My Addiction Doesn’t Define Me

Patrick Sallee’s road to sobriety was long and winding, but he’s a better man for traveling it.

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By Patrick Sallee

I spent a lot of time the last two and a half years thinking about what defines me and what doesn’t. What makes me who I am.

Listening intently to what people say to me, about who they think I am. The words they use to describe me.

  • Ambitious
  • Articulate
  • Handsome
  • Great dad
  • Real
  • Honest
  • Transparent
  • Driven

I could read this list and smile and feel like absolutely, I am that guy. But it’s just as accurate that I am not that guy.

  • Alcoholic
  • Deadbeat
  • Addict
  • Asshole
  • Selfish
  • Felon

At points in my life, these words have just as accurately described who I am.

Two years ago this week I was arrested for a DUI, my third. In the state of Kansas, a third DUI in a 10-year span makes you a felon. Life changed dramatically on November 18, 2012.

In recovery, they talk about days. Days are important. I struggled with this maybe more than I struggled with not drinking. For the first six months, it served as a reminder of all the harm I caused and all the bad decisions I made. I had many conversations with friends and family about this exact thing. They would say things like, “congratulations, 100 days sober”…never felt great to me. All I heard was “congratulations, it’s been 100 days since you royally fucked something up.” I know that wasn’t anyone’s intent, but it is how I saw myself, how I defined the days.

These words have been used to define me by other people in a number of ways. I’ve been passed over for jobs because of my record. Women will tell me they aren’t comfortable dating someone that doesn’t drink. My ex will throw them at me when she’s angry. Someone from my past will remind me of old times and it reminds me of what I’m capable of…what type of man I can still be, if I made different choices. The most important choice though was to finally see that their definition, their choice of words…it’s on them. I don’t choose those words. I get to make a choice each day to be the good words.

Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do.”

That is my choice. As it relates to sobriety I still don’t want to count in days, I want to count in years. But I finally figured out an important reason for counting the days. It isn’t counting the days I’m not the bad guy…its counting the days I am the good one. How many days in a row do I choose my daughters’ attention over my cell phone? How many days do I tell people the truth, even when it is hard? How many days do I show up to work, trying to do more and be better? I fail at these regularly. But I try again tomorrow. And I focus on trying to be that guy instead of avoiding being the other one.

Other people will always try to define us. Each person views us through their own experiences and perspective. Looking at the full list above, I’m capable of being all of those things. I know I’m not done answering questions about my criminal history. I know I’m not done with people doubting if I can stay sober. I know those words can still define me. But they don’t define me today and the more good days I turn in to good weeks, and months and years, the fewer people will be able to use them in the future.

This story was previously published on The Good Men Project.

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