A close dear friend of mine has recovered from a year-long battle with a deadly disease cancer. It was life-threatening. It was a sudden diagnosis and it toppled her world. Life and the importance of her career, her activities, and relationship struggles were all shifted. The mundane became important and the important became mundane.
After the treatments were over, her body cleared of cancer she was still embraced in the process of recovery. The center continued to provide support; meditation, nutritional counseling, yoga and movement classes, talk therapy and medical follow-up. This will be available for as long as she needs it. Cancer garners respect even in remission. There is no shame in returning to the cancer care center as many times a week as she is interested and able. There is no shame in being a woman recovering from cancer. Her experience with the profound change in her worldview, some might call a spiritual experience, is accepted and lauded. This aftercare is an accepted way to heal and a way to participate in the process of prevention: nutrition, stress management, movement, support, and care.
The care and compassion expressed for my friend are universal; friends, family, co-workers have sympathy or empathy for her journey. Both in illness and in recovery there is understanding. Work colleagues make space for time restrictions, activity restrictions. Only the sense for personal privacy limits what others know. There is no shame in having cancer, there is no guilt inherent in this disease.
Now I think about myself and my friends. We are in recovery from a fatal illness: Disease of addiction. Gambling, sex, food, relationships, debt – all forms of sordid activities which can lead us to jail, illness or death. They can lead us to stress and illnesses that can contribute to many deadly diseases like cancer. In order to maintain the anonymity, we only express pride and share tools for continued recovery among our troops. Our bosses, colleague, sometimes family members are not apprised of the disease nor to the journey of recovery. I feel we are invisible at times and we move in silence.
When I was first diagnosed, my parents kept it a secret from others. Since then the anonymity and I started together. Later as I walked more on the path of recovery I realized my anonymity started with shame and it still prolongs shame.
And an interesting part which my anonymity also carries is the assumption of relapse. There are no recovering fellow mates around unless I want. Unless pursued by me there are no meditation classes, counseling, therapies available to help me balance recovering addict life and the life I am leaving. I cannot assume that my Boss and my colleagues will sympathetically provide moral and actual support. In most circumstances, I have to take charge of my own recovery. Being aware of the fact that the society won’t support largely in the challenges of recovery. If I really want to redefine myself, achieve my goals and dreams and create a new way of living, I will be always be supported by my fellow recovering addicts. I am happy to have such a great fellowship but this doesn’t deal with all the elements and aspects of happiness.
My anonymity excludes celebration as it a prolonged shame. I had to find a way out. I looked at the oceans of recovering addicts enjoying continuous recovery which helps me to celebrate my recovery every moment. Breaking anonymity bravely to myself. I needed a voice from inside in all walks of my life, my struggles required acknowledgment and I had to remove the stigma.
I believe decreasing shame may increase visibility and decrease the probability for relapse.