After completing rehabilitation for substance abuse, many people feel exposed, vulnerable, and unsure.
If you spent quality time in cognitive or behavioral therapy, you know these emotions are safe to acknowledge and explore. You have a right to them, and the right to process them. The real question is how you’ll feel if someone wants to know about your addiction and rehab, how you’re dealing with sobriety, and other probably other private aspects of your life.
Should you share your addiction story? The answer has many components, each stemming from individual ownership of the narrative and its purpose.
Remember the “Guiding Principles of Recovery”
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) offers 12 points that help define recovery. Developed in 2005, the Guiding Principles of Recovery haven’t changed much over the years. In each is the opportunity for you to decide what matters most in your core value system; how you’ll continue to shape your addiction story; and how to move forward.
Here are the SAMHSA’s 12 principles, listed verbatim:
- There are many pathways to recovery.
- Recovery is self-directed and empowering.
- Recovery involves a personal recognition of the need for change and transformation.
- Recovery is holistic.
- Recovery has cultural dimensions.
- Recovery exists on a continuum of improved health and wellness.
- Recovery is supported by peers and allies.
- Recovery emerges from hope and gratitude.
- Recovery involves a process of healing and self-redefinition.
- Recovery involves addressing discrimination and transcending shame and stigma.
- Recovery involves (re)joining and (re)building a life in the community.
- Recovery is a reality. It can, will, and does happen.
Notice the purposeful language. These principles reinforce that you have the ability to make positive choices for yourself and perhaps influence others.
They also reference another key factor: being a change agent against the discrimination, stigmas, and myths surrounding a brain disease. Does this mean you’re required to pick up a bullhorn and talk about your private struggles and accomplishments in a crowd of strangers? Only if you want to. But as you consider who you’ll share with and why, this particular principle may give you a more solid footing as to your personal power and when it’s best utilized.
When to Tell Your Addiction Story
There are a number of situations that may require transparency, but to what degree is still within your control. For example:
- Consults and treatment with a physical or mental health care provider. It is best to be crystal clear in this scenario. Medical professionals can only be of service to you if you’re completely honest with them. This is especially important if you had a severe addiction to opiates, or an extended period of substance abuse.
- Legal proceedings. Unfortunately, many people with substance abuse problems often have legal and financial difficulties. Addiction and subsequent rehabilitation treatment don’t excuse behavior such as breaking the law or violating ethics. Being forthright and upholding accountability may require you to share aspects of your journey to move toward resolution.
- Returning to or beginning a job. Here’s another situation in which you’re obligated to be upfront about your situation. However, once you’ve completed treatment, you have certain protections under the American with Disabilities Act for your employment. These include not sharing your absence or current recovery with your co-workers or management. If necessary, your company’s human resources representative can guide you through the process and help you establish boundaries in the workplace.
- A new romantic partner. Again, honesty is always important when establishing the foundation of a relationship. However, when to reveal certain details and in what capacity is what you need to navigate. Unless you meet someone in a support group or other sobriety-focused setting, you may not feel comfortable talking about a history of addiction on a first date—and you’re under no burden to do so.
- To help an individual struggling with addiction. Think for a moment about the people who supported you through treatment. Now consider a new definition for vulnerability: a position of strength and authenticity, not weakness. In one of the most groundbreaking reveals of how to reframe vulnerability, Brené Brown—author, professor, and researcher—shares in this TED talk the power of vulnerability and the release of shame. A willingness to share your story, perspectives, and courage may be exactly what someone else needs to seek treatment or prevent suicidal tendencies.
In other situations, such as family gatherings, after-work meetings, parties and casual socializing, you may not want to say anything at all. This is the point of self-directed, empowering recovery: you have full agency over the experience.
Speak Your Truth
This phrase may be overused on social media memes, but it’s important to remember. When you’re ready to let someone know about this chapter in your life, stay calm, be direct, demonstrate accountability, and provide education—but speak your truth. How another individual acts or reacts isn’t your concern. You’re not responsible for their emotions—only your own.