Note: The following guest blog post comes from Peter Gaumond, ONDCP's Recovery Branch Chief.
My name is Peter and I’m a person in long-term recovery. For me, that means it has been more than 25 years since I have had to drink or use any other substance.
Some 26 years ago, when I was struggling to overcome my addiction to alcohol, I could not have imagined myself uttering those words, even to myself. The idea of posting them online for the world to see would have then been unthinkable.
For those who have not lived through an addiction it may seem strange, but I just could not imagine living without alcohol. It seemed as though my life would be a meaningless empty shell without it when, in fact, it had already become just that because of my drinking and its consequences. Earlier in life, I had been driven by the thought of doing work that would positively affect the lives of others. However, with the progression of my addiction, that dream and my self-respect had been replaced by hopelessness and shame. What had been a bright future, full of promise, had become clouded by addiction and the sense of self-betrayal and despair that can accompany it. While I was only 29 years old at the time, and most of my life still lay ahead of me, looking forward in time, I could see nothing.
As I began to recover, I was able to begin to see beyond the bleak landscape of addiction. Freed from the compulsive need to drink the unending effort to somehow manage my addiction in order to maintain the appearance of normalcy, I was able to focus outwards and begin again finding ways to contribute. Out of despair and isolation came hope and a sense of community and purpose that has only grown over the ensuing years.
For 20 years, I chose to remain anonymous as a person in recovery. My family and my friends, many of whom were also in recovery, knew I was in recovery, but others did not. Ironically, for all but the first two or three years of that period, I worked in the addictions field as a counselor, educator, program director, as an administrator in the state Department of Human Services, and later as a consultant supporting SAMHSA’s Partners for Recovery and Access to Recovery programs. I had long recognized that to dispel the stigma, confusion, and fear that surround addiction and recovery, people in recovery needed to come out publicly, putting a face and voice on recovery. While greatly admiring many who did so, I somehow had a hard time with the idea of “going public” myself.
When I finally made the decision to be open about my recovery and to share about it in public forums, a weight was lifted from my shoulders. Being open about being in recovery did not have to be a source of either pride or shame, as I had feared. I discovered instead that doing so allowed me to live more authentically than I had in the past. While my addiction and recovery are not my identity, they have played a key role in shaping who I am today. Sharing some about their role in my life allows me to connect more deeply and honestly with others than would be possible if this segment of my experience were cordoned off from the rest of my life.
I believe that as more of us who are in recovery begin sharing our stories, the broader community will start to understand that addiction is a “we” problem that must be addressed by the whole community and not a “them” problem that can simply be handled by law enforcement or fixed by treatment and forgotten. As more of us speak out, I also think more will come to understand that recovery is a “we” process that can transform individuals, families, and communities and not something one simply does in isolation.
By speaking out, we can each help in our own small ways to make a positive change in the world around us. Across the nation there are millions of people in recovery. Speaking together, we can move mountains.
Have you found a voice?
-- Peter Gaumond, Chief of the Recovery Branch within the Office of National Drug Control Policy