A very dear friend of mine is recovered from a year long battle with cancer. It was life threatening. It was a sudden diagnosis and it toppled her world. Life and the importance of her career, her activities, and relationship struggles all shifted. The mundane became important and the important became mundane.
After the treatments were over, her body cleared of the cancer she was still embraced in the process of recovery. The center continued to provide support; meditation, nutritional counseling, yoga and movement classes, talk therapy and medical follow-up. This will be available for as long as she needs it. This fatal illness garners respect even in remission. There is no shame in returning to the cancer care center as many times a week as she is interested and able. There is no shame in being a woman recovering from cancer. Her experience with the profound change in her world view, some might call a spiritual experience, is accepted and lauded. This after care is an accepted way to heal and a way to participate in the process of prevention: nutrition, stress management, movement, support and care.
The care and compassion expressed for my friend is universal; friends, family, co-workers have sympathy or empathy for her journey. Both in illness and in recovery there is understanding. Work colleagues make space for time restrictions, activity restrictions. Only the sense for personal privacy limits what others know. There is no shame in having cancer, there is no guilt inherent in this disease.
Now I think about myself and my friends. We are in recovery from a fatal illness: drug and alcohol addiction. Gambling, sex, food, relationships, debt - all forms of addiction that can lead to jail, illness or death. They can lead to the stress illnesses that can contribute to diseases like cancer. Due to anonymity we can only express pride and share tools for continued recovery among our ranks. Our bosses, people we work with, sometimes family members are not privy to the disease nor to the recovery. We are invisible - we live in silence.
When first (self) diagnosed we may have been involved in formal treatment- lasting for a specific period of time- usually 28 days. It is not necessarily holistic. Nutrition and physical health may not be addressed. There are few standard efficacious protocols. Quality and care vary from place to place. Aftercare is a luxury. And all this available only to those who can pay or who are mandated from the courts. A large number of people get no formalized care; they come to recovery on their own. they maintain on their own.
Anonymity perpetuates shame.
Anonymity perpetuates shame for having the disease and it perpetuates the assumption of relapse. "Don't tell anyone because you might "go out" again, you might slip, you might relapse." There is little formal aftercare. Unless pursued on one's own there are no meditation classes, nutritional counseling, movement therapies available to help the recovering addict balance life and the life they are leaving. One cannot assume that bosses and co-workers will sympatheticly provide moral and actual support. In many circumstances the workplace must remain ignorant of the struggle: one's job security could be impaired.
The challenges of redefining yourself, your goals and dreams, of creating a new way of life are not supported by society at large- they are supported by fellow sufferers. Thank goodness for that; but it is not comprehensive.
Anonymity prevents celebration. Society focuses on those in active disease or relapse. We are only able to celebrate the success of continued recovery amongst ourselves. The news capitalizes on the fallen but does not celebrate the many victors in the battle against addiction. Politicians seldom state they are twenty five years sober, but they have "battled cancer". (THANK YOU Michael Botticelli for being public about your recovery.)You aren't going to hear of suprvisors or co-workers share their first year of recovery as they might being one year cancer free. We don't see the oceans of people enjoying continuous recovery. And they are there!
That brings me to the celebration of recovery. Breaking anonymity bravely and publicly helps all. February 26th was the Sixth (yes there were five others) Experience Strength and Hope awards. Joey Pantoliano was honored this year for his courage, honesty and compassion and work in addiction recovery. Artists and musicians are finding their way to the stage of openness and candor and that is tremendous. We need voices in all walks of life, we need the struggles acknowledged and the stigma removed.
Stand up for your recovery. Lets expand treatment to include post acute care and decrease the probability for relapse. Decreasing shame may increase visibility and we need the road to recovery well embraced. There is a heroin crises in this country. We need to prepare for a new wave of healing to overcome the impact of that disaster; the overdose and overdose deaths. We have to come out of the shadows and bring long term healing modalities into effective and common use.
Shout outs to those who are making a difference:
To Vermont for accelerating recovery resources http://preview.tinyurl.com/mtvoxpj [Open in new window]
Kyczy Hawk E-RYT200, RTY500 is the author of "Yoga and the Twelve Step Path" .