I have been asked many times to explain why I have chosen to be so "out of the closet" and open about being a person in long-term recovery from a substance use disorder. This inquiry generally comes from well-meaning individuals with good intentions who are seeking to understand. Typically I field questions such as "aren't you worried about people judging you?" or "it's been so long, aren't you past the point of talking about your recovery?" I am always happy to explain the reasons why it is so important to me to recover out loud - below are my top 3:
1) To provide hope:
The world is unfortunately all too aware of what an active substance use disorder looks like but not yet commonly aware of what thriving recovery looks like. Many people have experienced or witnessed substance use disorder in action but not seen an accompanying experience of recovery. A good number of those folks are likely to not have hope that recovery is possible because they have not seen it for themselves or their loved ones. Furthermore, when somebody is struggling with an active substance use disorder, the chances are relatively high that those around them are well aware of it. Whether it is standing at a bus stop, in line at the pharmacy or attending a wedding, it is often clear to the outside world when somebody there is living with a substance use disorder. Conversely, when somebody is living in recovery from a substance use disorder, it is common that outside of their immediate circle of family, friends and recovery community members, many people have no idea that they are a person in recovery. In order for the world at large to have hope that recovery is possible, they have to see it. Recovery has to be made just as visible, if not more so than the painfully visible substance use disorder that preceded it. There has to be glimmers of hope that recovery can happen. If I do not tell you that I am a person in long-term recovery, you have no idea. If you have no idea, then you are missing out on an opportunity to receive the hope that recovery is happens. I recover out loud to be hope to the larger world that recovery is indeed possible.
2) To shatter stigma:
The most effective strategies for breaking down stigma are contact strategies. This occurs when a person is faced with evidence that contradicts their preexisting ideas, beliefs, opinions and attitudes about a thing or group of people. With many individuals having a perception of substance use disorder that does not include recovery, it is easy for them to go on holding onto the viewpoint that recovery does not happen. It is only when confronted with evidence showing otherwise that people will begin to challenge the way they view substance use disorder. When an individual who has not seen evidence that recovery is possible is introduced to a person in recovery, the walls of some of those preexisting beliefs begin to crack. When those cracks occur, an opening has been made for hope, compassion, tolerance, understanding, acceptance and admiration. This creates more safe spaces in the world for anybody struggling with substance use disorder or in recovery to be open and honest about it without fear of judgment, discrimination or shaming. I recover out loud to shatter stigma so that the world is a safer place for anybody in or seeking recovery, as well as to show the world that recovery can and does happen.
3) To share the solutions:
Every single day in the United States, approximately 350 people - 350 sons, daughters, partners, mothers, fathers, friends, neighbors - die as a result of substance use disorder. 1/3 of families in our country are impacted in some way by addiction. Now more than ever, it is imperative that we make solutions for finding recovery available and accessible to anybody in need of them. The beautiful thing about this is that there are many solutions available! Millions of individuals have successfully discovered and utilized strategies and tools to initiate and sustain long-term recovery. The challenge is not so much in the availability of these solutions; the greatest obstacle lies in the accessibility part. Solutions are out there - everything from evidence-based treatment interventions, medication management tools, self-help and other support strategies, community based recovery support services - there are plenty of solutions for individuals and families to access. The problem lies more so in the access area. While there are countless reasons for lack of access to recovery resources that range from sorely inadequate funding to racial and cultural disparities, one reason that we can begin to alleviate today is a lack of knowledge or awareness about what the solutions are. With so many individuals living quietly in recovery, there is the unfortunate by-product of silence surrounding what has worked for them. If more individuals in recovery would talk openly about their recovery and the resources, tools and strategies they used that allowed them to sustain it, more people would become aware of them. Widespread awareness of the solutions would drastically improve access to them. I recover out loud so that I may freely and widely share the solutions, both the solutions I've personally used and those that I may not have used but that have worked for others. I recover out loud so individuals and families will have awareness of and access to whatever it is they need to initiate and sustain long-term recovery.