I was about halfway through my 28-day stint in rehab for alcoholism when my mom called and said that some people were starting to wonder where I was. She wanted to know how she should answer their questions. Without hesitation, I told her to tell anyone who asked that I was in rehab for alcohol addiction. That was the truth and I was tired of lying. Plus, anyone close to me knew I had a problem.
I buried the shame of this disease when I buried my brother six weeks earlier from a drug overdose. But for those for six weeks between his death and my asking for help, I drowned myself in alcohol to escape the feelings of grief. I couldn't imagine not having alcohol to numb the pain. The fact I woke up on June 11, 2012 and asked for help still baffles me.
I was introduced to the 12 steps in rehab and went to meetings because they were mandatory. When I returned home, I tiptoed back into the rooms but I wasn't working any steps and I didn't have a sponsor. I was three months sober and made a post on Facebook for National Recovery Month that said:
"I am joining the voices for RECOVERY to bring AWARENESS to the growing epidemic of SUBSTANCE ABUSE for National Recovery Month in memory of those who have fallen victim to, in honor of those in recovery, and in hope of those still suffering from this evil disease. Hello, my name is Allison, I'm an alcoholic and can proudly say I am alive, in recovery and thankful."
This post had nothing to do with my affiliation or lack there of with Alcoholics Anonymous, but oh did the shit storm of people's opinions come flooding in. Of course, with just a simple post on Facebook, it was in the form of private messages from "friends" who were just "looking out for me" and warned me of how dangerous my public proclamation could be to my recovery and how I was breaking the 11th tradition that states "Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films." Three years later, as a writer in recovery who speaks very openly about my struggles in addiction and life in recovery, I can't tell you the number of angry emails and comments I've read about my lack of respect for the 12 traditions of AA.
I have never identified myself as a member of AA, so I guess people just assume that if you are sober and say you are in recovery then you must be a member of AA, which seems a little presumptuous if you ask me. Often, their comments ranting about breaking anonymity in AA make them the only one mentioning AA, ironically breaking their own anonymity.
AA's pamphlet, Understanding Anonymity, says, "As valuable as privacy is to new members, it is noteworthy that most of them are eager to share the good news of their A.A. affiliation with their families. Such a disclosure, however, is always their own choice: A.A. as a whole seeks to ensure that individual members stay as private and protected as they wish, or as open as they wish, about belonging to the Fellowship; but always with the understanding that anonymity at the level of the press, radio, TV, films and other media technologies such as the Internet is crucial to our continuing sobriety and growth--at both the personal and group levels."
So, does this mean you can't talk about your recovery at the level of press, radio, or film? No! It means you don't identify yourself as an AA.
"Facts about AA Anonymity" states: "A.A. members may disclose their identity and speak as recovered alcoholics, giving radio, TV and Internet interviews, without violating the Traditions -- so long as their A.A. membership is not revealed."
The thing is, you don't need to identify yourself with AA or any other organization for that matter to talk about your recovery and bring awareness to the disease of alcoholism and addiction to help end the stigma and shame. There are plenty of sober people who don't use AA as part of their recovery and there are plenty of people who do, but it doesn't really matter because in the end we are all just trying to help those still suffering from this disease.
There is fierce movement taking place right now that is awesome to watch and be a part of where people are stepping into the light and showing what recovery looks like. We are coming together to end the stigma and live out loud as people in long term recovery from addiction. I don't think it matters how you get sober or stay sober, just as long as you know it's possible and we are all in this together.
For every angry email I receive about someone's disdain for my decision to talk openly about my recovery, I have at least dozen emails thanking me. People will always have their opinions about me or anyone else who speaks out about their recovery and that's fine. What other people think about me is none of my business. I will continue to live out loud with my recovery and try and help the alcoholic still suffering until my last dying sober breath.
This post originally appeared on AfterParty Magazine.
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.