Do As I Say, Not As I Do: Don’t Tell

If you’re in recovery from addiction to alcohol or other drugs, don’t share that publicly.

That’s my advice to people in recovery who are not super models backed by fans or public officials backed by The White House.

Few have the backs of those in recovery from addiction.

Mums the word on recovery from addictions and alcoholism

It’s not because we’re bad or wrong or because they are. It’s because we’re all uncertain.

“[S]ociety seems not to know whether to regard substance abuse as a treatable medical condition akin to diabetes or heart disease, or as a personal failing to be overcome,” Stephanie Desmon and Susan Morrow write for The Hub.

About a Johns Hopkins study published in October, 2014, Desmon and Morrow write that researchers found, “Only 22 percent of respondents said they would be willing to work closely on a job with a person with drug addiction…”

I feel empathy and compassion for employers and employees who hesitate to hire or work with people in recovery from addiction. It’s dangerously difficult for a business to make money in a tough economy.

I started a company in 2008 and went 54 months without a paycheck. I needed to hire contractors who could crank out work with little supervision. If they had needed down time for the 24/7/365 condition of addictions recovery, or cost my company clients because of stigma, although my personal philosophy would have been to embrace and transcend such situations, the bottom line was my company simply wasn’t established or profitable enough. If my employee had done what I have done – shared publicly about being in recovery from addiction – I doubt, as a small startup company, we could have recovered.

So why did I tell that I am in recovery from addiction to alcohol?

People with addictions have deficits in self-care.

As the abstinent days began to accumulate to months, I realized self-care for me would be to tell.

. . . . .

I agonized over the decision.

Business-wise, it’s a bad move for me and, to a limited extent, for our business community in which I have been active. And for my company’s clients. In an ideal world, if we Golden Rule it, that should be enough for everyone to think we’re okay. In the real world, what others think has power, especially market power. Social stigma about addiction is real and hard to change.

It could be considered risky now to shake hands with the founder of Handshake Media, Inc. in public. The handshaker could be judged to be tainted by stigma, too. Does the handshaker think Anne’s “personal failing” is okay? If you’re seen with Anne, are you “one of those,” too?! Being at business events is hard on me because of the drinking, and hard on others because I’m not drinking and for what being with me might mean. I just don’t go very often these days.

I’m still too weary from being in early recovery to try to seek new clients and customers. Selling others on doing business with me and my company will be tough, maybe impossible. What if the company founder relapses? It’s a legitimate question.

Me having a drinking problem taints my family, too, and I am deeply sorry for that.

Silence would have protected them.

Silence felt like it was killing me.

I am a writer. I yearn – I must – be free to be open, to tell the truth, to write what is most in my heart and on my mind. I ran my longing by my father and sister, my friends, my counselor, my mentor. I have my father’s and sister’s support. But I was told point blank by some not to do it because the stigma would ruin my future work career. I was told by others not to do it because I am too early in recovery and the repercussions from being open might drum my fragile sobriety into relapse.

But I feel called to words…

If I were in my 20s, 30s or 40s and still needed to pay for my children’s braces and their college tuition, I think a self-care balance sheet calculation would have resulted in silence. I would have let the part of me that writes die a little, hope perhaps I’d have my chance when my finances didn’t depend upon the goodwill of corporations or organizations and their markets, and handle silence the best I could.

But I am 55, divorced, childless, and financially supported by my company and my family. I live modestly and have health insurance thanks to Obamacare. I have a cat and a kitten. The kitten has never had to turn her face away from me whispering endearments to her with wine on my breath. I waited 16 months. If being openly in recovery from addiction to alcohol takes me down, it will be primarily me and only so far. I’ll have enough for cat food.

Super model and actress Amber Valletta shared in July, 2014 that she is in recovery from addiction. She said, “I’d like to have a walk with 10,000 people celebrating sobriety and recovery.”

We could host that walk. In my town and its environs, I am one of 15,000 people with drug and alcohol problems.

I appreciate Amber Valletta’s optimism and activism. Still, for the people I know who are holding tightly to their hard-won hourly wage jobs or seeking tenure at our local university, my two cents would be that until society knows what it really thinks about addiction, not to go on that walk quite yet.


  1. “The social stigma associated with substance abuse and dependence taints both the clients who experience substance use disorders and the counselors who treat this considerable health concern. This sub-theme only emerged in the rural focus groups, as the medicalization of substance use disorders may be less likely to be embraced in these rural areas. Rural communities may continue to see individuals struggling from substance use disorders as suffering from a moral character inferiority, rather than a medical problem. As substance abuse remains socially stigmatized, providing treatment to individuals with substance use disorders is both a low prestige and low paying occupation in rural areas.”

  2. “Bias happens,” [Deena] Fidas says, “whether it’s conscious or unconscious.”

  3. Anne Giles says

    “Removing the stigma of shame and pain from addiction requires a tectonic shift in the way the disease is viewed by all individuals, and such efforts require persistence, faith and bravery on the part of those seeking to implement the change. And there have been both large-scale and small, more intimate attempts to dispel the stigmatic elements of addiction. In July of this year, the White House continued its commitment to a rational, balanced, and science-based approach to addiction and recovery, as outlined in Barack Obama’s National Drug Control Strategy of 2010, by requesting $25.5 billion in Fiscal Year 2015 for, among other initiatives, including substance abuse treatment in the health care program and ending the revolving door policy of drug use and criminalization.”