Disclosing information about your journey in recovery from a substance abuse disorder might feel like the hardest conversation you will ever have. There is still quite a bit of stigma attached to various types of addiction and deciding whether or not to speak about your personal story can bring up fears of marginalization or shame.
It’s your decision to choose how, when, why, and where you disclose (or don’t). Being gentle to yourself while finding your inner voice is key to feeling as though you have made the best choice when you decide to speak about your addiction and the steps you’ve taken towards recovery. Remember – this journey is yours. Disclosing any personal information about your life – to friends or within your communities – should be centered around you and not the feelings of others.
You should feel empowered when disclosing any personal information and only if you feel safe to do so. You have a right to pace yourself and set healthy boundaries as you’re figuring out what works best for you.
Reasons You May Not Want To Disclose Recovery Information
Not everyone you meet will show compassion towards you should you decide to share that you’re sober. Many people have friends, family members, or co-workers who have dealt with addiction and recovery. Despite that connection, the stigma surrounding addiction can cause people to react without compassion or empathy for your situation.
It’s crucial to remember that a person’s response to your path to recovery is a reflection of who they are – not who you are. You may need to set additional boundaries should the response to your story be ill-received. That’s okay – boundaries are healthy.
Explaining Myths Around Recovery
Having to dispel myths around recovery can be emotionally taxing and potentially shame-inducing. Despite decades of research around substance abuse, the stigma associated with drug addiction is pervasive. If you’re dating a new partner or sharing a space with other people (i.e. roommates/housemates), you may find yourself having to debunk myths about recovery like:
- People who are in recovery don’t go to bars.
- Addiction is a choice – you can stop using any time you choose.
- People in recovery are somehow less strong than others.
- Functioning addicts aren’t really addicts.
If you feel that sharing that you’re in recovery would send you into a shame spiral – don’t share! Feeling shame about past addictions problems is a predictor of relapse and declining health in those in recovery. You deserve recovery and the joy it brings to your life even if those around you may not understand. Center your joy!
Risk of Being Outed by Others
Anytime we share something with another person, we run the risk of having that information shared. It may not feel like betrayal if you confide in someone that you secretly love Taylor Swift and they turn around and tell your mutuals.
Imagine, however, that you’ve confided in a co-worker that you don’t go to happy hour because you are newly in recovery and the next day, the entire office knows.
Your decision to disclose was likely not one made in haste or with flippancy – you should set boundaries in the same manner. If you decide to share recovery information with someone, you should absolutely protect your narrative by outlining who they can and cannot share your story with. You are entitled to privacy – if you are concerned that the person you want to share with is not going to be mindful of your privacy, your personal strength, and your boundaries it is best to reevaluate whether or not you want to confide in this person.
When Should I Disclose Recovery Information?
When seeking medical care it is imperative to disclose your personal recovery information. Healthcare providers make a lot of suggestions every day for how their patients take care of themselves and understanding your substance abuse history will help inform their decisions. This is true for any medical provider that you are seeing for the first time – dentist, psychiatrist, primary care physician – as well as any medical care provider you’ve been seeing for awhile. It never hurts to update your long-term providers with your recovery status.
Creating Deeper Connections
Creating deeper connections in your personal life can be extremely fulfilling. By disclosing to close friends, co-workers, family members, and romantic partners will allow you to be open and honest about who you are, what struggles you may have, and what you are doing to better yourself. Vulnerability is an intimate act – opening yourself up to those near and dear to you may also open up avenues of communication that you weren’t aware existed.
Support in Recovery
Disclosing also allows those who care for you to make sure they meet your needs. Suppose you need support after a tough day and you need to reach out to a friend – by confiding in people you trust, you can always rest assured that you will have people in your corner, rooting for you. Disclosure has other benefits in regards to support as well – instead of friends planning a celebratory night out at the bar, perhaps they’ll opt to do dinner, an art-walk, or a brunch.
Healthy & Long-Term Recovery
Transparency fosters a healthy recovery long term. By being selective about who you share your history with, you can build healthy relationships. Denying yourself the option to disclose forces you to live in a false narrative. You worked hard to get yourself to a point in your recovery that you can be upfront about your journey. Honor the amazing work you’ve put into your recovery and it will help you bravely face any situation you’re confronted with.
Are You Struggling with Disclosure?
Remember, you are never alone in the process of trying to tell your story. Lean into your community – support group, teachers, sponsors, online forums, or counselors.
Thriving in your recovery process means communicating about your recovery in a way that makes you the most comfortable.
Take your time to perfect what it is you want to say. How you approach the conversation will look different depending on who you are deciding to share information with. Getting to the point of recovery took soul and grit – being able to communicate that will take some effort. Talking through it with a support person can help you feel less anxious and give you a chance to center your voice instead. Your story is important and you have a purpose in disclosing – to help you stay healthy and happy.
If you feel unsafe or unsure if you should share about your recovery, listen to yourself and follow your own judgment. At the end of the day, you know what’s best for you. Whether disclosing to your medical team, work staff, housemates, etc. it may feel safer to postpone that discussion. If so, that is okay – the fruits of your recovery labor are still with you. Own the steps it took for you to figure out the best steps for your path and pat yourself on the back – you’re doing it!
Disadvantages of Denial
Shame is caused by feeling like you have done something wrong or embarrassing. Allowing shame to manifest in you can be physically distressing and may make recovery more difficult.
“Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.” Brene Brown
As mentioned earlier, feelings of shame about substance abuse and recovery is oftentimes a predictor of relapse. Opening up to friends and family can help lift the burden of addiction or recovery. It may feel like a big step, but the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.
While it is very important to have boundaries, especially during the first year of recovery, it is equally important to be vulnerable. Choosing to share your journey with anyone is a major step – when you make that decision, imagine gaining another cheerleader, another sponsor, another shoulder to cry on when things get tough, another person to celebrate your milestones. Disclosing information about your recovery is a private decision – one that should be made with great care but that can have a big impact on your recovery.
If you’re struggling with substance abuse or need an aftercare program, Integrative Life Center is here to help. Please don’t hesitate to contact us to learn more about our treatment and therapy programs.