I’ve been a huge fan of this blog for a long time. There are many blogs about addiction & recovery, but I’ve found Veronica’s to be one of the best I’ve ever read, and here’s why: She’s all-inclusive of any and all pathways to recovery, she’s incredibly smart, an excellent writer, and she’s British, which means she’s automatically funny & self-deprecating.
(I aint gonna lie, she also wrote one of the most incisive & bizarrely intuitive reviews of my book ‘Guts’ I’ve ever read.)
However, I take great exception to her most recent blog, ‘Why Elizabeth Vargas has Given Recovery It’s Ellen Moment.’ Now, our mutual respect is such that our relationship can weather a healthy disagreement. I still think she kicks ass, and she has enough self-esteem to allow me to disagree with her publicly & on her own blog!
Before I go into why I take such exception to what she wrote, I want to say that Elizabeth and I have become friends ever since she interviewed me a year ago about my book ‘Guts’ for 20/20. This is one funny, smart lady. As she knows, my respect for what she did by coming forward on GMA (click here for link) with such grace, dignity and honesty knows no bounds.
One of the traditions of AA, written in the late ’30’s says not to mention AA in press, radio or film. (However, due to the epidemic that addiction has become, I feel we can no longer afford to do this).
Therefore, when Elizabeth mentioned that AA meetings are part of her recovery during her amazing interview about her recent struggle with alcohol some knuckleheads took exception to her honesty, I then wrote this on FaceBook:
“Honestly, what was she supposed to say when she was asked what she does now to stay sober? “Ummmm…sorry, it’s a secret”?????!!!
I believe in 12 step meetings. They aren’t for all people, but they sure as HELL saved my ass my 1st few years of recovery.
And the argument I hear all the time “If she relapses, then everyone will think AA doesn’t work” is fucking stupid, I’m sorry.
Many people relapse. It’s a fact of this disease.
To me, that argument is the same as telling someone with breast cancer that they can’t tell people they’re undergoing chemo. Which is why you’ve never heard anyone say “But If the cancer comes back, then people will think chemo doesn’t work!!”
12 step programs work for many. Many find other ways to recovery. And far too many will end up dying from this disease, despite all their exhaustive efforts not to”.
Elizabeth Vargas, by bravely coming forward & sharing her truth did an astonishing thing not just for addicts but for those in our culture who still stigmatize it. And, after all, isn’t the Fifth Tradition to carry AA’s message to the alcoholic who still suffers? It is essential it is that these meetings remain a sacred place anyone can go and feel safe knowing that their story won’t be shared with others. But I strongly believe we as individuals are allowed to share our experiences with whomever we choose.
It’s also worth noting that one of the main reasons I couldn’t BEAR the idea of getting sober was my total misunderstanding & lack of knowledge about AA. Due to it’s secrecy, I thought it was a few scraggly old men huddled in a church basement clutching styrofoam cups of tepid coffee, commiserating about the good ole days when they still had livers.
My terror of AA was so powerful that many times I’d think to myself “Oh dear God, what if I’m one of those people who ends up in a church basement somewhere?” It seemed a fate worse than death.
In fact, my fear & lack of understanding of AA was so great I waited until I came as close to death as humanly possible rather than seek help.
I’ve since discovered I’m FAR from alone. Thousands of others have reached out to me saying they didn’t want to go for the exact same reason.
You see, I had NO clue that these meetings have nothing to do with sorrow or failure…and they everything to do with determination, strength & LIFE. Or, they should.
The days of addicts hiding in shame are gone. I’m deeply honored to call Elizabeth a friend, and a fellow warrior in this complicated & misunderstood disease.”
Okay, now that that’s out of the way, here’s what offends me about Ms. Valli’s blog entry:
Using one single person as a shift in the paradigm of addiction, is, (in my opinion) totally incorrect and incredibly unfair.
To me, it felt as though Veronica was saying “Yeah yeah yeah others have come forward, but it was Elizabeth who changed everything.”
This ain’t about me. Trust me, I get plenty of props. But this brave woman did one fantastic interview. Matthew Perry has spent years and thousands of hours (not to mention his own money) to help Drug Courts, a group that works with the court system so that addicts are sent to rehab instead of prison. Greg Williams has spent every dime he has and the better part of four years creating & tirelessly showing his stunning documentary ‘The Anonymous People,’ which is about the movement taking place in our country where addicts are finally stepping forward to own our disease. Joe Schrank works tirelessly running one of the very few sober living homes in NYC. Not to mention the thousands of people I meet every single day who do anything they can to help addicts & fight the stigma of this disease. People like Veronica Valli, who write brilliant, thought-provoking blogs.
She writes that what Elizabeth did was so exceptional because no one knew about her struggle. But I easily could have kept my disease a secret for the rest of my life, and instead
decided to tell the truth anyway…. despite monumental pressure NOT to do so by a few mortified and deeply angry family members. Sadly, writing ‘Guts’ has forever ruined certain
relationships I once held dear. Despite this, I wouldn’t change a thing.
Many things Veronica wrote I totally agree with. The biggest being that it’s only because of others openness before her that people like Elizabeth can come forward.
Addiction will never be shoved back into it’s world of basements and secrecy and shame.
Not because of one person, but because of many.
As I write at the end of Guts:
“Whether we want to admit it or not, this is our black plague, a terrible scourge that’s just as deadly as cancer or AIDS. It is destroying people by the untold millions. And I believe, without a doubt, that the embarrassment and secrecy that shroud the disease are just as deadly as the disease itself.
In my opinion, the best “slogan” when it comes to addiction isn’t found at a meeting in a church basement, or in some book. It’s a phrase six gay activists from New York City coined in 1987, at the onset of AIDS: “Silence equals death.”
I won’t stay silent any longer.
I hope you won’t either.”
What Elizabeth did made me cry tears of pride. She did so much to eradicate the terrible judgement addicts face every single day.
As have so many of us.
Which is why I say we’ve ALL given addiction it’s ‘Ellen’ moment.