I’m proud to be an addict in recovery. I feel self-conscious about saying that, even though I believe it wholeheartedly. Anyone who’s ever been lied to, cheated, robbed, or otherwise hurt by an addict may think it’s a horrible thing to be proud of. Anyone who’s been burned in the hell that is addiction may think It’s delusional to say that. But I stand by my claim.
I’m not proud of everything I’ve done. In my addiction I lied, cheated, robbed, and hurt people. I was manipulative and mean. In sobriety I continue to make mistakes and react out of fear and pain in ways I continue to not be proud of. Guilt and shame are not remnants of my past, and today I can’t escape them like I used to. I have to face them and feel them, and some days it takes every tool I’ve learned and every ounce of sheer stubbornness I have to do it. I’m proud of that.
Recovery is something that requires of us all the very best things humans are capable of. Courage. Resilience. Compassion. Trust. Community. Forgiveness. Peace. Love. Addiction brings out the very worst of us. Addiction thrives on all the things we as a culture fear and hate and sentence to the shadows. I know addict after addict after addict who survived the worst life had to offer only to come out the other side eager and willing and striving to be a part of fostering all of those good things. They should be proud of that.
I could talk about that for days. It’s become my favorite thing in the world to hear the stories of addicts who, despite the pain, keep fighting. Addicts who, despite the world shunning them as morally wrong and defective, want nothing more than to participate and contribute to that world. Addicts who, despite living in the face of a society that values productivity over health, manage to stay sane and go out of their way to help others put their wellness first. They have so much to be proud of.
And yet, that’s not quite what I mean when I say I’m proud to be an addict, at least right now, with what’s on my mind. Because, in the past week or so, two significant things happened. The first was hearing the news that a friend I’d gone through treatment with had passed away. Someone who always made me smile, motivated me to keep going, helped me believe that addicts and alcoholics are good people with a bad disease.
The second thing that happened was realizing I still feel like I’m fighting every day. I used to fight to stay alive, braced against my twin slave drivers addiction and anorexia whipping my back. I’m not fighting that kind of everyday battle anymore. Yet I still feel some unseen force coming at me, and I feel stirred to rebellion, so much so that this week it really caught my attention and I got curious. I thought about my friend, and reflected on my addiction, and remembered lives I’ve watched deteriorate under the force of this disease, and I realized something.
Addicts are canaries. We are society’s canaries in the metaphorical coal mine. Addiction is a symptom of the greater, general, dis-ease of humanity. There is a staggering lack of connection around us. People fueled by caffeine and ambition chase success and leave their feelings in the dust. Unresolved trauma keeps warring sides angrily casting blame and bombs alike. We know more about kids’ test scores than what makes them laugh, or cry. Dysfunction, neglect, and abuse get passed down generation to generation like heirlooms, but if we have any feelings about it we’re told to suck it up. Get over it. Be strong.
Some of the strongest people I’ve known are addicts. It doesn’t always keep us alive. The canary sits in the mine restrained from leaving, ready to signal danger with its very life. People can heed the warning or not.
What I’m proud of, today, with this on my mind, is that we’re fighting for the lives of our canaries. Being part of the recovery community, I am privileged to have a view of people all over the world standing up and saying they’ve had enough. One of my favorite teachers talks about a love revolution happening in the world today, and I’ve chosen my side.
Simply by recovering, we are fighting against a culture’s whose most profitable commodity is numbness.
In a world where vulnerability is feared and despised, love and trust are acts of rebellion. Understanding that addicts require treatment instead of persecution is revolutionary. Choosing to see people as deserving of love is revolutionary. Choosing to find our common humanity instead of letting differences tear us apart is revolutionary.
Choosing to get out of the mine before the canaries fall is revolutionary.
Our fallen friends are beacons. They light our way to a better way of life that ripples far beyond addicts getting sober. They help us see where there is work to be done. Many people still see us as our disease but we continue to show up as healing. As kindness. As courage. As dignity. As peace. As love. Recovery is a force for good in a world that needs every bit of good it can get. Recovery is fighting for all the best things humans are capable of. I am so proud to be a part of that.
My name is Regan, and I am proud to be an addict.
Regan Spencer is a writer, filmmaker, recovery advocate, and person in long term recovery. She currently resides a town called Hope (and yes, she loves the metaphor) in Idaho, USA, where she is preparing to take her life and her recovery on the road in a converted van. Obsessed with wildflowers, roads that curve, and smiling at strangers, she is always looking for the next adventure and another good story. Regan would love to share her journey with everyone who’s interested at www.ReganSpencer.com or @ReganSpencerWriter on Instagram, and she welcomes anyone with a desire to reach out to continue the conversation with an email to ReganSpencerWriter@gmail.com. The primary purpose of her work is to help engage and connect people because, despite her stubbornness, life has convinced her we can’t recover alone.