Rope barrier with red carpet and flash lightI stumbled across this quote in a book I was reading:

“Unhappy is he whose fame makes his misfortunes famous.”¬† — Lucius Accius¬†(170 – c. 86 BC)

That seemed appropriate in the wake of yet another celeb overdose fatality. Personally, I’m not a fan of celebrity spokespersons for recovery. I was reading a remarkable piece on life without drugs from Russell Brand, who portrays himself as a brain-addled rock god but is actually one of our more intelligent social commentators. Brand spoke eloquently of his ten years clean and sober and his continuing struggle to remain that way. I was moved by his words yet found myself thinking, “Gosh, I hope he doesn’t get loaded tonight and make himself look a complete fool.”

Because that happens, you know, and the negative pub tends to rub off on recovery itself.

AA’s emphasis on anonymity in the media was about the importance of humility, but I’m sure it occurred to some that because alcoholics did in fact sometimes relapse — as Father Martin would put it, with a shrug, “they do that” — press attention to relapse could actually drive the suffering alcoholic away from AA and undermine its mission. Look what’s happened to the public image of rehab as a result of those awful high-profile celeb incidents. Who wants Lindsay Lohan and Charlie Sheen to be the face of treatment, when there are hundreds of thousands of actual successes out there to choose from, some of whom are probably sharing an office with you? But that’s how our media works.

Still, there’s no question the tradition of anonymity, as interpreted by many, has made it more difficult for the emergence of an advocacy movement to reduce the stigma attached to treatment and recovery. I’m a big supporter of Faces & Voices in Recovery and the film Anonymous People, which I think everyone should make it a point to see. Still, when I get asked, as I occasionally have by someone in a position of prominence, about whether they should go public with their personal story, I’d advise them that there’s a great deal of heat in that particular kitchen, and it can be like sticking your head in the oven.

Think it through, weigh the risk and the benefits, and make sure you mean business.


Forgive my ignorance but when you say “Wilson”, are you speaking of “The” Bill Wilson? What am I missing?

Comment by Joyce G — February 16, 2014 @ 3:43 pm

“I must be cruel, only to be kind. Thus bad begins, so worse remains behind” – Hamlet

Looking for guidance on this subject? One need go no further than an open-minded analysis of the applicable step and tradition.
Step 11: “We need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films.” We can give a 2014 clarification to this dogmatic Wilsonism by the removal of one word: ALWAYS. Anonymity is discretionary. There is little we can do but discourage the promotion of those who would demean the successes of recovery, or represent themselves as our common voice, but we can ask that they weight the effects of doing so and refrain —- prior to participation.
Let’s face it – this anonymity is a farce when you put Wilson into the equation. His face, his authorship, and most importantly his acts as a swindler, sex predator, philanderer and acid dumper along with his pal Aldous Huxley don’t do much to “attract”. His deification is just a skosh short of nauseating.
But how about Tradition 12 – “ever reminding us to place principles before personalities”? This asks our discretion once again. We have an agreement, not a law we must enforce or obey. It’s not about protecting us from the stigma of exposure to our “disease”, weakness or mental deficiency, that’s a personal choice of identity. We don;t tattle on others. its about placing our principles and traditions above some promoter (Wilson’s a good enough example) so that we forget the underlying tenets of behavior. We want to ask the egomaniac in recovery to STFU, when it comes to representing themselves as a voice for us all. We don’t need that kind of publicity as Charlie, Lindsay and Phillip C have demonstrated. A. Messenger

Comment by Arthur Messenger — February 16, 2014 @ 2:09 pm

Someone in the Recovery Advocacy Community remarked to me how by remaining anonymous we don’t do anything to get rid of the stigma and the stigma keeps people from seeking treatment and inhibits public support for funding treatment. Basically, what ends being visible to the general public is the problem while those of us living in the solution remain invisible. I had always chosen to be open about being in recovery with my close co-workers, taking that risk for me meant I wasn’t engaging in old behavior. Keeping a big part of my life a big secret, was something I certainly did in active addiction and I didn’t want to feel like I was keeping a secret life as a sober person. But, that advocacy person got me thinking and then I saw The Anonymous People and I was given the language – “I’m in long term recovery” it’s not breaking anonymity – and at this point I haven’t had press radio or film breaking down my door anyhow – although sometimes my grandiose thinking envisions great opportunities to sway millions with my rhetoricical talents! So little by slow I’ve continued to be more open, I trust my insides to guide me as far as when and trust my HP that all will work out ok and I won’t get stung in a way that exceeds what I can handle. So far what I’ve run into are people who have loved ones with this disease who are grateful to be able to ask questions they have always wanted to ask, but couldn’t and who find hope in knowing that long term recovery is possible – for lots of us.
Sharon Hesseltine
St. Paul, MN

Comment by Sharon Hesseltine — February 8, 2014 @ 10:39 am

I agree the anonymity has to go….for most of us. Without “coming out”, we are essentially saying “I’m too embarrassed and ashamed to tell the world I have a problem with……..

Comment by Joyce G — February 6, 2014 @ 12:40 pm

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