The Anonymous People: Faces and Voices of Recovery

The similarities and differences between Faces and Voices of recovery and the twelve-step program are as follows. The voices and faces of recovery believe that we need to lift the stigma and negative terms associated with substance use -- change the language, for instance. For a long time, people and the media brought into view the stigma these terms create.

The media tended to exploit celebrities, and to focus only on the issues related to substance abuse. Overdoses, arrests, relationship problems, whatever the dirt, the media could dig it up, and they did. Recovery was not the focus of the media.

The negative associations to people recovering from substance use disorders, and the language used to refer to them, did nothing to help those in the recovery movement or the public. Terms like "junkie," "lush," and "bum" helped to perpetuate the stigma attached to substance use, many of whom used these terms to refer to themselves, feeding the shame and the guilt they were already trying to process in the twelve-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous. We continue to hear a lot of these terms today.

When looking at the disease as a moral issue, some thought the person had made an independent decision to become a substance user, or that they continued to use because they wanted to. The moral perspective and the war on drugs contributed to a lot of AA members shutting the doors on sharing their recovery stories in public. Because the public was afraid, incarcerations were high, and minorities were especially targeted. In the 1980s era "war on drugs," "just say no," and "be tough on drugs," the idea was to incarcerate the way out of a rise in drug trafficking and using. Unfortunately, African-American males were the most likely to be arrested and to be incarcerated. This continues to be reflected in our criminal justice system today. In 2011, there were 6.9 million people incarcerated.

A recovery program in the Richmond, Virginia city jail reduced the recidivism rate by 18%, saving the city $8,000,000. What could they have accomplished if these funds were redirected to the treatment of substance abuse and community resources for families.

In the halls of AA anonymity, it is especially important for newcomers to feel safe and to develop trust. However, the old-timers took anonymity to extremes that are still echoed in t
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he halls today, where we can detect conflict between those who do not hold so tight to the old ideas and those who do, sharing nothing on the outside.

Tradition 11 of Alcoholics Anonymous suggests that the organization's relations with the general public should be characterized by personal anonymity, and the avoidance of sensational advertising. Names and photographs of AA members should not appear in the press, radio, or film. Public relations should be guided by the principle of attraction rather than promotion. As AA members, we should have no reason to praise ourselves, as we would rather allow our friends to recommend us.

Tradition 12 speaks of the immense spiritual significance behind the principle of anonymity, reminding us to place principles before personalities, and to practice genuine humility. To this end, our great blessings will never spoil us, and we may forever live in thankful contemplation of him who presides over us.

For too long, people have misconstrued the traditions of AA. These traditions are about humility, not shame and guilt. The voices of AA have been hidden too long, and hidden behind shame and guilt, all related to the negative stigma of substance use and the moral perspective of society.

The protection of anonymity could stem from the many times that people in recovery had a voice, and the times that they felt ashamed and unsafe, largely due to fears and stigmas attached to them by the government, the criminal justice system, the attitudes of moral society regarding addiction, the lack of education, and the demonization of substance users in the public eye. We need to understand substance use, in our cultures and in society as a whole. Recovery people are the largest group of unheard people, with two-thirds of American families being touched by it.

The Faces and Voices of Recovery want to change the stigmas that are attached to people in recovery. They want to change public perceptions, and the negativity in the language that recovery people speak. We must advocate for funding, and find ways to let Americans know that we do get well. We need to put a face on recovery because silence will kill. Stories have power. Bring the conversations out of the church basements and let people know how recovery works, and that it does work.

If people seeking recovery from substance use were treated as we do cancer patients, with increased funding, treatment, and a continuum of care, as well as community support, housing, health care, and mental health services, the outcomes would be much better. To throw an addict out on the streets with no supports in place could be certain death.

There are no recovery high schools in New York, but there are four in Boston that are showing good results. We also now have a collegiate recovery movement. The Voices and Faces of Recovery have made recovery visible. The maintenance of recovery is a valuable commodity. When recovery is initiated in treatment and continued in the community, the results will be seen in the communities. People should be proud of their recovery. It shouldn't be about regret and shame. Let go of your shame and guilt, and come forward.

— Suzanne Correiro