Recovery Stories: More Going Public

More addicted individuals are taking part in Recovery Walks and other public events designed to put a face on the disease and advocate for policy changes, according to an article in the North County Times.

“We’ve got to get the message out there,” said Dorian Grey Parker, a recovering addict from Hartford, Conn., who last fall took part in a recovery march that drew 2,500 participants.

“I show up for the newcomers, who are finding hope in seeing people with multiple years of recovery, and I come out for the clueless. There is such a moral stigma attached to this disease.

It all comes from not understanding, but we can change that.”

Activists say that the strategy is based on past efforts that raised public awareness on issues like breast cancer and AIDS. Observers see the movement springing from grassroots self-help groups.

“I still don’t think the general public believes that an addict or alcoholic ever gets well,” said Phillip Valentine, executive director of Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery, which organized its first Recovery Walk six years ago. “Many, many people have long-term, sustained sobriety and you may not know about it. We need to put a face on recovery so people won’t be so afraid or fearful or angry at it. It’s not a hopeless condition.”

One obstacle facing organizers is that nobody is quite sure how many recovering addicts there are in the U.S., although estimates range into the millions. The Center for the Study of Addictions and Recovery at the National Development and Research Institutes in New York is planning a national survey.

Another complicating issue: how to define recovery. “Recovery is not only someone who is no longer using alcohol or drugs, but it’s also someone who’s got on with life so they are once again part of the community,” said Pat Taylor, executive director of Faces & Voices of Recovery. “It’s not just that you’re sober, but that you’ve gotten your life on track.”

Former reporter William Cope Moyers, the son of journalist Bill Moyers and now vice president of external affairs at the Hazelden Foundation, has been one of the most public faces of the recovery movement.

“My first public speech was to a Rotary club in St. Paul and I got up thinking I’d speak from an authority’s position as an employee of Hazelden,” said Moyers.

“I rattled off all these statistics and began to notice people dozing off. It was a tough crowd. So I chucked my speech and told them, ‘I want to talk about this disease I have.’ Everybody sort of sat up.

That’s when I learned the real power in the authenticity of experiences of people like me. Nobody can impeach my credibility when it comes to being a recovering drug addict. I made it despite myself. For that I am grateful and I want to give back.”

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) suggests that people have at least two years of sobriety before going public with their disease. “As much as a positive effect it can have, people do make sacrifices when they do this kind of stuff,” notes addiction expert and author Bill White. “They face the same adversity that the first gays and lesbians who came out of the closet did. People lose jobs, families can fall apart over it.”

Finally, the recovery community’s long tradition of anonymity, as promulgated by the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, also continues to challenge effective advocacy.

Moyers does not talk about his AA participation in his public speeches but does detail his involvement in self-help programs in his upcoming biography.

“It’s a disservice if I don’t tell people how I got well,” he said. “I embrace and live a life of recovery grounded in the 12 Steps. I don’t ever reveal what is said in meetings. I have the utmost respect for members of the 12-Step community whose perspectives on the anonymity issue differ from mine.

“This is a very contentious issue and I respect both sides of the debate,” he added, “but I will tell you that I believe this misunderstanding of the traditions has made it very difficult for those of us in advocacy to mount a sustained and successful effort.”

I still don’t think the general public believes that an addict or alcoholic ever gets well,” said Phillip Valentine, executive director of Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery, which organized its first Recovery Walk six years ago. “Many, many people have long-term, sustained sobriety and you may not know about it. We need to put a face on recovery so people won’t be so afraid or fearful or angry at it. It’s not a hopeless condition.”

One obstacle facing organizers is that nobody is quite sure how many recovering addicts there are in the U.S., although estimates range into the millions. The Center for the Study of Addictions and Recovery at the National Development and Research Institutes in New York is planning a national survey.

Another complicating issue: how to define recovery. “Recovery is not only someone who is no longer using alcohol or drugs, but it’s also someone who’s got on with life so they are once again part of the community,” said Pat Taylor, executive director of Faces & Voices of Recovery. “It’s not just that you’re sober, but that you’ve gotten your life on track.”

Former reporter William Cope Moyers, the son of journalist Bill Moyers and now vice president of external affairs at the Hazelden Foundation, has been one of the most public faces of the recovery movement.

“My first public speech was to a Rotary club in St. Paul and I got up thinking I’d speak from an authority’s position as an employee of Hazelden,” said Moyers.

“I rattled off all these statistics and began to notice people dozing off. It was a tough crowd. So I chucked my speech and told them, ‘I want to talk about this disease I have.’ Everybody sort of sat up. That’s when I learned the real power in the authenticity of experiences of people like me. Nobody can impeach my credibility when it comes to being a recovering drug addict. I made it despite myself. For that I am grateful and I want to give back.”

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) suggests that people have at least two years of sobriety before going public with their disease. “As much as a positive effect it can have, people do make sacrifices when they do this kind of stuff,” notes addiction expert and author Bill White. “They face the same adversity that the first gays and lesbians who came out of the closet did. People lose jobs, families can fall apart over it.”

Finally, the recovery community’s long tradition of anonymity, as promulgated by the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, also continues to challenge effective advocacy. Moyers does not talk about his AA participation in his public speeches but does detail his involvement in self-help programs in his upcoming biography.

“It’s a disservice if I don’t tell people how I got well,” he said. “I embrace and live a life of recovery grounded in the 12 Steps. I don’t ever reveal what is said in meetings. I have the utmost respect for members of the 12-Step community whose perspectives on the anonymity issue differ from mine.

“This is a very contentious issue and I respect both sides of the debate,” he added, “but I will tell you that I believe this misunderstanding of the traditions has made it very difficult for those of us in advocacy to mount a sustained and successful effort.”