Can we choose how to be visible? If we’ve come through active addiction or, indeed, if we have had a serious problematic relationship with drugs, alcohol or some other behaviour (or process) then at some point we are likely to need to define it either internally to ourselves or externally to a third party. The reasons for doing this can be many and varied.

For example, we might need to explain to ourselves in order to understand the journey we have been on, why we used substances in the first place, or maybe as part of a treatment or healing process in order to help us find a way out of addiction, and maybe as a way of guarding against a potential relapse in the future. We might need to explain to others also – for instance, so a significant other can understand why or how the drug use etc came about or, if your applying for a job or a visa, it could be part of a necessary disclosure process, or it might just be because you want to be honest about your past, to be more accountable for your actions as you move forward

How we choose to define things, primarily to ourselves, and then to those around us, can be very much influenced by the lens we view things through.

In the end, in my opinion, it becomes about visibility: how we choose to see ourselves, and how we define or present ourselves to the outside world. 

I’m not saying I’ve ‘cracked it’, far from it, but I do have a couple of examples and experiences that might get you thinking and even influence your views on the subject, as below.

Example 1

A while ago, I worked in a treatment service where service users were encouraged to create a ‘cover story’ when seeking to move on in their recovery, and to maintain this cover story for as long as was appropriate until they felt it was safe to disclose (on a limited basis). I had a number of thoughts about this and discussed them at length with service staff and with service users and it seemed to boil down to a reaction to the stigma ‘out there’ in the ‘real world’ and staff and service users had learned to ‘play the game’ to ‘get along’. My deliberations on this approach included:

  • Is it a good idea to start your recovery journey with a lie and with hiding a key facet of who you are?
  • How do you square this with living in recovery?
  • “Is getting along worth it and is this not just like the old behaviour in many respects – saying what you need to get what you want?

Conversely, when we do tell the truth about who we are, and what we’ve been through it doesn’t always go well, in that there may be adverse consequences.

Example 2:

I recently got a call from someone at a recruitment agency about a potential senior role in a recovery based charity. I had a short call in which to convey something about myself to the agent, and chose to disclose about my addiction, treatment and recovery then move on to my skills, knowledge and experience since entering the drug and alcohol sector in 1993, sending a CV etc. The call went well, it seemed, but the promised info pack never arrived, and a further email and message via a popular business networking website went unanswered.

I don’t know if my disclosure put the agent off or if the agent spoke to the employer and my disclosure put the potential employer off. Whichever way round things went, we slipped from highly enthusiastic to silence almost over night. My disclosure thus seems to have ‘cleared the floor” and, to be honest, I was relieved, even glad to have learned it earlier rather than later. It said more about them and their issues than it did about me. In the end, I think it’s important “To thine own self be true” as Shakespeare wrote, inspired I guess by Socrates when he said “know thyself”.

You might have your own examples of what you have done, or what you say when advising clients regarding disclosure about past addiction(s) and behaviour(s) and what you do or advise can be influenced by a number of factors including the prevailing circumstances.

Again, in my opinion, which has been influenced by my experience, it is better to “pursue what is meaningful and not what is expedient” (Jordan B Peterson, 12 Rules for Life: an antidote to chaos) or “do what is right, not what is easy, nor what is popular” (Roy. T Bennett, The Light in the Heart).

During my journey of recovery, I have developed a kind of anti-selling technique that I use to clear the floor of people viewing me through the stigma lens. Usually it gets rid of 80-90% of potential ‘prospects, contract leads, job opportunities etc.’, which can be tough as rejection does hurt even if only temporarily.

My 30-year recovery journey is the result of mainly choosing to be and to stay visible, sometimes a bit too obsessively so, leading to choices that can be limited or processes that become more convoluted. The upside of visibility means that, once the floor is cleared so to speak, you are then able to do business on an open and honest footing with the people who are left. Sometimes that leads to some great projects, experiences and relationships.

And by being visible, you often give others permission to be visible, too.


Published: Recovery Journal Plus, March 2019 edition