I am a recovering addict who values my anonymity. Let me be clear, though, I am not ashamed of my status of being an addict in recovery. In fact, I am incredibly grateful for (most) everything I have been through that has made me who I am today.
A big aspect of anonymity is privacy. This is why we don’t use last names, or take photos in meetings. This is why, at the end of some meetings, we say “what you see here, and what you hear here, let it stay here.” This is why there is no database out there with the names of twelve step program members.
As a recovering addict, I reserve the right to be anonymous. I don’t have to tell anyone I am an addict. I have a choice and today I choose to say I am in Recovery.
Why Anonymity Is Kind Of A Big Deal
Before I get into how I personally approach disclosing my recovering addict status, let’s talk more about why anonymity has long been an important part of recovery.
In the past, being a drug addict was basically illegal. If you said you were an addict, you were admitting your criminal status. Addiction was considered looked down, something to be ashamed of and something you simply didn’t discuss in polite company.
The principle of anonymity protected people in recovery from being discovered and outed as criminals, derelicts and drunks. It made it possible for these desperate individuals of the past to gather together and experience the therapeutic value of one addict or alcoholic helping another, without fear of prejudice or prosecution. It allowed them to seek treatment. In some cases today interventions are used and can be very successful. It enabled doctors, lawyers, school teachers and high-profile types to come into a meeting and get their recovery without fear of backlash. And that’s a good thing.
Times Have Changed
I don’t think there’s any time during my recovery that disclosing myself as a recovering addict would have really cost me anything. In reality, most times my disclosure brings admiring comments about how awesome and brave to be in recovery or stories about a brother or cousin or uncle they have who is also in recovery. There’s actually a lot of us out there…
Stigma isn’t what it used to be, but it’s still there, make no mistake.
When And How Do You Talk About It?
Not everyone has a positive, rosy view of the recovering addict or alcoholic. I’ve run into it in the past and know that it will happen in the future as well. Addict’s can leave a lot of damage in their paths so it is not unusual to run into people who have experienced it first hand. Awareness is finally lifting the incorrect view that addiction is a moral failing and choice. More and more people are becoming informed as science sheds light on this disease. The fact that the medical community has now created a specialization and branch specifically for addiction is a big step forward.
I have the right to my anonymity, of course, but do I also have a responsibility to do my part in ending stigma? It’s something I’ve been thinking about, and I know I’m not alone. I choose to state that I am in recovery, I am open about it I do not feel ashamed of it. It is a part of my past not my future. I refuse to accept the stigma that may be handed out by others you see the bottom line is that addiction is a disease. Like cancer it kills you. It is chronic and progressive and the most challenging part is you are never cured you are always in remission. Today with treatment, therapy, and 12-step programs it is possible to get sober and live in recovery.
When Do I Talk About My Recovery?
When I go see a new doctor or dentist. This is extremely important. Because I am still at risk, I need to disclose that I am an addict, my health care providers need this information so that they can work with me to give me the best, safest medical care possible.
When I make new friends they are usually in recovery, but not always. While I understand that being a recovering addict doesn’t define me in any way, it’s an important part of me and my life. At some point I bring it up, especially if I feel that the relationship is going to be more than a surface-level acquaintance type thing.
On the rare occasion I’m in a social situation where alcohol is offered to me, I might choose to say I’m in recovery or not it just depends. While I can turn down a drink without disclosing my sobriety, I sometimes decide to bring it up. This has sparked plenty of conversations. I can’t tell you how many times someone has replied “Oh, I’m sorry, that must be awful!” I laugh and tell them it’s not. But it does go to show how people view alcohol and it’s importance in social settings.
When I do talk about my recovery, I keep it simple. I will generally say “I’m in recovery.” This is a simple statement that people sometimes understand and sometimes don’t. If they look at me quizzically, I elaborate. “I’m a recovering addict.”
This is where it gets interesting. Not everyone is familiar with recovery, or what it entails. Most people understand, on a basic level, that I am abstinent. Most people have positive things to say, and are open to learning more, although some get a distinctly disapproving look on their faces before smiling and saying something polite.
Sometimes, they will confess that they, too “used to have a problem.” Or that they have a family member who is struggling. Disclosing recovery often starts a dialogue, and seems to give people permission to talk about their own experiences.
When You Have To Disclose
For some of us, disclosure has to be done. If you have a record, you might need to bring it up when applying for a job, for example. While uncomfortable, most people agree that it’s rarely as bad as they imagine. Thanks to the hard work and efforts of those who came before us, addiction is losing the negative stigma that has dogged us for years. Because of people willing to break their anonymity and talk openly about their experiences, acceptance is more common.
How do you feel about anonymity vs. disclosure? Do you talk openly about your recovery? Do you think that if more people break their anonymity it will help end stigma? These are all questions you should consider, also your sponsor is also a good resource and sounding board if you're ever unsure.
Rose Lockinger is passionate member of the recovery community. A rebel who found her cause, she uses blogging and social media to raise the awareness about the disease of addiction. She has visited all over North and South America. Single mom to two beautiful children she has learned parenting is without a doubt the most rewarding job in the world. Currently the Outreach Director at Stodzy Internet Marketing.