How to Share Your Story of Recovery
Sharing your story of recovery can be scary, but it’s also a critical step to greater healing and self-discovery. Learn how to share your experience with others in recovery, including key tools for overcoming shame and stigma, from the experts: Overcoming an addiction to drugs or alcohol is a journey that requires ongoing mutual encouragement and support. But making the most of that network of community and peer support necessarily involves sharing your own story of recovery, which can be a scary, first-time enterprise for many people, for various reasons:
- The reportedly still-pervasive stigma of addiction causes many to wonder whether, by sharing their story, they will be stigmatized by friends, family, an employer or their community.
- Then there is the residual shame of a past addiction, which doesn’t go away overnight (and, for many, remains an ongoing issue, off and on throughout recovery).
- Often, too, the question of what to share and what not to share–the perennial “Too Much Information” (TMI) dilemma—can be an obstacle to sharing anything at all.
This article will give readers practical tools for facing these fears, based on insights from others on the journey as well as experts in the addiction field, so that readers can find the courage to share their story in ways that strengthen their recovery and help others on a similar path.
The Stigma of Addiction
Studies show that sharing your story of recovery reduces the stigma of addiction. Ironically, though, the very same stigma can hold people back from sharing their story, out of fear that they will be negatively stereotyped on the basis of a past drug or alcohol habit. If this same fear is your biggest obstacle to sharing your story, the following tips can help:
- Let go of what others think of you, by practicing being honest with yourself. Self-honesty demands courage, but also can be a liberating step towards recovery, according to Shane Ramer, the creator, producer and regular contributor to “That Sober Guy Podcast”. Ramer recently shared his insights in a Facebook Live conversation hosted by Beach House Center for Recovery.Remembering what it was like to be in active addiction, he said, “I let the fear of what people think of me create this person who I really wasn’t … then you combine that with a lot of substances and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.” What helped Ramer overcome his fear of what others think? “Being honest with myself.” That freed him from the worries he once attached to how others might perceive him (including stigma).
- Be okay with your imperfections and the incompleteness of your journey. Or, in Ramer’s slang, “embrace the suck,” which “could be a number of things, from something stupid that’s mechanical to being stuck in an addiction that I can’t really get out of.” Ramer said that once he “got to the point of being able to reflect honestly,” could be “okay with not being good at those things.”Addiction clinician Candice Rasa described the same principle as the “courage to be imperfect.” One of the ways that stigma wields power, after all, is by playing into the insecurity that “I am not enough just as I am”—that “if others saw who I really am, they would not like, admire, or respect me.” Rasa counters this unhealthy thinking with this advice: “Don’t take yourself too seriously.” Instead, she reminds clients that “you’re perfect, divine, whole and complete just the way you are,” and that being on the path of recovery is “just about actualizing those things that are real.”
- Remember that by sharing your story, you are doing your part to reduce the stigma of addiction—not just for others who suffer from the disease (who may be afraid to reach out for help out of fear of stigmatization), but for yourself as well.
- Practice sharing your story within a safe and supportive community of others in recovery, such as your 12-step group, and notice how you feel afterwards. There’s a very good chance you will feel a deeper sense of freedom, peace and connection with others, based on the research.
The Shame of Addiction
Shame is both a very common root of addiction and a characteristic of the disease, according to research. Like stigma, however, shame thrives on self-isolation and the absence of community—so the very thing that can reduce shame’s power in your life is the act of sharing your story. If shame is keeping you from sharing your story, below are some pointers for how to overcome it:
- Remind yourself that you are not alone. Giving voice to the isolation of addiction, Ramer recalled what it was like to feel like “nobody would understand,” when in fact there are “thousands of men and women who are going through the same thing.” Ramer’s advice? “Reach out,” by “asking for help.” That might mean visiting a 12-step group in your area or calling a trusted friend and letting them know about what you’re going through.
- Name your shame aloud to someone else. Shame has less power when you are able to name it and let someone else know what you’re going through. This vulnerability can be scary, demanding courage, and yet it’s also the very thing that shrinks and banishes shame.
- Role-play the sharing of your story with an addiction therapist. Role-playing a scenario in which you share your recovery story can help you address underlying feelings of shame with the help of someone professionally trained to help you process these feelings. Rasa shared the example of a client whose feelings of social anxiety in work settings were causing them to relapse. Rasa was able to help the client process these anxious feelings, by role-playing various scenarios and what to think and say in these situations. You can do a similar role-play exercise for feelings of shame that are keeping you from sharing your story.
What to Say and What Not to Say
Knowing what to say and what not to say in sharing your story can be a common concern for people in recovery. Below are some tips for how to navigate this dilemma:
- Always be sensitive to context. What you share with a close friend or accountability partner, sponsor or 12-step group is one thing. What you share with an employer, within your social media networks and/or the wider public is another thing entirely.
- Pay attention to what you are feeling. In some situations, your intuition may be telling you to refrain from sharing certain details of your story. Don’t ignore that. Go with your gut.
- Learn from others’ stories of recovery. Listening to others share their story of recovery is one of the best ways to learn what to say and what not to say when telling your story. 12-step groups are great outlets for this kind of exposure. So are initiatives like National Recovery Month.
- Write down your recovery story, and keep it short (500 words or less). The discipline of writing down your story and keeping it brief will help you better gauge what parts of your story are essential and what parts are extraneous or TMI. You can also publish the final draft of your story as part of National Recovery Month.
- Focus on the positive aspects of your story that will most encourage others struggling with an addiction. Remember that by sharing your story you are helping others, and that’s a big boost to your recovery. Ask yourself whether what you are sharing is of any help and inspiration to those struggling with addiction. (If it is, keep it in. If it is not, take it out.)
Another way to think about the same concept is through the lens of giving back to your community. Micah Robbins, who is the director of alumni outcomes at Beach House Center for Recovery, put it this way: “What a gift to unwrap [the gifts] of yourself that you can share with people who can value and see it … People in recovery have so many gifts, and that’s a powerful thing.” Sharing your story of recovery can be one of the most powerful ways to give back to your community.