Wear Your Recovery Like a Badge of Honor

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About a year ago, I attended a publicity summit in New York. Hundreds of authors gathered to meet influential people in the press; morning talk shows, news, radio, and podcasts. It was an exciting but nerve-racking experience. We had to wait in long lines, fight off the jitters, and be ready to nail the perfect two-minute pitch. If interested, they’d ask us to make contact; if not, we simply moved on to the next line and started all over again. Nothing personal about rejection; it simply wasn’t a good fit.

I’d been to the summit once before, but this time, under the encouragement of my editor, I was hoping to receive recognition for my second book, Exit the Maze: One Addiction, One Cause, One Cure. I’d learned a great deal with the first book, and this time, I felt like a real professional with the added confidence of my editor at my side. My heart was racing as we approached the first booth, Psychology Today. The representative was perched on her stool, legs-crossed, fifty or sixty-something, well-dressed and plump. She greeted me with a warm smile, but what happened next shook me to my core.

The moment I told her the title of my book and that it was inspired by my life-long journey through addiction (mine and others), her stance drastically changed. Her body became rigid like a block of granite, and her eyes looked like steel orbs that pulsated contempt right through me. Fortunately, I work for God and not Psychology Today, so I finished my pitch and offered her a book. She snatched the book out of my hands and tossed it into the large box next to her as if it were a dirty Kleenex she could not stand to touch. I resisted the urge to retrieve it from the imaginary trash can and save it for someone who could understand the book’s mission. But instead, I focused on consoling my speechless, stunned editor.

Thanks to A Course in Miracles, I’d learned to look beyond an attack and recognize the wounds underneath the behavior. Before attending the event, we’d contemplated whether or not to share my personal recovery. After all, many people have preconceived notions of addicts as people who are staggering around with an empty booze bottle or a pocket full of syringes. I’d already decided I would not choose fear over love and that my mission was to help people rather than look good. Now, as I stood in line for the next 36 interviews over the next three days, I had the opportunity to hold my head high or crumble under the weight of what people thought of me. By the end of the event, almost everyone had agreed to make future contact. Mission accomplished.

On the flight home, I reflected on the Psychology Today encounter and wondered what effect addiction must have had on the interviewer’s life. Though ironic that she worked for Psychology Today, my interviewer was not given a mental health stamp. Too many people in the mental health field are unhealed healers — just like myself before recovery. I don’t know the reasons for her hostility but can only suspect she struggled with her own demons. I felt compassion toward her, yet my encounter with her made me even more determined in my mission to prevent and heal addiction. Ending shame was an excellent place to start.

Addiction is not a problem out there. Nearly half of all Americans report a family member with substance use (alcohol, drugs, nicotine, pills) disorder. This doesn’t include the hundreds of millions addicted to electronics, food, sex, shopping, work, and all of the other addictive behaviors. Nor does it include all of the people who simply think they have bad habits, but in truth, are suffering from addiction.

Addiction is not something of which to be ashamed. We’ve fallen prey to the advertising and added stimulants (visual and chemical) that program us to get the quick fix, and then once tried, the inevitable craving for more. A trap well-laid trap into which billions of people have fallen. Freedom comes from accepting this inconvenient truth and taking back the power of our minds.

If you have struggled with addiction, know that you are simply a member of the human race. Do not ever let someone look down upon you, lest you are branded as defective. As the Desiderata states, “You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars, you have a right to be here.”

If you are in recovery, wear it like a badge of honor. You have survived the war with addiction. There are different types of war heroes, and as an addiction survivor, you deserve to shout out to the world, “I am free!” Every time you do, if only one person hears you, that’s another person whose soul is retrieved.

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Dr. Donna Marks is a licensed psychotherapist and an addictions counselor. She is certified in Gestalt Therapy, Psychoanalysis, Hypnosis, and Sex Therapy.

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