Anonymous…Or Not?

First, thanks to Ellie over at One Crafty Mother for highlighting this issue.

Wow. I had chills as I watched the trailer for the new documentary The Anonymous People, which focuses on the culture of recovery and “the faces and voices of citizens, leaders, volunteers, corporate executives, public figures, and celebrities who are laying it all on the line to save the lives of others just like them.”

This got me thinking about how we all choose to use our voice in our individual lives – and how voice can be one of the most powerful weapons out there.

Using my voice to shine light on addiction and alcoholism is something I’m very passionate about – ask anyone! In my opinion, the recovery community has stayed silent for much too long. When I first got sober I was scared to death about the social stigma involved in admitting I was an alcoholic. In my mind, I might as well have been telling people I was a complete loser and failure. I worried about what my friends, family, neighbors – really anyone- would think about me. I remember Googling famous sober people because I had a desperate need to know that I wasn’t the only “normal” person out there that was sober (not that famous people are really that normal!). Fortunately, I found a few, but in my mind, not enough. There HAD to be more people out there like me.

Sorry to say folks, but the image of the drunk under the bridge holding a paper bag is long gone. Of course, they still exist, but the reality is that there’s more people who look like you and me in recovery these days. We work, are educated, have successful careers, drive nice cars, wear nice clothes, live in nice homes – yet, we all have one thing in common, we’re all working to stay sober.

I respect the tradition of anonymity, but believe it is solely my choice whether I choose to stay anonymous or not. For me, personally, I NEED and WANT to use my voice to stop the stigma associated with alcoholism and addition. Recovery has taught me that I’m NOT a loser or failure, but a strong, brave and determined woman who will not be silenced about this disease.

So, for those of you new to recovery, who might be feeling ashamed of your addiction and alcoholism, I am here to tell you that you are not alone! There are rooms full of people around this country who are just like you – strong, brave and determined to create a better life for themselves.

God gave me this voice and I plan to use it to share His message of hope, healing and forgiveness. Despite my initial fear and anger, I now accept the path that God has lead me on and will do everything in my power to convey my gratitude to Him for the gift of sobriety.

As long as I have a voice, I will speak my truth and yell from any mountain top “I will not be silent, I will not be silent, I will NOT be silent!”

14 responses

  1. BRAVO.
    This post frickin’ rocks.

    {applauding, standing on chair, whistling}

    I saw this trailer a few weeks ago, and got goosebumps too. I too have been silently struggling with this issue. I put my pic up on one of my last posts, as my very subtle way of putting my pinky toe into the water of UN-anonymity. Many of the tweeters out there have their pics and names out there, as many of the bloggers (like you). I am not sure why I have been fighting it so much – perhaps the traditions that I adhere to in the rooms. Perhaps feeling like I would be “letting down” AA if I went public about my inclusion of the program.

    But.

    There is something that just jumped out of my spirit when I read your post, in conjunction with re-viewing that trailer. There is something that made me want to jump on the rooftops. And there is something that tells me that even after two years, that feeling that I should be telling people, that I need not be hiding behind a dated stigma, needs to be heeded in one fashion or another.

    If anyone is going to break any sort of stigma or idea of the alcoholic out there, it’s us – the alcoholics!

    You have me thinking…big things, Chenoa. Big things.

    Thank you.

    Paul

    P.S it’s funny – I was just about to write a post on the blog about self-containment – and this sort of blows things away on a deeper level. Dang. I will need to sleep on this and figure out what the Creator needs me to do. it will be an ongoing meditation.

  2. Love you! And love your post! So very true and keep on shouting to the world Chenoa! I look up to you and your confidence on sharing… people need to know its ok to be these things an alcoholic, addiict, and not feel ashamed or feeling like they failed in life… But to pick up with a smile saying yep that’s me and that’s gods plan for me and I may have to work a little harder since society social life generally revolves around it alcohol, but not let it stop me from having fun, infact personally i have never been happier since my sobriety, we are people and we are not perfect all the time, we make mistakes that part of the deal. I may have a relapse but just to know with god by your side, he will and can get you through it and pick you back up… As long as there is a will there is away! ~ Christa

    • Thank you so much for this post, I feel absolutely inspired and moved to tears! I have been more and more open to sharing my story just for that same reason. The shame that people associate with this disease is absolutely crazy! I did not dream of being an alcoholic when I grow up! And I know none of us did, it is time for people to stop seeing this as a morality issue, or a lack of will-power, just say no ! ha! – alcoholism/addiction is a disease and it kills like just like a disease!

      Thank you again! I am posting this trailer all over – wish I knew how to repost this but I am on blogger so I don’t think I can, but I 1ill definitely link it up on my page!

      Maggie

      • Thanks, Maggie! That’s wonderful that you’re feeling more comfortable sharing your story. There is absolutely nothing to be ashamed about. If anything, you should be applauded for your strength and bravery. Keep it up!

  3. This post is so timely for me. Last night was our monthly traditions meeting and I chaired over Tradition 6: “An AA group ought never endorse, finance or lend the AA name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property, and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.” It was a good meeting with lots of lively discussion. We did get onto the topic of the alcoholic stigma at some point and this is really where people start questioning the traditions.

    I’m very, very passionate about the program. If it had not been around when I needed it, then I would’ve been dead 5 years ago. I have found my way into the service structure of AA and have studied some of its history, so I definitely understand the need for the traditions – why they came about and how they protect AA as a whole for future generations. I also understand that AA has withstood some incredible moments where tradition has been violated. And in some ways these violations have made us a much more solidified, stronger force (eg: the Rockefellers and the Jack Alexander letter).

    Now, I’m definitely not one to hide behind anonymity (hell, I’m apparently a recovery blogger now, too, so the whole world knows my story). At the same time, there is a lot to my recovery that is unrelated to AA. Yes, AA is what got me started and it’s still at the heart of my program, but I don’t imagine myself a spokesperson for AA as a whole. If we were to really split hairs, you could say I don’t even belong in AA to begin with because I’m a drug addict and I’ve never really had a problem with alcohol at all. And as an IV drug addict, I face a much stronger stigma than most AAs (You see an alcoholic as a homeless man drinking out of a bag under a bridge? What do you see when you think “heroin addict”?). Still, it is my responsibility as a member of AA to preserve the program for future generations – to remember our primary purpose and not to let my ego dictate how I present recovery.

    One huge point was made over and over last night: the traditions are about humility – if my intentions are not pure, then I am not representing AA properly. (And as a human, I am inherently flawed, and therefore can never properly represent AA as a whole). When I discuss my recovery, I must remember all those times I went off script and tried something that wasn’t in the book. I can tell anyone I want that I’m in recovery, but I can’t allow myself to think I am some perfect example of recovery, lest pride the most of me and I inadvertently prove just how often people fail at this thing. There is a reason we remain anonymous at the level of press, radio and films – because we have no guarantee that we will be sober tomorrow, and what does it look like when someone like Lindsay Lohan or Charlie Sheen attaches his name to AA? What does it do for the credibility of the program?

    We want to reduce our stigma, but we have to do it on a personal basis. There is a reason alcoholics have this stigma – because we have proven time and time and time again that we are untrustworthy. We lie, cheat, steal, manipulate, and generally harm ourselves and others in unconscionable ways. I’ll be 5 years sober on the 3rd and still there are those people who refuse to forgive my past. And they have reason to not forgive. As much as it may hurt me, these are things I’ve done and consequences I must deal with. I have worked the steps, though, and I have forgiven myself. I don’t allow their unforgiveness to affect my self-worth.

    Yes, there is this alcoholic stigma. And how strong are we when we can stand proudly in the face of it? How many people in that movie have already relapsed? Even if there is only one and a struggling alcoholic sees him in the midst of his active disease, these people have done a disservice to the name of recovery. We are judged far more harshly than normies because people look to us to fail. It’s great when we can prove them wrong, but what happens when we prove them right?

    I’m not saying (in this book I’ve written here) that I think this movie is a bad thing. I’m pretty sure I’ll see it and I’ll probably like it. I’m also sure that it will help a lot of people. It is not the answer, though, and we need to be careful not to get our hopes up that our stigma will ever be affected even if everyone in recovery stood up and shouted it from the mountaintops. Because of the most basic principle of the program – we only have one day. We live one day at a time and every day we must thank God for giving us that one day. If we allow ourselves to become complacent and “rest on our laurels,” we will see how not only our own program, but the program as a whole will crumble.

    • Thank you so much for you comments and insight! Regardless of failure in recovery, because I think all success involves failure, it’s the stigma associated with taking that first step and asking for help that is most important. Many of us are afraid to simply walk through the doors of our first meeting because of the stigma associated with needing help. I’m not promoting any particular program of recovery, I’m simply saying that recovery is not something to be embarrassed about or looked down upon – it’s a gift that should not be taken for granted. The traditions in any program are important and should be valued and respected, however, there comes a time when things must change and adapt to go forward. As you mentioned, as a recovering addict yourself, there was a time when you would have been turned away from a program that specifically focused on alcoholics. However, now you find alcoholics and addicts alike sitting together, sharing their experiences, strength and hope – which is a beautiful thing. My program of recovery is simply that – mine. If I can defy the stigma associated with recovery, I will continue to use my voice to do so. Thanks again for your comments! One of the greatest things about the sober blogging community is we can delve deeper into these important (and passionate!) issues!

      • This is true. However, the greatest stigma placed on us as we walk through the doors is that which we place upon ourselves. We are invincible, after all. Other people may need help, but not us! It doesn’t matter if the Dalai Lama himself came out as an alcoholic. That’s HIS problem, not mine!

        Don’t be mistaken, as a drug addict, I was asked to leave at times. I had to learn to conform to the AA norm so that I could take advantage of all it had to offer. Best thing that ever happened to me because it helped me to look at the similarities and not the differences. Today, I help other “and a’s” learn how that differentiation keeps them from identifying, belonging and recovering.

  4. I used to blog about recovery anonymously but it started to feel like I was hiding. In an attempt to be more authentic, I started blogging with my real name but it took me months to finally decide to focus on sobriety and recovery. Once I made that decision, I felt free. As a mom who is a recovering alcoholic, I’m sensitive to all the moms posting picutres on Facebook of their evening glasses of wine and talking about how they can’t wait until the kids go to bed so that they can drink. I was that mom. I speak openly about alcoholism because I know that there are a lot of moms who need someone to show them what it looks like to be sober. They need to see a real face, a real name and know that if they choose to stop drinking, they won’t be banished by society. I’m fortunate to have a hugely supportive family and I try very hard to write respectfully about my life and to only tell my story, not theirs. Like you, I feel like God gave me this voice to use. These experiences aren’t like scars anymore; they’re like tattoos. Other people might think they’re ugly but they’re mine and can’t be separated from me.

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