Monday, April 28, 2014

A Public Admission; An Act of Courage, Conviction

Anne Giles
My friend Anne Giles announced on her blog today for all the world that she is an alcoholic. There are those people and organizations who strongly caution against going public with a disease that is often hidden for long periods, but I'm happy for Anne in this.

I stayed under cover--to the degree that any drunk can--for more than 22 years of trying to get sober and failing. Next month--if I make it that far--will mark 20 years of sobriety for me and at least a small part of that two decades came about, I think, because I have not been afraid to talk openly about this disease that forces us to deny we have it. When I was drinking, everybody knew it, I reason. With sobriety, I want to celebrate every day with everybody who wants to listen. Why hide success?

Anne explains her reasons and I won't attempt to interpret, only to present, but I will say mine was a good decision for me and I suspect hers will be good for her. By going public, she opens herself to stares and whispers from the ignorant and even criticism from hardliners in recovery, but she is also open to questions about a disease that officially affects more than 10 percent of our people (and I'd say a lot more than that unofficially) and untold numbers of families. Those people want answers and they're not always easy to find.

I have been consistently gratified that people, often strangers, talk in depth with me about alcohol (and not always with the "ism") in their families or in their own lives. It seems to help them and it always helps me. It keeps me cognizant of who I am and what is most important in my life: sobriety. Alcoholism is a primary disease, like cancer and heart disease, and must be treated first. Anne's step is encouraging for all of us and it takes a significant degree of courage to be this open. She will--I am confident--be rewarded for that courage. The rest of us already have received a reward from her.

Here's some of what Anne has to say:

So why have I decided to tell?

Not telling the truth is becoming another sickness. I value honesty, openness, and candor. And I have not been those. I have withheld the hardest struggle of my life from the people closest to me.  I was recently hired as an addictions counselor and shared with colleagues and clients, complete strangers, that I was in recovery. Yet I haven’t told my own family members, my own friends? I treasure speaking and writing openly with others about my life – all of it.

The risks of telling seem weighty. Although my father and sister know that I am sharing my story publicly, I am most sorry if it brings shame to them. The same for my business partners. They know. If this openness compromises them in any way, oh, I regret that. And then if my story brings shame to my family members, my friends, my former students, my colleagues, my clients – I am very, very sorry about that, too.

And practically speaking, my business could lose business. Who wants to risk doing business with an alcoholic? What if she relapses? What happens then?

But. Integrity, wholeness, values – they call me to tell the truth.

Acknowledging the truth is a political act as well. I probably knew when I listened to Ann Dowsett Johnston, author of  Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol, that I would need to tell sooner rather than later. She says alcoholics and addicts are killing people with their silence. Okay. For the sake of those who think they’re all alone, I share my story. But it is not a unique one. I am but one of an increasing number of women who are turning to drink.

So, now that’s out. Come what may, I can live an open life again.

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