I was driving through town today and noticed a church sign that listed an Al-Anon meeting during the week. I remember thinking to myself, “I wonder if they have NA or AA meetings. Is there a reason why they choose not to list those?” I understand the power of anonymity — the underpinning of self-help groups. So by all means, I’m not challenging the need. But, I’ve been recently pondering how far we’ve come in understanding and accepting alcoholism in society, particularly since the founding of AA. However in many ways, it’s still the white elephant in the room. I recently heard of a funeral where the family wanted no mention of the deceased’s alcoholism, from which he ultimately died even though he was in recovery and sober. Again, I fully respect the family’s choice and am in no means discounting their wishes. However had it been cancer or diabetes or a host of other medical conditions, it would likely not have been an issue to mention. In fact, one’s battle with cancer is often seen as a source of inspiration given the great courage and selflessness often seen in cancer patients. Why are we not able to equally celebrate the personal courage and spiritual healing seen in the lives of alcoholics and addicts, whether in life or death? There is still much shame associated with the disease of addiction. Though we’ve come a long way, there is still much ignorance (lack of knowledge) about it.
As a gay man, I know that ignorance breeds fear and fear can lead to death. Likewise, ignorance of addiction can literally lead to death — poor choices and lack of support for the suffering addict. The need for education about how to better understand, detect and support addicts seeking recovery is reflected in my story — a “closet meth user.” With one exception, all of my close friend, family and work colleagues were SHOCKED when I “came out of the meth closet.” I didn’t fit their stereotype of a meth user. And clearly, my employer lacks knowledge of this disease given their choice of action, in my humble opinion. I’m still blessed with the path I’m on and have no regrets – I’m where I need to be. But that doesn’t take away my disappointment and frustration with their lack of institutional knowledge on the subject. As a leader in the pharmaceutical industry for cancer, diabetes, mental illness, etc., they seek better health outcomes for their patients. Yet they lack a basic understanding of how to provide critical education & awareness to enable better health outcomes for their employees who may struggle with alcoholism or drug addiction.
We’ve come so far, yet have so far to go…
I learned of another example today while surfing the web for information and sites around addiction. I learned of a term ETOH at http://www.addict-help.com/etoh.asp.
“ETOH has other applications as well. For example, some hospitals, med technicians and medical facilities. It would seem to have been developed as a way of disguising the word alcohol to keep the fact that a person had been drinking from being disclosed.”
Given the possible side effects of alcohol withdrawal, this knowledge can prove critical to a patient’s treatment. So, it’s relevant information for medical staff to have. This strikes me as another situation where the societal stigma still associated with alcoholism and addiction might be playing out. It’s the white elephant – we aren’t supposed to bring it up, or talk about it. And yet, undiagnosed – or unaware – it can kill. Again, I understand the need for the hospital to take such precautions and respect a patient’s privacy. But again – if they had diabetes or hemophilia – an individual or family wouldn’t hesitate to share that in hospital. But, being severely intoxicated and possibly suffering from the disease of alcoholism can’t be discussed.
I know this doesn’t directly relate to my recovery — but it seems like the societal stigma and associated shame individuals have about addiction can have an impact if it leads to lack of awareness or intervention. If it prolongs someone from asking for help or sparks actions which create more risk to one’s recovery, then it becomes very relevant. If better patient outcomes really is the goal of the US healthcare system, then we must face the social aspects of the disease as well as the treatment needs of the afflicted.
But, easy does it…for now, my focus must be on recovery not social revolution 😉