Two perspectives and a middle ground
Recently on social media, there has been a flurry of discussion about the reasons and ways in which people should or should not be “out” about their addiction and recovery status. A growing number of advocates and activists are encouraging people to stop keeping their personal addiction and recovery a secret and start sharing their identities and stories. They believe that when personal addiction is kept secret and private, it is easy for communities, countries, and policymakers to downplay its prevalence and treat it as something that happens to “other people” who are not like themselves. Some argue, too, that with the advent of the Internet, recovery stories can be shared more widely and potentially more powerfully than ever before.
According to some people who blog or otherwise use social media to share their story, there is also another benefit to talking openly about personal experiences with addiction and recovery: it can make you more accountable. While a recovering person who relapses can quietly disappear from self-help groups, addiction treatment, or other such supports and avoid some amount of reaction to his relapse, the person who blogs or shares on Facebook about her addiction and recovery is likely to hear directly from others if she suddenly drops out of virtual sight. And for those who consider sharing their story to be one way of helping other people with addiction, concern about letting those people down can help keep a recovering person on track.
On the other hand, some members of 12-step fellowships, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA), as well as nonmembers who support the organization’s principles, argue that sharing about one’s recovery should be done very cautiously, if at all, as it can be a slippery slope, posing significant risk to personal recovery, referenced self-help organizations, and people who might consider a recovering person an automatic authority, and therefore be adversely affected if the person’s recovery path is different than their own recovery path or needs.
AA’s tradition of anonymity, which dates back more than 80 years, is not a rule, per se, but is nonetheless a suggestion and a spiritual principle based on experiences in which personal disclosure of someone’s 12-step fellowship affiliation resulted in the person being stigmatized or the fellowship being misunderstood or tarnished, or both. People who urge caution about personal disclosure feel that in light of the speed in which information can be disseminated over social media, the anonymity principle is even more relevant today than it was 80 years ago.
It is easy to see validity in both perspectives. Although much has been done and is still being done to combat the stigma of addiction, and despite addiction having been recognized by the medical community as a disease, we still live in a society that tends to treat addiction as primarily a legal matter and/or a matter of self-control. People with addiction histories continue to be stigmatized and discriminated against.
One could argue that the pervasive stigma and discrimination, combined with the speed in which advocacy and networking can happen over social media, is exactly the reason why people should come forward with their addiction and recovery experience. They see recovery stories in particular as important, a counterpoint to the media saturation of stories about drug busts and overdose deaths.
Those protective of anonymity as a spiritual principle and tradition urge caution, if not restraint, in this realm, especially if and/or when in the recovery story, a person’s sharing includes his involvement with a 12-step fellowship. It is too easy for generalizations to be made about recovery and recovery fellowships. For instance, suppose a person’s blog about her personal recovery gains widespread attention and then she relapses. What does that type and level of disclosure say to a person who is brand new in recovery, or a person who is still drinking or using other drugs but considering seeking help?
For Solo Moms in recovery, the potential risks and benefits of both silence and personal disclosure may be especially murky. What about the risks to her children of being teased or mistreated because of their mother’s known addiction or recovery status? What message do the children get when someone’s personal addiction and recovery is a secret to be guarded rather than a connection to a larger community of recovering people and a celebration of the ways in which people can and do get better?
For a large number of people in recovery, a middle ground is found. These individuals make decisions somewhere on the disclosure continuum about how much of their personal recovery story to share and in which ways they should share it. They keep in mind the original reasons for the practice of anonymity, and in deciding what to share and where and how to share it, they consider carefully whether recovery-group affiliations should be specifically identified. They balance the speed of social media with the slowness of careful consideration, often in consultation with others.
If you are a Solo Mom in recovery who is considering sharing your addiction and recovery story with the wider public, ask yourself the following questions:
- What is the “worst-case scenario” of going public?
- What is the “worst-case scenario” of not sharing my addiction and recovery story with more people?
- What do my kids know, and how do they feel about my addiction history and recovery story? How might my disclosures or nondisclosures affect them?
- What does my self-help group and/or support system believe about the importance or detriment of sharing my story? Might there be one or more trusted individuals whom I could consult with before taking any particular action?
- How might personal disclosure affect me at work and with regard to my neighborhood, my church, and my extended family?
If you have answered those questions and still feel uncertain, that is probably a reason to wait. After all, a decision about privacy can be changed at any time, but there is no going back on a decision to share information. Ultimately it is your decision to make, and there are arguments to be made on both sides. But with some careful consideration, you have the best odds of making a decision you’ll be happy with.
Good luck in deciding the amount of disclosure that will work best for you and your family.
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Susan Lemere is a Solo Mom of two, as well as a therapist, a writer, and an artist coach.
Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.