All About Addiction

Helping addicts get their lives back

Is anonymity the final shame frontier in addiction?

Without anonymity, would the stigma of addiction disappear?

I'm a non-practicing drug addict and a sex addict, and as far as I'm concerned, staying anonymous let's me remain buried in shame and a double life that keeps me always one step ahead of those close to me. Did I say too much? Did I give away my secrets? None of those questions matter when everyone knows everything there is to know about me. For a disease couched in anxiety, obsessions and compulsive behavior, there's very little that can be more triggering.

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The difficulty of confessing addiction

Obviously I'm not naive to the consequences of confessing to others I've had a few very uncomfortable conversations myself that ended in people "losing" my number or superiors telling me they didn't need to know about my past. When it comes to the former, it's their choice, and it might be a wise one given my history. But having those who choose to stay close to me know my truths keeps me safe by making me accountable while protecting others from being hurt. And I can hurt with the best of them. Maybe that's why when it comes to physician-treated addicted physicians, there are no secrets and no anonymity. The family and employers are made part of the process. Some notable addiction providers (including Alternatives) have programs that explicitly involve the family in the treatment process as well. Getting the secrets out works to break away from the shame.

We're only as sick as our secrets, even together

On an organizational level, I understand the need for anonymity to avoid having any specific member represent the group. But that logic only holds when everyone is told to remain anonymous. Otherwise, the entire group represents itself, which is, if nothing else, truthful. If one person slips, relapses or goes into a homicidal rampage it only makes the rest of us look bad since no one knows that "the rest of us" addicts are actually quite functional.

Over and over I hear people talk about the secret of their addiction and the lies they have to tell to cover up their past shameful acts. Unfortunately, these lies only contribute to the stigma of addicts and makes it all the more difficult to get some perspective on the actual problem: Addicts do things they don't want to over and over regardless of how much they hurt us or those around us.

If you've read anything on this site, you know that I believe in many factors that contribute to addiction, including biology, environment, experience, and their interactions. Still, when it comes down to it, the misunderstanding of addiction is often our number one problem. And anonymity does nothing to reduce that misunderstanding.

How we can make a difference

Media portrayals only exacerbate the problem as they show us stories of addicted celebrities who are struggling but then leave the story behind before any recovery occurs. That way we only get to see the carnage but have to look pretty hard to see anything more.

But we can change all this with a small, courageous, action. We can let those around us know that we're addicts, that we're doing our best to stop our compulsive behavior and that we want them to hold us accountable. If we slip, we can get back up because we don't compound the shame of a relapse with additional lies we tell. And those around us know that even a relapse can be overcome because they've seen those examples over and over in all the other "confessed" addicts around.

It's time to leave the addiction "closet" and start living. We may not be able to change who we are easily, but we can change the way we go about living and make it easier on ourselves and on others. By breaking our anonymity, we can help assuage our own shame and let everyone know that addiction is everywhere and that it can be successfully overcome.

Just a thought...

 

© 2010 Adi Jaffe, All Rights Reserved

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Adi Jaffe, Ph.D., is the executive director of Alternatives Behavioral Health and a lecturer at UCLA and California State University Long Beach.

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