As thousands from all over the world gathered today in Washington, DC to participate in the Unite to Face Addiction Rally, I’m optimistic that their message will help lower the stigma of having the disease of addiction, and demonstrate the power of recovery. If we can #RecoverOutLoud and bring the message of hope and healing to the forefront, it can serve to raise awareness and support for those who are struggling, as well as their families and all those that love them.
The tagline for the event is, “The Day The Silence Ends.” I’m hopeful that the silence will be broken, but that being said, I’m also hopeful that sober members of Alcoholics Anonymous can break that silence while honoring that Fellowship’s 11th tradition.
AA’s 11th Tradition 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,” and it’s a vitally important principle.
It IS incredibly important to share with others about recovery, but there are ways of revealing it without identifying yourself as a member of a specific 12-Step Fellowship*
It makes me crazy when I see a celebrity or an author interviewed and hear them disclose that they’re a member of AA, as I heard a few weeks ago when NPR’s Fresh Air host Terry Gross interviewed Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber, an extraordinary woman who is the founding Pastor of the House of All Sinners and Saints in Denver, CO; or when I was reading Rising Strong this week, the terrific new book by Brene Brown, about continuing to live vulernably, despite those “face down in the arena” moments. She disclosed in the book, as she had in a previous book, that she was at one time a member of Alcoholics Anonymous.
I’m not interested in coming off as a holier than thou bitch or a know it all, and I’m certainly not interested in shaming anyone or questioning their intelligence for breaking the 11th Tradition…I just don’t understand why it’s necessary, as I’ve seen it do more harm that good.
As the film makers of The Anonymous People so beautifully stress, it’s imperative for us to talk openly about recovery and be examples of what an addiction-free life can look like, especially when people learn about our histories of using/drinking/bingeing, etc, and how far we’ve come. It gives any actively using/drinking addicts and alcoholics out in the world a sense of hope; a sense of knowing that their lives, too, can change – for the better.
There’s a reason why recovering people say they’re taking it “one day at a time…” There are no guarantees and unfortunately, relapse is sometimes part of the process, especially when we lose sight of how powerful this disease is, and how easy it is to let our egos get in the way of asking for help. So when a celebrity such as Lindsay Lohan or Brittany Spears talks about how she’s been in AA and then relapses again and again, someone engaged in active addiction can use it as an excuse.
Alcoholics are at no loss for reasons for why they don’t or can’t get sober, and when a prominent person gives them a reason to not try a fellowship that has helped millions of people save their own lives in the last 80 years, it could spoil the one chance that person has to get better. I heard it many times as a therapist…”See, just look at Lindsay Lohan…she went to AA and a lot of good it did her. That AA thing didn’t work for her and it won’t work for me either, so I’m not going to go.”
There are scores of authors, actors and musicians who have been quite open about their recovery: Rob Lowe, Eva Mendez, Ben Affleck, Ann Lamott, Toby Maguire, Dick van Dyke, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Sheryl Crow, Keith Urban, Matthew Perry, Craig Ferguson…the list goes on and on. I don’t know if they’re in AA or any other 12-Step Fellowship, such Narcotics Anonymous or Cocaine Anonymous, because I’ve never heard them say publicly that they are. Maybe I’m being naive, or maybe I just don’t read the gossip columns, but what I’ve heard and read about them is that they identify themselves as recovering. Period.
The 12 Traditions were created for a reason: they help to guide the group the way the Steps, along with a sponsor, serve to guide the individual. As Brene Brown writes about in Rising Strong, part of life is learning from our mistakes. The founders of AA didn’t need to make the same mistakes that some other organizations did, and as a result of creating and abiding by The Traditions, 80 years since it was founded, AA is still going strong and offering light to those struggling with darkness.
So if you’re a member of a 12-Step Fellowship and someone asks you about your recovery in a one-to-one conversation, by all means, DO talk about it – about how you found a place to share honestly and openly; about how you found a place where you had examples of recovery all around you, with people further ahead on the path that could offer you their experience, strength and hope; about how you found a place where you could learn how to live life completely on life’s terms, without continuing to destroy your life with substances or behaviors, and about how, despite all odds, it changed your life. Being that power of example is what “attraction” is all about, because it offers hope.
But if you’re talking on a level of press, radio, films or ANY other public form of communication (including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, podcasts, etc), I IMPLORE you to honor the Traditions by saying you’re in recovery, and not that you go to 12-Step Meetings (AA, NA, CA, etc) Just remember, if there’s someone out there who’s sick and suffering in the throes of addiction, restraint of tongue and pen at the level of press, radio, film and other public forms of communication could literally save his or her life.
If you’re interested in supporting Unite to Face Addiction in their efforts to stand up for recovery, you can text “facing” to 41444 to donate now.
*The 12-Steps are not the only way for someone to recover: there are other programs, such as Women for Sobriety, Secular Organizations for Sobriety, LifeRing Secular Recovery, Christians in Recovery®, etc.