Well, if you’re a diehard member of Alcoholics Anonymous, you’ll know that in providing my last name, I have violated a pretty important tenet of the “first names only” AA program. Namely, the 11th Tradition, which states: “We need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films.”
I’ve been thinking about this requirement for anonymity a lot lately and have come up with the following question: Why? Why is anonymity still such a crucial part of recovery? Why should I have to hide my sobriety? After all, it’s one of the best things about me.
I mean, I can appreciate the reason for its inception—to protect people from the unfair stigma of alcoholism. Back when AA was formed, in the 1930’s, alcoholism was viewed as a “moral disgrace” or a “lack of willpower.” But that was over 80 years ago! We’ve come a long way since the Great Depression era. Addiction is no longer viewed as a disgraceful weakness, but a serious medical condition often manifested by a chemical imbalance in the central nervous system. Just like Cancer or Diabetes, there is an entire field of research dedicated to the pathology and treatment of the illness. But unlike Cancer, you’re not allowed to talk about it.
“Keep it to yourself. Remain quiet. Don’t admit to it. If you do, you’ll be jeopardizing your and other people’s recovery.”
How in the world can this be healthy? How does not talking about it, help my and other people’s recovery? Is there something I’m missing here?
What if the same discretion applied to HIV and Cancer? Could you imagine the consequences of such a travesty? For one, we wouldn’t have an entire month devoted to Breast Cancer Awareness. We wouldn’t have pink ribbons or “Walk for Aids Marathons.” Lance Armstrong would only be a pretty good cyclist and not what he is today, which is an inspiration to millions of people suffering from cancer. I realize of course this probably isn’t the best time to be invoking the legacy of Lance Armstrong, what with all the findings coming out of his illegal use of performance enhancements. But then again, maybe this is the perfect opportunity. I mean, the guy still survived cancer, didn’t he? But, apparently, he’s still in denial about his unrelenting addiction to EPO, blood doping, and steroids. And if you don’t think these substances are addictive, take a look at this wonderful article from the Journal of Addictive Diseases. Just like any other drug (alcohol, cocaine, opiates, etc.) performance enhancements can lead to psychological and, yes, even physical dependence.
But, whereas Lance’s battle with cancer was highly publicized and celebrated, this is the first we’re hearing about his struggle with performance enhancers. Perhaps, if there wasn’t still such a stigma associated with addiction, Lance would’ve been able to get the treatment he needed early on to avoid all of this embarrassment. But that’s a topic for another discussion. I don’t want to get off on a tangent about Lance Armstrong. That’s not what this post is supposed to be about. Besides, I already wrote an entire blog dedicated to this issue. READ HERE.
All I really want to say is…addiction’s a bitch. It’s a horrible, demoralizing illness. And no one should have to walk through it alone. But, plenty of people do and many, unfortunately, end up dying from it. Why? Because it’s still very much a taboo subject. And there’s a whole faction of people out there who view it as a disgraceful weakness. And believe it or not, the majority of these people are harboring an addiction themselves. Unfortunately, they are too ashamed to admit it. I should know. I did the same thing for many years with my alcoholism.
I was so ashamed of my inability to stop drinking that I committed myself to a life of debauchery and isolation. I pushed away all the people who were only trying to help me…family, friends, bosses, co-workers…I pushed them all away and embarked on a mission to drink myself to death alone in a dank, empty apartment. Fortunately, I didn’t succeed and had what is called “a moment of clarity” where I finally accepted my illness and got treatment. I was one of the lucky ones. Most people don’t make it. They end up in jails, mental institutions, and sometimes coffins.
But I aim to change that. I aim to “Break the Stigma & Celebrate Recovery” by tearing down the walls of that stifling eleventh tradition.
Through portraits of addicts—both celebrities and everyday heroes—I’m hoping this blog will encourage people to celebrate their recovery, not hide from it. By sharing our stories of hope, strength, and courage, I believe we can encourage those still struggling with the denial of their problem to make that first step and get treatment.
ARE YOU WITH ME?
If you would like to help me “Break the Stigma & Celebrate Recovery”, please fill out the contact form at the bottom of this page.
Thanks and happy recovery!