Saturday, September 5, 2009

An Explanation

I suppose it is inevitable, really, what has been going on this week. I have been getting some strong reactions to posting about recovery. It is a slippery slope, this talking about addiction thing. There are a couple of fundamental principles that are important to adhere to, and some recent events, that I won't go into, have got me thinking.

Facing up to the fact that you may be an alcoholic, or addict, is an intensely personal decision. If you decide you have a problem, then it is up to you to decide if, or how, you want to get help. A person has to believe in their heart that they have a problem in order for recovery to successfully begin. It is an inside job.

Because of the intensely personal nature of deciding you have a problem, and the stigma surrounding addictions of any kind, protecting people's privacy is essential. It is hard enough to face up to the fact that you need help. As you progress down the path of recovery, your privacy becomes even more paramount - you will be facing feelings, emotions, and actions that are frightening, oftentimes shameful, and you are very vulnerable. The fear of this vulnerability, of being exposed at any point, keeps a lot of people stuck in the cycle of addiction.

I have made a personal choice to be public about my own experience in addiction and recovery. It is a balancing act of sorts, talking about this, because the only things I know to be true are the things that I have felt and experienced myself. Everyone has their own journey, their own story, their own belief system. There are several ways to get help, many ways to recover. In my opinion, whatever way works for you, helps you stop and begin to live a fuller life, is a good way.

But it is a hornet's nest. People feel strongly about recovery, and for good reason. It is a sacred process, talking about it, and trying to get well. How people do this, what they say, how they feel, is not for public consumption. Perhaps, by sharing my story, I am overstepping these boundaries a bit, because I can't share my experience without providing some details of how I stay sober. It is this process that people wish to protect. I understand this, and I will strive harder to respect the sanctity of this.

So what to do? Do I stop talking about it? I have been doing serious soul searching about this. Again, I can only relate my own experience, and what I remember about my decision to get help. Once I finally, finally realized I had a problem, the next question was, of course, how? It is rare to know if someone is in recovery, until you are in the recovery community yourself. I didn't have anyone to call that I knew would understand how I felt. But I had read a book, ten years prior, called Drinking, A Love Story, by Caroline Knapp. Even a decade earlier, her struggles, her emotions and her story resonated with me. She reminded me of me in many ways, not just because she drank too much. She didn't match my mind's eye view of what an alcoholic looked like. I identified with her. So when I decided to get help, I turned to her story once again. I read about how she felt, what she did, and what recovery was like for her. I thought to myself: if she got sober, I can try, too. I will always be grateful to her for this gift.

Taking these first tentative steps towards recovery - the admission to yourself, and then to someone else, someone safe - be it a doctor, a spiritual advisor, another addict - is the most critical, and the most difficult. Sometimes people know someone in recovery - a family member or friend, but more often they don't. I decided to put myself out there, to share my story, in the hopes that something I said resonated with someone who is struggling. Not to provide answers, or a blueprint to the recovery process.

I don't think I can stop talking about it, and when I speak about recovery I wish to convey what my experience - and mine alone - is like on the other side of addiction. Just one email from someone who says: I've never admitted this out loud to anyone, but I think I have a problem - that is enough for me. I do not wish to tell them how to do it, where to go, what they should believe. I feel there is a veil of silence, shame and secrecy that keeps people stuck in addiction. I speak my truth in the hopes that it breaks down that veil, just a little, for another person.


  1. I think what you are doing is brave. I, too, have started a blog on my addiction/recovery but am not ready to be public with my identity. Part of the reason is that I have failed for so long, I fear to fail any more publicly than I have in the past fifteen years. But I think it is important that there are some people willing to be public. It is one way of doing it, one way of helping others. Thank you.

  2. This is a very gentle post. I like it. And you, of course. :)

  3. Keep doing what you're doing. You are a beacon of light for many who are struggling down this path. Don't listen to those who wish to silence you. Never be threatened! They only speak out of a place of fear.

  4. Anonymity is a personal choice. If your choice to go public is to help others and not promote yourself, then your motives are good.

  5. Nobody should feel compelled to discuss the details of something so important and personal, but I don't see why you should feel bad about doing so provided you yourself don't find it detrimental. Surely one of the problems about alcoholism is that the whole condition is so shrouded in secrecy that few people without first hand experience really know what it's like to be an alcoholic either in denial or in recovery; and how can those of us who don't have this experience understand what we don't know much about? I have at least one friend whose alcohol consumption concerns me, and so I personally find it hugely valuable to read your descriptions because they help me understand what the disease is like, and help me try to clarify whether my friend really has a problem or just drinks more than I do. Thank you for what you write; I think the honesty of your motivation shines through, and I am very grateful to read it.

  6. Hi El, I support you in telling your story. I learn a great deal from what you write and of course care about you a lot. I have never felt that you were writing a prescription of recovery rather that you were telling your own personal story

  7. I personally find your story compelling. Keeping the recovery process in secret may keep people from realizing that it is possible to go through it. I find that knowing everyone's process will most likely be different is a good thing to be aware of, but also knowing how one person is making it real; this is a great encouraging thing... Please keep doing what works for you; there are those of us out here, who needed to know/see what is possible.


  8. if protecting the process prevents another person from admitting a problem or seeking help, then it's not worth the effort to protect it...

  9. I do not pretend to understand what someone in addiction or in recovery might, or might not, be feeling. Or what their reasons might be to be unhappy about you sharing your own story and your own process.

    However, I do strongly believe that if you are sharing *your* story only and *your* life only, then that is *your* prerogative. If *they* have a strong reaction to it, then that is an indication that it is resonating uncomfortably with *them* and that is *their* problem, not yours.

    I believe this strongly as I believe it does not apply solely for addiction/recovery, but for life. If you operate from a position of strength, kindness and assertiveness and state your own needs, desires and view; then any problem someone else has is not your responsibility.

    In a roundabout way, it is like addiction - only the addict can 'own' the problem, acknowledge it and/or do something about it. In the same way, only that individual can 'own' their reaction and any problems they have that that reaction highlights. (Not saying that this might be addiction, I hasten to add, it might be an issue with privacy, or whatever.)

    I am hoping I make sense as it is late and I am tired but I feel so strongly about it that I had to comment.

    To sum up - "You go girl, keep on keeping on; and anyone that has a problem with it? Ignore them!"


  10. Stick to you story, Ellie. Make people squirm. Make them react to your honesty. We spend waaaay too much time trying to sanitize the icky things in life so other people won't be uncomfortable.
    I became a widow at 40 after nursing my husband through 7 months of cancer Hell. No one would allow me to talk about it. "They" were uncomfortable? ? ?
    I hope you continue with your wonderful honesty and keep channeling that sorrow and hope into your lovely jewelry - it makes me happy to see it.

  11. I guess I don't (yet) understand enough about recovery to comprehend how/why someone could criticize you for being open. But I just want to say that for me personally, as someone new to sobriety, being able to read your story and see the path of someone whose life is similar to mine is SO helpful and inspiring. I'm so grateful for you and what you share--and I'm sure I'm not alone, you are an incredible beacon for women/mothers who are struggling with their drinking. Please don't let anyone discourage you.

  12. Anonymity is a personal choice. If your choice to go public is to help others and not promote yourself, then your motives are good.