to be. When I notice that I’m slipping into old habits I gently give myself a nudge and remind myself that I’m enough. This moment is perfect and I smile lovingly at myself. No need to be too hard on me. No need to beat myself up over it. It’s all good. I trust the process. And when those labels don’t work for me, I’ll change them. Because I can.
How do you label yourself? Do you think about how others label you and does that resonate or not? Is it working for you? Are you happy? Focus on the labels that you love about yourself and if there are labels that you don’t like, create new ones! It is your life!