The Almost Effect

Helping the nearly alcoholic

Christine Quinn and the Healing Power of Honesty

Personal disclosure and spiritual renewal

On May 14th, 2013 the New York Times ran an article based on interviews with Christine Quinn, who is currently a candidate for Mayor of New York City. In the interviews Ms. Quinn revealed her long battle, starting as a teen when she became the primary caretaker for her mother, who was dying of cancer, first with bulimia and later with alcoholism. What is truly striking about Quinn's story—aside from the fact that she succeeded in overcoming both afflictions—is the pivotal role that honesty and disclosure seem to have played in her path to recovery.

A Bief History of Healing through Sharing

What Ms. Quinn discovered for herself is something that is a landmark in the history of healing. In 1930s America, for example, a fellowship known as the Oxford Group became quite popular based on this same simple but essential rule: that sharing information about our personal character flaws and perceived "sins" with others has a healing effect on the soul. In other words, disclosing personal information that we would otherwise keep secret, out of shame, can lift that burden of shame from our shoulders and allow us to regain lost self-esteem. The sharing that was advocated by the Oxford Group movement prohibited members from casting judgment on what was shared by others.

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Bill Wilson, the co-founder of Alcoholics, attended Oxford Group meetings and appears to have based the fellowship he helped create on the sane principle. AA now numbers over 2 million members worldwide and exists as a virtual subculture within our larger culture, complete with its own traditions, rituals, and shared values. The kind of disclosure advocated by the Oxford Group movement also lies at the core of AA's "twelve steps." Indeed, the "promise" of AA is that following its steps with the courage of honesty will lead a person to spiritual renewal. And the most powerful tradition within AA is the story-telling that goes on in its meetings. Members volunteer to "share" their stories, recounting their descent into alcoholism or addiction, followed by their ascent into recovery. By tradition no one questions or casts judgment on the member who chooses to disclose his or her story.

Ms. Quinn Shares

I do not know whether Ms. Quinn is aware of the Oxford Group movement or has ever availed herself of AA or followed its steps; however, one thing that is clear is that she has discovered for herself the healing power of sharing. Here are a couple of things she told her interviewer:

  • She said she had come to believe "that until you stop hiding things, you're hiding things. And hiding things is not healthy."
  • When she made the decision to enter a rehab program, "It was the first significant time in my life that I asked for help, and I think up until that point in my life I associated asking for help with defeat."
  • While in rehab she discovered an emphasis on talking about feelings (sharing) that was radically different from the world she had come from. "I was fairly monosyllabic for a while. I mean, this kind of conversation is not my greatest strength generally. Eventually, though, it put me on a path to letting go of my shame."

Summing up her experience: "Asking for help, going to the rehab, helped me put the pieces back together."

It remains to be seen whether Ms. Quinn will be judged, in her race for Mayor, because of her disclosures. As another Bill (Clinton) once said, we seem to live in a time dominated by the "politics of personal destruction," in which exposing our vulnerabilities can be dangerous. But Christine Quinn has defied that, and there seems little doubt that she has discovered for herself the healing power of sharing. Perhaps we should thank her for that.

@ 2013 by Joseph Nowinski, Ph.D., co-author of Almost Alcoholic: Is My (or My Loved One's) Drinking a Problem?

Joseph Nowinski, Ph.D., is the supervising psychologist at the University of Connecticut Health Center.

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