Many recovering addicts view getting sober as a chance to start over and re-invent themselves. The process is challenging, but the benefits are worth the work. Unfortunately, telling people you’re in recovery can be just as daunting.
Our society isn’t sure whether to treat addiction as a disease, mental illness or moral failing that can be overcome. In talking about your addiction, you could jeopardize your social standing, job or relationship with someone you really care about. Research studies even support the idea that people tend to think more negatively about people who struggle with addiction.
In a social environment that’s not so nice to people facing issues like addiction and recovery, it can be difficult to open up to others and tell them you’re a recovering addict.
So, should you tell? And if so, how?
Should I Tell People I’m in Recovery?
At some point, you’ve probably found yourself thinking, “Do I even have to tell anyone I’m in recovery?”
The truth is no, you don’t. You don’t have to tell anyone that you’re a recovering addict if you don’t want to. However, learning how to talk to other people about your recovery could be a valuable part of your healing process.
Sharing your recovery experience with a close circle of friends, family members or a significant other may help you establish open and honest relationships, build up your confidence and self-efficacy, and encourage the shedding of old habits like dishonesty and self-shaming.
As a person in recovery, coming clean about your past and learning how to talk about addiction with family members and friends is an essential part of building healthy relationships. It doesn’t mean you have to scream, “I’M A RECOVERING ADDICT!” from the rooftops. As you get more comfortable in your own skin, you’ll be able to feel out each situation and determine when and how you can appropriately talk about your recovery.
5 Helpful Tips for Coming Clean About Your History with Addiction
According to well-known author and public speaker Brené Brown, facing your fears and shame head-on is the key to overcoming feelings of isolation, powerlessness, and shame. It may be scary, but giving yourself permission to be vulnerable is the first step toward building resilience.
If you decide to tell other people in your life that you’re a recovering addict, here are five helpful tips to get you started:
1. Forgive yourself first
Embracing your past and accepting that it’s a part of who you are is a big part of recovery.
If you just completed a drug and alcohol rehab program and you’re still working through some things in your past, you may want to wait a few months or years before you tell people you’re in recovery. This process is completely unique to you, so no one can put a time limit on it. But once you feel comfortable in your own skin, you may be ready to share this part of your life with others.
2. Consider the person’s relationship to you
Is this person a co-worker? A sibling? A girlfriend or boyfriend?
Your decision to come out as a recovering addict may depend on the level of emotional intimacy in the relationship. For example, if you are dating someone and you know things are starting to get serious, you may consider whether you want to share this part of your life with the person.
In this instance, ask yourself, “Is it really essential that this person knows about my past with addiction? What do I or they stand to gain from it?” If you feel strongly that you should tell the person about your recovery, trust yourself!
3. Be mindful of the timing and setting
Around the table at Thanksgiving dinner or at a loved one’s funeral may not be the best setting in which to tell your family or friends about your addiction. Use your best judgment and tell others about your recovery when it feels right to you. There’s no perfect time or place to tell someone you’re in recovery, but often, a one-on-one conversation in a setting with very few distractions is an ideal time to share this information.
4. Be cautious about sharing at work
The workplace is a challenging environment when it comes to sharing personal information like your recovery. Not only could it jeopardize your relationship with your co-workers, boss, and clients, but you could also face isolating stigmatization from co-workers, forever branding you as a “junkie” or a “dirty addict.”
Throughout your transition back to work in recovery, you may feel anxious, self-conscious, embarrassed, or guilty. These feelings are overwhelming on their own without the thought of telling everyone about your past substance abuse.
Although some people choose to limit or avoid discussion about addiction recovery in the workplace, others would argue that being open and honest with your boss or immediate supervisor is necessary. This largely depends on the workplace culture at your job, but the choice is yours to make.
5. Know that your decision doesn’t have to be black and white
Sharing your personal experience with addiction isn’t a requirement of recovery. The decision to reveal your history of substance abuse should be carefully considered on a case-by-case basis. Whatever boundaries you set for yourself, be confident in that decision now, and know that as you grow and mature in your sobriety, things may change.
Remember, you do not have to tell anyone you’re in recovery if you don’t want to. When, how, and if you share are personal decisions that can only be made by you.
Telling someone you’re a recovering addict may be particularly difficult, especially if the relationship is estranged or new, but you are stronger than you know! Just think about how hard you fought to get sober. And remember: developing raw, real, and honest relationships are an important part of maintaining your sobriety.
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Author: Kelsey Brown
Kelsey Brown grew up in Chicago, IL and has always been an avid reader and writer. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Journalism from Missouri State University and now lives in Austin, Texas with her husband, daughter, and labradoodle. Kelsey is a copywriter at Nova Recovery Center, a drug and alcohol rehab center, and regularly researches and writes on topics related to the substance abuse treatment industry, including detox, rehab, sober living, and mental health issues. When she’s not wri