Anonymity has always been a spiritual tradition of 12 step fellowships like AA and NA. Yet even as it protects people from public shame, it also preserves the negative stigma and stereotypes associated with addiction. Is it time that recovering addicts and alcoholics came out of hiding?
I am very respectful at honoring the anonymity of others. When it comes to my recovery, however, I believe in full disclosure. Besides certain aspects of my active addiction, I have always been quite candid with others about my personal life. Maybe I lack a filter but, I really don’t mind talking about my personal stuff with others. And that includes my sobriety.
Bragging Rights in Addiction
For a time in my active addiction, before things got really bad and I went into complete hiding, I was one of those brazen drug users. Every time I partied, I made it my mission to do as many different drugs at one time and I liked to brag about it. I also became an IV user. My motto was: “Go Big or Go Home.” In fact, one birthday weekend, I landed in the hospital from mixing various substances, including a migraine medication that works by constricting blood vessels. Combine that with black tar heroin and you win a trip to the emergency room. The medical staff didn’t know what was wrong with me, even though I was forthcoming with all that I had taken. They evaluated me for signs of a possible stroke (my leg was completely numb and the only thing I can surmise about that was that, when I fell out, I must have injured myself somehow but, I have no recollection of what actually happened). My white blood cell count was through the roof; I was admitted overnight for observation. This is the sick addict in me: I relished at the notion that my drug screen came back positive for almost every single panel – the only drugs not in my system were alcohol (I wasn’t a drinker) and PCP.
A Different Kind of Bragging
So, all that being said, once I decided to get clean, I figured, why not be as open and proud of my sobriety as I was of my insane drug behaviors? Why not brag about the good stuff I’m up to today? I was always so forthcoming with the all the stupid, crazy, and illegal sh*t I was into. So, why not instead talk about all the ways in which I’m turning my life around. I also find that being open and honest about where I’m at in my recovery with my friends and loved ones is a great way to keep me accountable. By opening my mouth and telling people that I’m in recovery, I’m also safeguarding it.
My educational background and career experience are both in the field of social work and, more specifically, advocacy. In the past, I served homeless and low-income individuals and families as well as children with developmental and intellectual disabilities. Since getting clean, and therefore learning about being an addict, I now know what I want to focus my career on: addiction counseling and advocacy. I mention this because, I believe, in order to be an effective advocate for addicts, I must have full disclosure about my own addiction history.
I was sitting in a fellowship meeting one evening and a woman shared something that I found to be quite sad but also inspiring as to the work I want to do. The woman said she was a college professor and that, although she really didn’t want to, she had to fail one of her students, who happened to be a senior which meant that he could not graduate. He was later found in his dorm room: he had overdosed. She just kept saying, “I didn’t know he was one of us.” That story inspires me to keep doing what I have been – opening my mouth and sharing my experience where ever I go. If I reach just one addict who is in hiding, then I know that I am doing the right thing.
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