My name is Peter, and I’m a person in long-term recovery. For me, that means it has been more than 26 years since I have had to drink or use any other substance. When I was struggling to overcome my addiction to alcohol, I could not have imagined saying those words – to the world or even to myself.
In the latter stages of my addiction, I could not imagine living without alcohol. I was no longer able to see the meaning, purpose, and connection to others that once filled me. My passion, sense of purpose, and self-respect had been replaced by hopelessness, shame, and a sense of self-betrayal.
However, as I began to walk the path to recovery, I started to catch glimpses of a world beyond the bleak landscape of addiction – a world of renewed meaning and purpose in which I could once again find ways to contribute.
For almost 20 years, I chose not to talk publicly about my addiction and my recovery. While my family and friends knew I was in recovery, others did not. Ironically, during those two decades, I worked in the addictions field as a counselor, educator, program director, and state government official. When I finally made the decision to openly acknowledge my recovery and to share about it in public forums, a weight was lifted from my shoulders. I realized that I had been struggling internally with the same stigma and shame that I hoped to combat in the community. “Going public” as a person in recovery has allowed me to more authentically embody my passion, has given me a new tool for helping heal the individual, family, and social wounds caused by addiction, and has deepened and broadened my sense of connection to others in recovery and to the broader community.
When I share, my focus is not on “war stories” or on a specific recovery pathway, but rather on what I like to think of as universal truths about addiction and recovery, such as: addiction is a disease of isolation; it does not discriminate, it affects people of all genders, social, economic, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds; recovery is a transformative process that has individual, family, and community dimensions; and, there are many pathways to recovery. As more and more of us share our stories, I believe the broader community will begin to recognize that addiction is a “we” problem that must be addressed by the whole community and not a “them” problem that can simply be relegated to law enforcement or fixed by treatment and forgotten. When we speak our truth, we are heard. Speaking together, we can change the conversation on addiction and recovery and, in so doing, pave the way for healthier and safer individuals, families, and communities.