September is National Recovery Month, a time to highlight recovery from mental health and substance use disorders. This month is for honoring the warriors among us who have faced the hardships of alcohol abuse and lived to tell the tale. Today is for sharing victories. I know because I have been there.
A stigma exists that if I am in recovery from alcoholism, my life is somehow limited. In reality, for me, recovery means freedom.
Before I quit drinking, I was terrified of everything I would need to give up in order to stay sober. I thought I would be confined to dull evenings, restricted to only hanging out with boring losers who were twice my age. I thought I would be losing all possibility of feeling the release that once came with the pop of a bottle. I thought I would feel ashamed and hidden and judged. In fact, the shame lifted, the release came with movement and art and rest, and I have wonderful, fun experiences with great friends.
It took a long time and a lot of hard work to get to where I am today. I started out embarrassed and feeling that I was somehow less than everyone else. I now have freedom! Freedom from blackouts. Freedom from the intense guilt and devastating shame that comes with active addiction. Freedom to recognize when I misstep; freedom to make up for it as soon as possible, and freedom to make the right choice in the first place. Freedom to help others. Freedom to wake up with a light heart and clear eyes, ready to work hard to fulfill my potential. Freedom to take care of myself and recognize that, simply by existing, I am enough.
The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health says one in seven people in the United States is expected to develop a substance use disorder at some point in their lives. In Alaska, almost a third of households have a problem with alcohol. Over 60,000 Alaskan adults are in need of substance use disorder treatment, yet last year fewer than 8,000 of them received help through state-funded treatment programs.
The decks are stacked against those with this disease and in need of assistance. Recover Alaska is reducing excessive alcohol use and the harm is causes across the state. This is not just a personal issue, this is a community need. Addiction is a chronic disease, not a moral failing. Recovery means restoring a community to its inherent value, reclaiming all lives to be healthy and full, and reminding the world that every life is worthy of respect, love, and dignity.
The challenge of recognizing the need for help and finding the willingness to ask for it plays a large part in why so many are still struggling. When someone has a problem with alcohol, remember that it is harder for them than it is for you. If someone comes to you with an issue, thank them for sharing with you; this is a difficult topic and they clearly hold you in high esteem. Ask questions about how they are feeling, about what they plan to do next, about how you can be supportive. Are you worried about someone’s habits? Tell them you are concerned because you value who they are, and you can see alcohol changing their personality and priorities. Offer to help. By approaching these conversations with curiosity and compassion, you can help lift the stigma and assist them in finding a solution.
Despite the challenges of recovery, there is reason to celebrate. Many reasons! I asked some brothers and sisters in recovery what it means to them, and here’s what they said: Peace. Grace. Love. Life. Possibility. Redemption. Restoration. Strength. Hope. Gratitude.
Those words do not describe a limited life, a life devoid of love and laughter. On the contrary, the experience in the recovery community is one of finding joy in the little things and feeling completely supported no matter what. It is being surrounded by people with light in their eyes and compassion in their hearts.
Thanks to recovery, I am now living my life fully, knowing I have gained the skills to be a good person and knowing I will remember every minute. I play, I dance, I sing, every day, and I have zero worries about how other people might feel about that as long as I am not causing anyone harm. I fly free as a bird!
Join me in celebrating the gifts of recovery. I would love to see you at our Recovery Celebration on Sept. 23rd. I will be there shaking my booty off, sober and proud.
For more information on Recovery Month celebrations and available resources, please visit RecoverAlaska.org. Tiffany Hall is the Executive Director of Recover Alaska.