THE BLOG
02/08/2016 05:52 pm ET Updated Feb 06, 2017

The Leg Up My Whiteness Provided Me In My Addiction Recovery

There was a time when I attributed my recovery from addiction solely to God or a "higher power." I was grateful to have been saved from the hell of living with an active substance use disorder and eternally indebted to God for his mercy and grace.

Then I realized there had to be more to it than just God. I couldn't wrap my mind around the idea that God would save me and not others. Nope - there had to be more.

I then went through a period of time when I attributed my recovery from addiction to God alongside my willingness, determination, resilience and fortitude. I was now an equal partner to God in the whole thing, and I was eternally indebted to God for his mercy, grace and for meeting me in the middle when I did my part.

I then realized there had to be more to it than that as well. Many people I encountered had equal or greater amounts of those above mentioned personal attributes, along with the same God. Nope - there had to be more.

Then I went through a period of time when I attributed my recovery from addiction to God, willingness, determination, resilience, fortitude and access to the resources I needed as an individual to initiate and sustain recovery. This perfect combination of having exactly what I needed, when I was ready for it seemed to be the answer. I was eternally indebted to God for his mercy and grace, for meeting me in the middle with my personal strengths, and for a system that supplied what I needed, when I needed it.

Then I realized there had to be more to that too. Many people I've encountered have the same personal attributes, the same God, are in the same community with the same system; and yet they have not had access to initiating and sustaining the long-term recovery I've found. Nope - there had to be more.

Then I learned about privilege. I learned about the privilege I was born into as a white woman. I realized that by virtue of that privilege alone, I've always had a better shot at addiction recovery. I realized that I am part of a system that wanted to see me succeed as a juvenile justice involved youth because of my white skin. I realized I am part of a system that is more likely to cut me a break, more willing to give me a second chance and more willing to believe in my redemption than my counterparts of color.

I learned that only 1 in 111 white woman wind up incarcerated in their lifetime, while 1 in 3 black men will end up behind bars. I learned that 2/3 of all people in prison for drug-related offenses are people of color, while 5 times as many white people report using drugs. I realized that our institutions and people in power are more forgiving of my past than the past of somebody who has lived with the same illness but in darker skin. I realized that the "something more" which has allowed me to find long-term recovery is privilege. My privilege as a white woman is the key ingredient that made the difference between me finding recovery, me finding a jail cell or me finding death.

This same privilege, in fact, allows me to be so open about being a person in long-term recovery. It allows me to be an active recovery advocate, to openly disclose my recovery status with less worry about some of the stigma and discrimination that my colleagues of color would face. As a white woman, I can tell you that I have over 10 years of continuous abstinence and you smile and call me an inspiration. I can't help but wonder if I was a black male telling you the same thing, if you'd clutch your purse and not trust as much in my redemption.

I've been thinking lately about how the addiction recovery advocacy landscape is predominately white, how the push to "come out of the shadows" has been led primarily by people of privilege. I've been thinking about how the war on drugs has affected a substantially greater amount of people of color, yet those same people are not as empowered to speak out. I've been thinking about how some of our events and rallies aren't organized by, geared toward or at all attractive to the very people most impacted by the war on drugs and devastating drug policies. I've been thinking about how it is a safer world for me as a white woman, or for some of you as white males, to disclose being a person in long-term recovery than it is for a person of color - how different my role as an advocate would be if my skin was brown rather than white. I've been thinking about how I may not even be alive, I'd probably not be free, and I'd certainly not be able to speak this truth and be heard in the same way as I am.

There was a time when I wouldn't speak out about privilege. Then I realized that the time to speak out is now. The time is now that we all talk about it. Let's have this long overdue conversation, good people.

http://www.naacp.org/pages/criminal-justice-fact-sheet

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