You’re here because you found out about me through the grapevine, maybe saw something on social media, maybe you’ve got my book. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know well that I am not shy about any aspects of my recovery. I tell you how it is and how it was, I ask uncomfortable questions and try to answer them. Hopefully, occasionally, it also feels as if I am talking to you directly, speaking the language you distinctly understand.
But not everyone is as open as I am about their recovery and that’s ok. We all have our own and different ideas of how we want to be perceived in the world, Describing yourself as an “addict” or an “alcoholic” still has so many negative connotations that no one introduces him/herself as such unless they are in an AA meeting. I’m no longer subscribing to that term – “alcoholic” or “addict” – as you know, but I still have no problem telling people that I’m in recovery. I say it when it makes sense, of course; I don’t just blurt it out, out of the blue.
In the beginning, I would let people know because I didn’t want to take any chances with my recovery. For example, at weddings I didn’t want to be served champagne, I didn’t want to be encouraged to take a drink if I was in a group of party-goers. My announcements were lifesaving and I felt that by letting people know I was simply protecting myself. It’s a little bit as it is with peanut allergy – you should probably let the hosts know so that you’re not served poison in the guise of a cake.
Since getting sober, I’ve worked jobs that deal with addiction – as a counselor, an advocate, and a consultant. My status as a recovered person with substance abuse isn’t really relevant, but I am glad I have this lived experience. Because of my openness, I no longer have the comfort of anonymity.
And that’s what anonymity means for some of us – it brings a certain level of comfort, and it still, in this day, is a necessary option because of stigma. People don’t want to be known as “alcoholic” or “addict” in their workplaces because not everyone is as understanding about addiction as your recovery community. We get fooled sometimes thinking that the stigma has lessened because we surround ourselves with likeminded people. We think that people are as open-minded as our friends in AA meetings or our therapist. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.
I wish things were different, and as much as I would love to say, “You should be proud of having recovered and you should tell people!” I know that this can really jeopardize your career or relationships. It is frustrating that there remains so much prejudice, but as I’ve said before: I don’t believe we will eradicate the stigma in my lifetime. Telling your boss you have a doctor’s appointment when you’re really going to a meeting is an option many of us choose. I know of people who have lost their jobs or friendships because they’ve disclosed they had a substance use disorder. I say it’s your choice how you describe yourself to others, and it’s you who has to asses whether revealing information about yourself is a risk or not.
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