Hi, my name’s Andrew Seaward and I’m an alcoholic. There. I said it. That wasn’t so bad, was it?
Well, if you’re a diehard member of Alcoholics Anonymous, you’ll know that in providing my last name I’ve just violated a pretty important tenet of the “first names only” 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 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. We now know that addiction is not a disgraceful weakness, but a serious medical condition 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? What if the same discretion applied to HIV or 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.” Christina Applegate would only be “the hot girl from Married With Children” and not an inspiration to thousands of women suffering from breast cancer.
Look—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 who view it as a disgraceful weakness. And, believe it or not, many of these people are harboring an addiction themselves. They are just too ashamed to admit it. I should know. I did the same thing for many years with my alcoholism.
Quick story: The first time I went through alcohol withdrawal I thought there was something morally wrong with me. I thought my inability to stop drinking was some kind of weakness. I didn’t know about physical and psychological dependence. I didn’t know you could get shakes, seizures, even hallucinations by trying to go “cold turkey”. I didn’t know because no one ever told me. I’d never met an addict or knew of any in the family. They certainly existed. Hell—my grandfather was a raging alcoholic. But I didn’t find out until later on. Why? Because of the anonymity…’cause of the shame…’cause of the goddamn secrecy! If someone had just taken me by the shoulders and slapped some sense into me, I wouldn’t have wasted so many good years of my life trying to hide my dependence. I could’ve gotten into a recovery a lot earlier. I could’ve gone to detox. I could’ve avoided all that pain and suffering.
Fortunately, I had some people in my corner who never gave up on me, and I was eventually able to accept my illness and get 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!