In the old days, recovery was simple. Not easy, but simple: hit rock bottom and join a twelve-step group.
In the 1980s, private residential treatment facilities exploded onto the scene and with them came options: in-patient treatment, outpatient programs and prescription-assisted detox. Hit rock bottom, go to rehab, stabilize, join a twelve-step group as after-care.
Since the 1990s the internet has added a new level of private empowerment, whereby one could seek out information and support without having to muster the courage to face another human being. This gave many individuals, including me, the ability to identify and confront alcohol addiction long before the disease spiraled down to a disastrous “rock bottom” scenario.
The old days of the “world wide web” have evolved into an interconnectedness that is ever present – in our pockets and our purses, on our counters and desktops. As social media replaced old-school chat rooms, our identities have become enmeshed with our online activities and it has become harder to be private about anything, anywhere.
What a challenge this presents for a person in recovery who wishes for balance between anonymity and support! What a conundrum for a recovery advocate like myself, whose efforts are focused on a global reach through blogging, podcasting, and social media while remaining utterly silent in my own community about my identity as “UnPickled”.
I don’t even like myself.
That’s not a statement of low self-esteem, it’s literally a fact: I have not “liked” my UnPickled FaceBook Page from my personal profile. Or The Bubble Hour’s page either, even though I am a co-host of the show! I don’t retweet between my separate Twitter accounts, or share the rather fabulous (I must say) graphic quotes I create.
Here’s the thing: it’s complicated. It is a matter of privacy, not shame. It is a matter of protecting others around me in recovery, those who might be less inclined to meet me for a much-needed Starbuck’s tete-a-tete if I am as visible and vocal about my alcoholism in my (small, Bible-belt) hometown as I am online. And partly a matter of ensuring I fully understand the purpose (and wisdom) of the tradition of anonymity before I blow it off. It’s hard to put that toothpaste back into the tube.
While it is true that someone who really wanted to suss out my identity could do so rather easily, I am not at all concerned if readers of UnPickled know who I really am. I just haven’t figured out the other side of the coin: telling my community that I have a secret life as a recovery advocate – a pretty well-established one at that.
Social media is framed around “likes” and “shares” but my pages are regularly viewed and revisited by many individuals who are quietly seeking. They need to be able to tiptoe through undetected, and I welcome and respect that. I don’t care about hits or likes or stats. (Okay that’s bullshit – I’m hooked on validation but it’s a flaw I am working on.)
My one fear is to miss the chance to connect with others around me. It feels strange to openly help the world but to walk past someone on my own street that might be in need. Would knowing my secret give them courage and hope?
I am uneasy with feeling inauthentic or duplicitous. As was pointed out in the documentary The Anonymous People, we get mixed messages in recovery. We are told “you’re only as sick as your secrets” and in the next breath encouraged to remain anonymous. There are good reasons for both – please resist the urge to blast me with comments defending your program – but this “catch 22” does present a challenge. A challenge that, for now, I will continue to ponder.
I don’t “like” myself, and I understand if you don’t “like” me either.
Just keep coming back.