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Is Admitting That You’re In Recovery The Same As Breaking Anonymity?

For the second year in a row I attended Toronto’s Recovery Day event. As a person who is proud to be in recovery I think Recovery Day is a great idea. It originated in the U.S, as part of the Voices in Recovery Movement (VRM). It’s a grassroots movement with, from my understanding, a two-fold purpose. First, to remove the stigma that people who suffer from the disease of addiction face. Second, to act as the vanguards of advocacy to get legislation passed to treat addiction as a disease rather than a crime.

Last year’s event in Toronto was not well attended and I blamed a broken down subway line. However, this year the subway was fine and there seemed to be even less people in attendance. I believe the reason for this is that the people in recovery, those the VRM want to help, refuse to embrace the movement. I further believe that this refusal is based on a misinterpretation of the anonymity tradition followed by 12 Step fellowships world-wide. People have this mistaken belief that if you tell someone you are a recovered alcoholic/addict or as the VRM would word it, “a person of recovery,” you are breaking anonymity. 

Bill Wilson, co-founder of the original 12 Step Fellowship Alcoholics Anonymous and author of the 12 Traditions, did not want people to hide the fact that they had, “recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body” from the rest of the world. Recovered people do not hide from the world, they embrace it. Bill Wilson spoke before a U.S. Congressional Committee in the 1960s (after the 12 Traditions had been adopted) and both him and Dr. Bob Smith (AA’s other co-founder) appointed Marty Mann (AKA: The First Lady of AA) to be a spokesperson to the world in an effort to educate the public that addiction wasn’t a lack of morals or will-power but a medical disease. I firmly believe that both Bill and Dr. Bob would not only attend a Recovery Day in their area, but announce it at meetings as well.

I am a person in long-term recovery which means I haven’t seen the need to take a drink or mind-altering substance since January 7, 2005. In my recovery journey, I have seen first-hand the stigma people with mental health/addiction issues face and the lack of government funded treatments for those who suffer from this illness. I have experienced the strength of various 12 Step Fellowships and the enthusiasm those involved have for recovery events. When I was six months sober, I had the privilege to attend the World Conference of Alcoholics Anonymous in Toronto. Along with 50,000 other people I said the Serenity Prayer in the SkyDome. I walked the streets of Toronto proudly displaying my World Conference AA Pass for all to see. From what I observed the majority of those in attendance weren’t hiding their passes either. I regularly attend the annual Ontario Regional Conference of Alcoholics Anonymous (ORC) at the Royal York in Toronto. Although not quite 50,000 people attend there are a good 3,000. At the local AA meetings I attend the ORC and smaller events are regularly announced and received with enthusiasm by a group voracious to attend all things recovery themed. However, when I announced Recovery Day in my area I was met with hostility by some.

The founders of the 12 Step movements were for helping the still suffering person. The Basic Text of Alcoholics Anonymous states that it doesn’t know everything and promotes cooperation with those who also want to help. This cooperation was clearly not present in Toronto on the last two Recovery Days (2015 & 2016). I was glad to see a Narcotics Anonymous Booth there but aggrieved that no booth existed for either Alcoholics Anonymous or Cocaine Anonymous. I’ve seen AA booths set up in other community celebrations and/or information days but not for the one set aside especially for those it was formed to help. In fact the Toronto Intergroup is anti-Recovery Day which I can only assume is based on the aforementioned misinterpretation of anonymity tradition.

The Voices in Recovery Movement seeks to show politicians that those in Recovery do vote and can have significant sway in elections. It’s based on the movement by the gay community formed in the 1980s when it was faced with the AIDS epidemic. Sad to say, at least in Toronto, this advocacy movement is not as successful as the one it tries to emulate. In fact, based on the numbers of people in attendance I cannot see our current government or any future one making any changes to the health care system that would help the still suffering alcoholic/addict. A sad state of affairs – indeed.