By: Marilyn L. Davis
I always find it amazing that we choose to be anonymous in our recovery when our actions in our use were so public. ~Marilyn Davis, speech celebrating 20 years at HALT Club, 2008 Click To Tweet
Public Personalities Vs. Anonymous Addict?
How many of us:
- Got picked up by the police for drunk and disorderly
- Were issued a DUI and spent the night in jail
- Made a fool of ourselves at an important dinner party
- Nodded off at a staff meeting
- Showed up high at the PTA gathering
- Wore beer cans as jewelry at a football game
If you’re like me, you’re checking off more than one. And for the most part, all of those activities were public. We didn’t once think of the embarrassment until after the fact.
Nobody Can See Me, Right?
But even these awkward situations didn’t stop many of us from using again. However, many of us get into recovery and remain hidden. We don’t discuss our addiction or recovery except in the security and safety of meetings.
Why is that?
- We rationalize that only others like ourselves understand.
- There’s comfort in sharing our struggles and successes with like-minded people.
- We know that those people reveal their problems and look for solutions from us.
Yes, there’s a commonality of the problem in meetings, and those people can relate to us.
There is a more significant issue. We have to stop contributing to the stigma by remaining anonymous.
Public at the National Mall
On October 4, 2015, tens of thousands of people showed up for a rally on the National Mall. These public displays of our numbers and normalcy go a long way to destigmatize addiction and recovery. Still, it’s one day and thousands of miles from home for most of us.
What Can You Do In Your Own Backyard
NIMBY (not in my backyard) was rampant when I was looking for a rental property to open a women’s recovery home in 1989. I thought the correct way to approach prospective landlords was, to be honest. Even before seeing a property, many people said, “That wouldn’t be good for our neighborhood.”
I started realizing that there was a correct approach and a prudent approach. But I couldn’t bring myself to lie about the intent. I decided that I’d take my father with me to look at properties. He could count the mayor and several city council members as friends and fellow golfers. Since he was supportive of my recovery and understood the necessity of a woman’s house, he was willing to go with me to view properties.
However, even with his influences, I looked at 17 houses, and each time there was an excuse why they wouldn’t rent to me. Finally, in early 1990, we found our permanent home until 2011, when I closed the house to pursue other recovery options. One of the blessings is that blogging allows me to reach a wider audience.
No Longer Anonymous
Although I opened the house as a single proprietor, it became a 501(c)3 organization in 1994. Many of my board members thought I should speak to social service agencies to raise awareness and funds.
After two such speeches, I realized that many in the audience assumed I was some bleeding heart social worker trying to help those less fortunate than me.
I told my board that there needed to be a connection between an addict and the audience and that I needed to reveal that I am a recovering addict.
Families Learn to Accept the Term – Addict
I remembered my mother’s words when I returned from treatment in 1988, “Marilyn, it’s okay to say you’re an alcoholic, but please don’t use the other A-word.” I initially thought she meant adulteress like Hester Prynne, but she corrected it to an addict.
When she and I were shopping for the house, I was on one aisle, and I heard her say from around the corner, “You’ll need to talk to Marilyn. You know she’s a drug addict.”
Since we were near the front of the store, there were people in line to check out. Without phones to occupy their attention, many turned around and stared when they heard her say this. I gave my Queen Elisabeth wave impersonation and wondered who my mother was talking to so loudly.
When I rounded the corner, there stood my mother and a friend. Her friend had read the article about me opening a woman’s recovery home and had a question. Satisfying her query, I asked my mother why she publicly stated that I was a drug addict. I was supposed to be anonymous.
As she pointed out, “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist reading the article to realize that you’re not just doing this to be gracious to others. You’re doing this because you are addicted. I don’t want anyone to think less of you, so I’ve got to learn to accept that addict word, too.”
Shock, Wow, and Really?
Feeling my family’s support was important to me, so I told my board that I would reveal my status the next time I spoke. There were about 400 people in attendance.
One of them was the president of the college, who staged an intervention on me. He laughed and said he still had his 3 x 5 card with my acting out behaviors on it. He didn’t have to use it as I acquiesced and went to treatment. I was pleased to see him and offered another sincere thank you for his intervention.
As I started talking about the need for the recovery home, several audience members shook their heads in agreement. I then took a risk and asked volunteers to tell me what they thought about addicts and alcoholics.
One elderly gentleman said,
“They are homeless, don’t work, and are a drain on society.”
Another raised their hand and said,
“It’s people like them that are tearing our country apart.”
A third said,
“They are criminals, don’t have good morals, and smell.”
Well, that got the requisite laugh.
I then stated, “I am an addict and alcoholic.”
Opening Up the Dialog
Although the room got quiet, my admission opened up more questions, answers, and support, not just for the house but for addicts and alcoholics in general.
And just like in 1994, we need to continue the discussion, use every opportunity given to us to discuss the realities of recovery, and stop contributing to the stigmas, attitudes, and actions that prevent people from getting treatment and shouting out loud.
When we remain anonymous, people don’t know what recovery looks like and how people change.
Challenge: Are You Still Anonymous?
- What are you doing in your sphere of influence to talk about recovery?
- Do you use Facebook, Twitter, or blog about addiction and recovery?
- Are your actions aligned with authentic recovery?
- Do you support organizations that promote recovery?
Let me know in the comments. I would appreciate knowing what others are doing to overcome the silence of addiction and recovery.
Writing and recovery heal the heart.
Marilyn L. Davis is the Editor-in-Chief at From Addict 2 Advocate and Two Drops of Ink. She is also the author of Finding North: A Journey from Addict to Advocate and Memories into Memoir: The Mindsets and Mechanics Workbook, available at Amazon, Books A Million, Indie Books, and Barnes and Noble.
Your Turn to Help Someone
How something is said is just as important as what is said. How you write about addiction and recovery can touch someone in ways my words can’t. So consider a guest post today and help someone who is struggling. Thanks.
If you’re ready to quit being anonymous, consider writing a guest post for fromaddict2advocate. There can’t be enough of us writing that recovery works.