Last week, Swenny returned home from group therapy and told me about the topic central to their discussion – the stigma of addiction. For years, Swenny and I fed into this with our own shame surrounding his alcoholism. We didn’t tell anyone, until one day when I decided to tell everyone. In an effort to remove “anonymous” from our story, I told family, friends, trusted coworkers and our kids. The hardest part wasn’t the information being shared, but how quickly many chose to change the subject without barely acknowledging the distress in which we found ourselves. Those who stayed for a longer conversation have remained close and today make up our small but very special circle of friends.
As part of the discussion regarding the stigma of addiction, his group watched the documentary “Anonymous People.” The story of one person in particular – actress and writer Kristen Johnston – inspired him. She was in the documentary, sharing her story of addiction and recovery through readings from her book Guts. Swenny was so lifted by her honesty, I purchased the book and finished it on Saturday, topping it off by watching “Anonymous People.”
By the time the clock struck midnight, it was even more clear to me that addiction is a disease and not a moral weakness or character flaw. People who suffer from addiction of any form should be heralded for their courage, not expected to navigate their recovery secretly in anonymous recovery groups, or worse, alone. While I always believed this, I never felt there was anything I could do. Until now.
I am one voice, and Swenny is another. Combined with so many others who are seeking sobriety, in recovery, or part of another person’s journey, we can help convince others that there is no room for shame in dealing with chronic conditions like alcoholism. We can possibly make a difference. But not if we won’t freely share our story.
For a long time, I have questioned the anonymity central to many 12 step and recovery programs. Not being a person in recovery myself, though, I didn’t feel it was my place to challenge what works for so many people, wishing in the very least for Swenny to find success through his meetings. To understand better, I joined Al-Anon but didn’t find it to be a good fit. Not meaning to take away its value for others, I found that speaking to strangers in church basements didn’t help me. Telling people who knew me of the challenges I was facing in navigating life as a person who loved an alcoholic did. It made it real.
And I was lucky because the people I chose to tell expected me to do something about it…find resources, understand implications, and even develop an exit strategy while never losing site of the goal: a sober Swenny followed by long term recovery.
Despite the progress Swenny and I have made, I feel like a fraud. This blog is anonymous, shared only with those I trust and strangers nice enough to take interest in my words. Each time I sit down to write, conversations of which I have been a part run through my head. There is no reason to tell anyone. It’ll hurt his self esteem. It’s possibly your fault.
I’ve convinced myself, though, that I am not shielding our story out of shame. I’m shielding it to protect Swenny from the realness that comes from sharing. When he’s ready, I’ll bring him in and help him tell anyone willing to listen. By then, he’ll be prepared to proudly acknowledge the courage he invoked to achieve sobriety. He’ll share his story, knowing others will seek his footsteps in order to follow in them.
Until then, I’ll be grateful for my ten followers. And happy to reveal to you our faces. This is us.