Several months ago I was sitting in a darkened auditorium watching a two-person play about Bill W., Doctor Bob and the founding of AA. The story is well-known to anyone who has found recovery through this fellowship:
On May 12, 1935, Bill W., a New York stockbroker in fragile early sobriety, takes a business trip to Akron, Ohio. The business goes badly. Depressed and on the verge of yet another relapse, Bill W. feels an irresistible pull towards the hotel bar. Desperately fighting the urge to drink he realizes, “I’ve got to find another alcoholic.” He ends up meeting with Dr. Bob, a local surgeon who struggles with his own drinking. The bond formed between the two men grows into a movement that will help more people get and stay sober than anything else in recorded history.
It’s a great story.
AA and its numerous “spinoffs” (e.g. Narcotics Anonymous, Marijuana Anonymous, etc.) have saved the lives of countless sufferers. Today, in this country alone, there are over twenty million people in stable, long-term recovery and a lot of them got that way and stayed that way because of AA or other similar fellowships.
So I watched the play marveling at the underlying genius of AA and the serendipity that informed its founding in 1935. But I had another reaction.
In the 80 years since that night in Akron, AA still stands—but it stands nearly alone.
Sure, there are some medications that assist with treatment, and Cognitive Behavior Therapy is a reasonably effective innovation, but the state of the art remains a group of committed individuals helping each other get well the same way they did in 1935. That same year Surgeon General Thomas Parran identified the nation’s foremost public health concerns as pneumonia, tuberculosis and venereal disease.
We’ve made huge advances in the treatment of those three conditions, but addiction remains locked in a time warp. This takes nothing away from the power—and staying power—of AA. Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin just seven years before Bill W. met Dr. Bob and we still use it today. But while we’ve developed better and stronger antibiotics since then, the menu of effective treatments for addiction remains appallingly small. There continues to be a lack of research dollars for addiction relative to other conditions and this is particularly galling in light of the cost addiction exacts on society. No other disease comes close.
Addiction remains misunderstood and stigmatized. This is news to exactly no one.
But RECOVERY is not stigmatized, it’s celebrated. The problem is, it’s celebrated quietly, often in closed meetings with coins that stay buried in purses or pants pockets. Addiction has a thousand faces and they’re all scary. Recovery has a thousand faces too, and they’re all familiar. Recovery’s on the face of doctors, airline pilots, police officers, TV or radio hosts, star athletes or business leaders. But today, recovery doesn’t have an identified face in our community and, until it does, our cause remains closeted, marginalized…and hopelessly underfunded.
NCADA wants to help put a face on recovery.
If you’re in long-term recovery and would be willing to share your journey back to health and wholeness, I want to hear from you. I need you to help us advocate for more and better treatment. Together, we need to help paint a full, three-dimensional picture of recovery. There are over 175,000 people in our region enjoying long-term, stable recovery, and if only 10% of them start making noise and telling their stories more publicly then maybe—just maybe—we can start changing some funding priorities and give this killer disease the attention it deserves.
Now is not the time to remain invisible, throw up our hands and legalize more ways to get addicted. Now is the time to stand up, be noticed and demand answers. Now is the time to dedicate the best minds and best laboratories toward the treatment and prevention of addiction.
If not now, when?
The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse – St. Louis Area (NCADA) is a community health agency providing information, intervention, referral to treatment, prevention and advocacy services.
Disclosure: The publisher and editor of this site, Chris Aguirre, is currently a volunteer for NCADA.