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Why I’m “Out”, Anonymously, Online.

19 November 2012

Coming out as an alcoholic on twitter was, in retrospect, one of the best decisions I ever made with regard to my sobriety, and my science. The reasons are several-fold. And they also range from self-serving to magnanimous. One of my primary character defects is a need for approval and admiration. I am not confident enough in myself to have a permanent and stable sense of self-worth based on my own estimation of my own contributions, either to science, or to society in general. Being out as an alcoholic has helped with that.

The part that’s self-serving is simple. People regularly praise me for my “courage” in being out as an alcoholic. I don’t think it’s particularly brave. I think it’s a means of keeping myself accountable to a large number of people. Knowledge that relapse would disappoint my friends and loved ones is one thing that helps me stay sober. I didn’t get sober for other people, and I don’t stay sober for other people. But the idea of having to confess that I’d gotten drunk to all these people I know and care about is a powerful disincentive. And even though I don’t think it’s particularly courageous to be out as an alcoholic, boy do I love it when people tell me that it is. Because I like having my ego stroked.

The more magnanimous part of being out as an alcoholic on twitter, and here at Infactorium, is that it enables me to carry the message of recovery to the scientific and online community. And it has amazed me how many people have contacted me about their personal consumption, or that of their loved ones. Within the scientific community I’m a part of online, probably two dozen people have asked me for help, or confessed that they are uncomfortable with their own drinking or substance use, or that they have loved ones who they think are in trouble with substances. I follow about 400 scientists. That would seem, anecdotally, to suggest the rate of issues with substance use in that community is probably not different from the rest of the world at large.

Multiple people have begun programs of abstinence after talking with me about their use. People that I met online. That fills me with joy. It fills me with a sense of utility. That’s the kind of thing that helps to buoy my inherent sense of self-worth. People reclaiming their lives, people who didn’t need to lose everything prior to beginning their programs. People who can keep families, and jobs, and careers, and go on to do science and other important work. People who will (and have) become ambassadors in their own lives and communities for recovery.

Why am I out? Because it serves me. It bolsters my own sobriety, and my own ability to value myself in the world, to talk openly about my addiction issues. And because others have benefitted. And that’s the principal thing that drives recovery, for all of us. The opportunity to be of service to our fellows. To have a life of value that contributes. To hopefully leave this place better than I found it, in my own tiny way. To help spread something meaningful. Life is worth living, even for us, the addicts. We can have everything, everything, this world has to offer, except drugs. Or, we can have drugs and misery and isolation and death.

I’ve made my choice, today. I think I’ll make the same one tomorrow. And no matter how hopelessly you’ve struggled, if you’re in the grip of those coils, you can too. Just reach out. So many of us are here. Waiting.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 20 November 2012 04:09

    I find it interesting that there is a lot of myth about the anonymity of the programme. Over the years I’ve read various literature on this and found that actually there is indeed overwhelming evidence in terms of “being out” about your sobriety. In fact think back this is how the movement started by people saying – Hey I’m one of these but look I’ve tackled it like this.

    I get some interesting views on social media. My view is that this is not the same as press, media and tv etc. as defined in the traditions.

    For me it is two fold – one if people I regularly engage with at work, socially etc. know that I’m a recovering alcoholic it provides me another safety net – i.e. if they see me with a bottle in my hand they will question me as much as another AA member.

    Secondly it is to show other suffers there is a way out of this that has worked for me – if you are interested ask me. I’ve at least friends and one member of my family now in recovery within an appropriate fellowship due to that openness and one other who doesn’t drink at all, although they have the ability to do that all on their own! But all three have asked my advice etc. simply because they knew that I was walking this path. Seems perversely odd to me for people to hide behind the anonymity – I know some who even their close family do not know. But each to his own as I’ve learnt in the programme, shat is for them and what is for me can be very very different

    • 20 November 2012 08:24

      I agree that social media is not necessarily “press radio and film”. However, celebrities should keep their anonymity online as they do in press radio and film. That’s about protecting the newcomer, and preventing people from thinking that there are AA spokesmen.

      • 24 November 2012 17:50

        True – I do cringe at some celebs when they mention the programme – they should think about “principles before personalities”

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