We’ve all heard the word “anonymous” used when talking about people in recovery from alcoholism or drug addiction. There certainly are 12-step recovery groups that depend on traditions of anonymity for their programs’ successes. As I understand them, those traditions of anonymity play a critical role in why millions of people successfully have been recovering from alcoholism and drug addiction since the 12-step model was developed in the 1930s.
That said, as a person in long-term recovery, I feel it is important I share my own experiences openly. I don’t need to be anonymous about my own disease. It’s clear, as we are seeing more and more cuts in funding for medical care for substance abusers, too many people still don’t realize that alcoholism and addiction are diseases. They are medical conditions that require treatment. Those with alcoholism or another addiction aren’t just weak-willed or lacking moral fiber.
I never actually “went to treatment,” but I have the disease of alcoholism. This means I’m allergic to alcohol: When I drink, my body has an abnormal reaction and I am driven to drink more. In fact, “I want more” is just about all I feel after a drink. Having the disease of alcoholism also means my brain, left to its own devices, will convince me I can drink safely — I can’t.
I found a solution for my alcoholism based on spiritual principles and supportive communications with other recovering people. I didn’t participate in an organized substance abuse treatment program. Most people I know in recovery, however, consider their experience in treatment an essential aspect of their recovery.
When I read that Mercy Recovery Center in Westbrook was closing down, I got angry. Setting aside the terrible news that 45 people are losing their jobs, there are more than 250 people who have been depending on a number of addiction treatment tools, including counselors, at the center.
I believe the administration at Mercy will do everything it can to find patients the care they need. But those early days of recovery are especially fragile. Just because a newly recovering person receives a referral to a new therapist, for example, doesn’t mean they will continue with therapy.
I’m angry at politicians such as Gov. Paul LePage, who don’t recognize or don’t care about the larger impact their policies have on people’s lives. People are trying to get better. They have diseases that need treatment, just like diabetics might need insulin and cancer patients might need chemotherapy. The policies being set forth and implemented are taking away treatment options. We should have policies that remove obstacles to recovery, not increase them.
The Westbrook center is closing in part because of the reduced reimbursement rates from MaineCare. Add to that the fact we don’t have universal health care. One consequence is Mercy Hospital is required to provide “charity care” and not get paid for it — the availability of free and low-cost health care is essential for the treatment of substance abuse disorders — which is another reason why the center is no longer financially viable.
Having treatment programs available is an important step in increasing the likelihood more people will recover from their alcoholism and addictions. The Pew Charitable Trusts found that another reason people don’t get treatment for their substance abuse disorders is “the social stigma connected with addictions and mental illness. To avoid being labeled, many hide their drug or alcohol use and refuse to admit they have a problem.”
Well, I’m not going to hide the fact I’m in recovery. One of the greatest things I’ve learned in these nearly 19 years is that sharing my darkest times can help bring light into the lives of others. I’ve found I have a special opportunity to help change how alcoholism and addiction are viewed simply by being willing to talk about it with other people.
I can’t know how I might help or who I might help. I only know that talking about what happened to me and what it’s like now that I’ve recovered helps my own recovery stay strong. Helping someone else — and I know sharing my experiences has helped others — is just an extraordinarily special and beautiful side benefit.
Heather Denkmire is a writer and artist who lives in Portland with her two young daughters. After a few challenging years, she is growing her small business, where her team helps nonprofit organizations win grants. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her columns appear monthly.