It’s important to share recovery stories, during National Recovery Month, and every other month.
Stories of recovery are immensely powerful; they plant seeds of hope for those feeling desperate and forlorn. Not only do they give someone a reason to live, they also change stigmatized perceptions of people with substance use disorder, and of those living a healthy life in recovery.
Given the devastating reality of addiction in this country, we need to do everything we can — even if that means breaking anonymity — to get more people into recovery, by sharing our individual stories.
When we look at the word’s addiction and recovery, we focus on the problem: nearly 21 million Americans have substance use disorder. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this disease killed an estimated 72,000 people last year — those are lives that could have been saved had more people had the help they needed. The reality is that fewer than 3.8 million get access to treatment. One of the major reasons impacting those seeking treatments is stigma.
In the US, there are 22.35 million Americans in recovery — that’s nearly 10 percent of the population — but do we all share out stories? Or do we realize the power we have to fight stigma?
Many people in recovery adhere to a misconceived notion of anonymity, meaning they think that they should keep their association with recovery a secret. In fact, that isn’t what the tradition of Alcoholics Anonymous is all about. Anonymity is only supposed to prevent someone who attends AA from declaring membership to that fellowship — it doesn’t prevent them from speaking aloud about their recovery. Too often anonymity is confused with secrecy and confidentiality. Author Susan Cheever says “We are in the midst of a public health crisis when it comes to understanding and treating addiction. AA’s principle of anonymity may only be contributing to general confusion and prejudice. When it comes to alcoholism and AA, the problem is very public, but the solution is still veiled in secrecy.”
I believe that it’s misguided to keep our recovery a secret, under the guise of anonymity — or for any other reason — because doing so takes away the power we have to effect change: to fight stigma, and to get more people into recovery. It keeps our country focused on the problem rather than the limited solutions available. We desperately need more resources: better treatment, increased access to treatment, more harm reduction services, and more resources for people in early recovery. How can we advocate if we keep quiet?
When I got sober six and a half years ago, I had reached a place of no return. Faced with two options: end my misery, or get sober, I chose the latter. Had someone not shared their story, I may not have known about a solution available to me.
At that time, AA was the only solution where I lived in the UK. While that helped me get on my feet and start a life of sobriety, I did eventually leave in favor of a more fluid recovery. Part of the reason I speak out about my recovery today is because I want people in recovery to know that there are multiple pathways of recovery and to recovery, and we should never be afraid to try different approaches. The overarching aim of all of these solutions are the same: reducing harm — that could mean medication-assisted recovery, an abstinence program, and/or membership to a mutual-aid group.
Another reason I speak out is because had I known that I could’ve got help to stop earlier, I may not have reached the depths I did. I thought — as do many others — that you had to reach a “rock bottom.” But rock bottom is a pervasive myth: it results in many people delaying their recovery and the resources available to them. We need to intervene earlier, and we need those struggling to see that they don’t have to create those desperate conditions to seek help.
What I love most about our stories though is seeing all of these incredible stories of transformation. All types of people, from all walks of life, have a common goal of seeking a fulfilling and purposeful life where there was once darkness and desperation. We show others that life is worth living. If you don’t already, please consider speaking out, you could save a life.