Op-Ed: Anger a Necessity for Addiction Recovery Community

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In late September, more than 1,000 family members who have lost loved ones to drug overdoses rallied in Washington with an angry message: We’re Fed Up! with the epidemic of drug addiction in this country and the soaring number of overdose deaths.

Those family members have every right to be angry. They have every right to use their First Amendment rights to direct that anger toward the federal government and the current status quo.

I get it. I’m angry too; in fact, the Fed Up! rally made me angrier. It stood in stark contrast to the tenor and tone of the many other Recovery Month events I had the privilege to attend this past September.

It is apparently OK for those family members to angrily demand a better response from the federal government to the current health crisis. But when the addiction recovery community — more than 23 million Americans and their families — gathers to walk, speak and put a face on recovery there doesn’t seem to be much anger at the current state of affairs that is costing us more than 100 American lives every day.

Apparently, anger is a frightening emotion for many in the recovery community. Perhaps rightfully so when looking at it through individual personal recovery needs. Even the most famous recovery book in history, “Alcoholics Anonymous,” named by the Library of Congress as one of the books that shaped America, suggests, “If we were to live, we had to be free of anger … [it] may be the dubious luxury for normal men, but for alcoholics these things are poison.”

But how else are we going to collectively move the needle on the current epidemic without using the prime emotion that has been at the forefront of all other advocacy movements in American history?

Floating balloons and celebrating that recovery is possible has been a great start in many communities. But when we look around at other marginalized health populations in history like the HIV/AIDs movement and the disability movement, they get a capital M on “Movement” in our cultural reflections only because they got angry.

Is it not OK to express outrage over the blatant discrimination against many of us when we try to access health services, buy insurance, apply for a job or complete a housing rental application?

There’s a distinct difference between interpersonal fear-driven anger (that “The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous” warns against), and anger related to advocacy on behalf of your community using your citizenship. That kind of anger is actually the opposite of fear, because it takes great courage for marginalized individuals to organize and fight for their individual and collective civil and human rights.

People in recovery must get angry. We must take some lessons from the families who are fed up and join them in this emotion. For those of us who can take a stand, we owe it to those who cannot to channel this emotion into action.

As Stacia Murphy says in my documentary “The Anonymous People” about Marty Mann’s driving force (the first woman to ever achieve long-term recovery in Alcoholics Anonymous who chose to use her personal story publicly for social change), “Advocacy is about anger.” Our stories do have power!

Anger is the single missing component that will gel the entire addiction advocacy movement together. When recovery advocates embrace anger as its ally, we’ll create an overpowering force against public shame, stigmatization and discrimination.

Talking about mobilizing a constituency of consequence during the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We did not hesitate to call our movement an army. But it was a special army, with no supplies but its sincerity, no uniform but its determination, no arsenal except its faith, no currency but its conscience.”

Fifty years from now, will people look upon this new emergence of public recovery advocates with a capital “M” in their mind?  Time will tell.

Greg Williams, a person in long-term recovery for more than 12 years from addiction to alcohol and other drugs, is the filmmaker of the award-winning documentary “The Anonymous People.” Williams received his master’s in addiction public policy and documentary film from New York University. 

5 thoughts on “Op-Ed: Anger a Necessity for Addiction Recovery Community

  1. Pingback: Op-Ed: Anger a Necessity for Addiction Recovery Community By: GREG WILLIAMS | October 27, 2014 | Michigan Recovery Voices.org

  2. Great perspective. I do believe we need to get angry. But I also believe it has to be directed. Otherwise you have people going every which way and we lose focus. In addition to the punishment aspect, the exclusion aspect and the discrimination aspect, we also have those inside our own ranks who operate on what’s best for them instead of what’s best for those still suffering. Medication; the soft bigotry of low expectations; the tendency of the field to circle the wagons and shoot inward; focusing on the biological, psychological, social behavior or spiritual instead of the biological, psychological, social, behavioral AND spiritual; getting caught up in “my recovery is better than your recovery”; minimizing personal responsibility; redefining codependency as harm reduction; marrying ourselves too much to the medical community, and; accepting containment as an alternative to recovery and hope, are all traps that the self-serving and the naïve will lead us into if allowed.

  3. Keep practicing that “Course In Miracles” forgiveness. Didn’t She claim that she channeled Jesus and he told her to write the course down, right? Ya, you keep believing that. The book of Urantia was supposedly channeled too. when will alkis stop looking for more….and pay attention to the recovery in front of them. They constantly look for more, they need some reflection of themselves. alkis are uncomfortable exercising faith, it scares them. Believing a woman wrote a book called the course in miracles because Jesus told her to write it down, is pathetic. It’s head shaking stuff. The course tries to expand on Jesus’ simple message. It exploits the human condition: which is to assume that Christ’s simple message is soooo simple, we need someone to explain it further to the rest of us simpletons. What colossal spiritual hogwash. The answer is simple and humble and right in front of you BUT ya just are too afraid; ya want an answer that has some human hand in it, NOT the Spirit’s. So Jesus dictated the Course In Miracles, Ok, and aliens abducted Elvis. oh, and john lennon, too. Grow up. 34 years a day at a time.

  4. There is no stigma to addiction, its fantasy. (90% of the people in the UNITED States understand that addiction/alcoholism is a disease( in AA we understand that addiction is first a spiritual illness with physical and mental manifestations), watch any tv show, watch any movie, MTv has rehab shows on. The premise of the so called “recovery community” that there is a “stigma’ to it is nothing more than their need for a false cause to call attention to themselves . Its pathetic. The facts are in “Bro” , there is no dark age of addiction; its over. Your so called movement is full of frauds. You help no one except your egos. The Big Book said nothing of the kind, it says one day science may discover a cure; there is no cure. AA’s Big Book clearly says its a “spiritual illness. Period. You can imagine your “m”ovement( with a little m) as BIG as you want; its still small in Truth and large in lies…. what colossal unrecovered egos. Go for it. The dust bin of A.A rip off movements await your company. Peace through truth and humility.

  5. A movement destined for the dust bin off rip off parasites on the back of AA; a spiritual program. Martin luther King and Gandhi did not tolerate anger. they positively acted on moral principle, not channeled rage. Take your whiny ass program and stop leaching off of AA’s spiritual back. What a fraud “Anonymous people ” is. Yawn. dust bin of failed flash in the pan, self knowledge based, AA rip offs. Enjoy your 15 minutes of “shame”.