I’m Proud of You: Compliment or Condescension? 

Proud of You

The vast majority of my close friends and family knew that I suffered from alcoholism, for obvious reasons. So when I sobered up, I heard “I’m proud of you” a lot. And while my family and friends meant it as a respectful acknowledgment of my accomplishment, it always felt patronizing and dirty to hear early on in my recovery. More often than not, I was internally eye-rolling every time someone said it to me. 

I think I felt so ruffled by it because there was so much shame, regret, and embarrassment tied to my drinking. And of course, my loved ones didn’t know that. Most of them thought I just liked to drink, not that every day I was wracked with horrifying feelings of guilt, inferiority, and discomfort on account of my addiction — not to mention vulnerable and excruciating daily hangovers. 

So when I got sober and started hearing “I’m so proud of you,” it made me angry — particularly when it was from people I didn’t know well or didn’t suffer from addiction. They couldn’t possibly understand that I didn’t get sober because I wanted to. I got sober because I had to, or my drinking was going to kill me. If drinking didn’t have the potential to kill me, chances are I’d still be drinking right now. So hearing “I’m proud of you” sounded more like “congrats on no longer being a raging fuck up” and I winced every time someone fawned over me in that way. 

I became victim to this mentality, classifying what was meant as a complimentary acknowledgment as sanctimonious, condescending, and virtue signaling. I hated hearing it and would spend the remainder of that day stewing in self-righteous indignation over a comment someone made because they admired what I was doing. So in essence, by rejecting the comment as condescending, I was becoming everything I labeled the commenter: sanctimonious, condescending, and virtue signaling. 

But while I was mired in resentment, I wasn’t hearing what people were actually saying. Some don’t know what it’s like to suffer from addiction, and they are lucky. And perhaps the only way they know how to acknowledge that is by saying “I’m proud of you.” Also, people see getting sober as a sign of strength and inspiration. So while I was hearing “way to go, drunk asshole,” they meant “you’re doing really great” in the only way they know how — by saying they are proud of me. They saw where I was, and they see where I am now, and they are happy I am doing well. It wasn’t as deep as I was making it out to be — no one was trying to hurt me by saying that. 

I now trust that people are sincere, and I try to practice humility by not making it into a federal case when I hear it. I still sometimes wince, but I now trust that the compliment isn’t coming from a place of superiority, but a place of love. Not everyone who suffers from addiction gets sober, and countless people have lost loved ones to this disease. So someone saying “I’m proud of you” may be the only way they know how to verbalize what they don’t understand and they are happy we’re doing well. Because getting sober IS hard, and not everyone knows what it’s like, or what to say. So, they just say “I’m proud of you.” 

It’s all in how we perceive it, and really, it’s not that deep. Chances are if you are still mad about hearing it, you’re the only one thinking about it. 

Does the comment grate on you? Tell us about it in the comments?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *