In my first eight years of sobriety, I recovered in the seclusion and privacy of 12-step meetings and step work. I wrote throughout that time, storing up thoughts and reflections, but keeping them private. Then a year ago, I decided that I couldn’t keep quiet about recovery any more—and this year has taught me that no one should.
I’ve read articles that criticize traditional 12-step programs for an exhausting stubbornness regarding the internet and anonymity, with younger members calling out the group for being antiquated in its policies: I disagree. I also disagree with those 12-steppers who claim that recovering out loud in life and on the web is not a breach of principles. To me, both sides are practicing contempt prior to investigation. The unity of 12-step recovery does not rely on the personalities and opinions of its members, but on the principles and traditions of the group. There’s a middle ground.
After investigating, I’ve found that the tradition of 12-step anonymity on the internet is boiled down to two simple guidelines: either remain anonymous by face and name, or remain anonymous in the program that you work. The founders of AA could not have predicted the internet and social media, and the magical ways they connect us. I choose to remain anonymous in the program that I work, but to be open about my recovery online, and I encourage more 12-steppers to follow suit. Here’s why:
The trending sentiment about this disease is summarized in Johann Hari’s Ted Talk: “The opposite of addiction is connection.” This, I agree with. I’ve learned through bitter experience that my inner-addict wants to get me alone, corner me and kill me. I don’t need any proof of this because my addict nearly did just that, and I was prepared to let it. Connecting with other addicts is my best defense. This connection is my reminder of who I am and why I can’t use. It is my inspiration that there is an alternative to drinking. It is my comfort in knowing I am not alone. And if someone sitting in their basement somewhere feels hopeless and alone, and they happen upon my blogs or essays, then am I not being of service?
Isolation is a deadly impulse for the addict. I still feel the urge to isolate in recovery. There will be days when I hear other addicts share their story and I think to myself I was never that bad. There are other days when I hear similar stories and think I am the biggest addict who ever lived. Both thoughts stem from that “-ism” in me that wants to set me apart from others. Wants me alone. Wants me dead.
The best fight I have against that impulse is the simple admission that I am a garden-variety drunk and addict. I can get hooked on most anything. If I compare the finer details of my story, I lose the big picture. This leveling of the playing field makes me perceptive to the ways I am similar to other sufferers, instead of different. And when I am listening for ways to identify in, rather than identify out, I am actively defending my addiction, relating to others, listening and taking advice.
And how do we identify in using social media? We like, we share, we retweet, comment on and listen to the experiences of others—just like we do in church basements. We reflect on what that experience was like for us. We offer suggestions or praise sound thinking. We warn against triggers and reach out for help. We connect.
In the age of inter-connectivity, why should 12-step recovery not embrace every opportunity imaginable to connect with the still suffering alcoholic or addict? Check out the hashtag #RecoveryPosse on twitter. There is real connection happening instantaneously. The solution is on your phone—in your pocket! You can travel virtually anywhere in the world and remain connected to recovery. What’s more, you can reach out to anyone, anywhere who needs help. Whether the meeting is online, over the phone or in person, a meeting is a meeting is a meeting.
Had I not discovered this, I would not have found a sponsee living in an area devoid of 12-step meetings. I would not have led him through the steps via Skype and Messenger. He would not have, in turn, reached out to help others in the same fashion. It is easy to sit back and draft reasons why internet recovery is not only non-traditional, but ineffective. Why not try it and see for yourself? Asking “why not” is a much more powerful impulse than asking “why,” and in the face of a growing opioid epidemic, asking “why not” answers the urgent call of addiction.
If an ambulance is wailing behind you as you drive, you get out of the way. The overdosing addict on the gurney inside may survive, they may not. If a Facebook post, a tweet or a blog could pop up on someone’s feed and keep them from picking up, isn’t that worth something?
I no longer have the luxury of recovering in secret because I’ve now seen the power of recovering out loud. I understand that connection cures addiction, and like a scientist who figured out the cure for the zombie plague in an apocalyptic movie, I am eager to spread the news.
Sponsored DISCLAIMER: This is a paid advertisement for California Behavioral Health, LLC, a CA licensed substance abuse treatment provider and not a service provided by The Fix. Calls to this number are answered by CBH, free and without obligation to the consumer. No one who answers the call receives a fee based upon the consumer’s choice to enter treatment. For additional info on other treatment providers and options visit www.samhsa.gov.