Addiction is a disease. End of discussion… right? As practitioners within the field of behavioral health and wholeness, we’ve all heard the message, loud and clear. Many of us subscribe to the concept without question, confident in our convictions that “addicts are sick people, not bad people.” Some of us have built our careers upon this assertion, while others espouse it personally, within our own lives and family relationships.
But when was the last time that we, individually and collectively, paused to view this “addiction is an illness” belief from an alternative viewpoint?
During this year of unpredictable (and unprecedented) social dialogue—as our world has been surging with soap-box invitations and water-cooler conversations, all challenging us to “deepen and broaden our perspectives,” to “think again,” and to reevaluate through an equal-yet-opposite social experience—I’m feeling bold enough to ask an uncomfortable question:
When we say to our clients, “addiction is a disease,” (a) have we considered this statement from all relevant angles, and (b) are we as fully grounded in our position, when viewing it through the eyes of an addict’s loved one(s)?
Consider this story: “Nine years ago, when my husband first started attending Twelve Step meetings, he came home one night with an analogy that made PERFECT sense. His sponsor (a doctor, incidentally) had suggested that my husband’s sex addiction might be compared to diabetes, a disease that could be managed, but never cured. Ignored and untreated, this sponsor asserted, sex addiction was both progressive and degenerative. Without intervention, this disease would quickly debilitate—and eventually destroy—my husband’s life from the inside out. But like diabetes, the analogy continued, sex addiction wasn’t an automatic death sentence: if treated with daily attention, consideration and moderation, both diseases could be survived, resulting in a high degree of fitness and physical function. If my husband took his sex addiction diagnosis seriously, he could live a happy, healthy, sober and satisfying life. If my husband ‘gave himself wholly’ to his program of recovery, he’d experience a daily reprieve from the worst of sex addiction’s collateral damage, driving it into a relative state of passive remission.”
When I first heard this analogy, whispered through the words of a woman desperate for answers, I seriously wanted to stand up and cheer for the idea. Once upon a time, I loved the analogy. And to be honest, I still DO love it, in certain respects.
But I’ll be honest about this, too: historically, I’ve hesitated to purport that analogy in public forums like this one, specifically because I DON’T love getting sucked into what I call “the great disease debate.” I’m keenly aware that, just beyond the realm of traditional recovery models, experts passionately disagree about labeling addiction an “incurable disease.” They argue the pros and cons of comparing addiction to other lifelong and degenerative illnesses, through valuable exchanges that ask (and answer) questions that legitimately should be addressed. Until a few years ago, I stayed out of the fray, declining a hardline alliance to this concept, for one very basic and practical reason: I’m not an addict. And because I’m not an addict, I don’t claim any direct knowledge or conviction about addiction’s impact upon on the addict, at least not from any firsthand point of view.
SCARLET SISTERHOOD: WE’VE GOT SKIN IN THE GAME.
No, I’m not an addict, and neither is my average client. But that doesn’t mean I’m an irrelevant or uninformed spectator. In my personal life, I spent 11 years married to a man severely addicted to internet porn. I work my own Twelve Step recovery program (13 years and counting), and I actively sponsor women within that “forever non-professional” capacity. Career wise, I’ve been educated, supervised and certified through the Association of Partners of Sex Addicts Trauma Specialists, trained to provide professional care for those impacted by their intimate partners’ sexual betrayal, supported by advanced training in problematic sexual behavior through the Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health. Within my private practice, Women Ever After, I work as a women’s life, relationship and divorce recovery coach. I’m part of the clinical treatment team at CORE Relationship Recovery Center, a highly specialized therapy practice in West Palm Beach Florida, working with men, women and couples seeking to heal from sexual betrayal and compulsive sexual behavior. I moderate online forums for recovering women around the world, and I spent two years coordinating coaching services for Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health, a non-profit organization that helps women to heal from sexual betrayal and relational abuse.
Between these various personal and professional roles, it’s fair to say that even though I myself am not an addict, MY ENTIRE LIFE revolves around issues related to addiction, recovery and recovering relationships.
In other words, I’ve got skin in the game.
Working in this field, I encounter the “the great disease debate” almost daily. It presents with questions like these: “Is addiction really an incurable disease? Can we compare addiction to illnesses like diabetes? Or depression? Or lupus? Or cancer? Is addiction chronic, or terminal, or both? Was an addict born an addict? If not, how did he become one? Is an addict forever powerless over his drug of choice? Can an addict become ‘recovered,’ or will he always be ‘recovering?’”
Until a few years ago, whenever these questions arose, I’d ponder them for a moment, then very consciously shift my attention back to the focus of my own practice, experience and expertise. As immersed as I am in the world of recovery, my primary passion is coaching PARTNERS through their own unique experiences (whatever those experiences may be) of their loved ones’ compulsive behaviors. I certainly do care about a broader range of recovery topics. (How could I not?) But partners will always be my principal point of reference—and my professional point of entry—into conversations like “the great disease debate.”
Quick sidenote for anyone who doesn’t work in an addiction-related field or capacity: Believe it or not, sensitivity to an addict’s partner is NOT automatic, neither amidst our clients themselves, nor within our broader ranks of helping professionals. To most people, it’s obvious that addiction impacts the addict. It’s far less obvious (sigh) that addiction impacts the addict’s spouse or intimate partner, to an equally extreme, existential and life-changing degree. Due in part to this disconnect, I’m chronically disappointed by talking points for “the great disease debate.” Somehow, partners’ recovery rarely makes the agenda. It just doesn’t come up, neither onstage nor out in the audience.
Sometime midway through 2015, I finally stopped ducking “the great disease debate,” choosing instead to face it in a meaningful way, through my instrument of choice—my writing. I stopped resisting my urge to sidestep the issue, choosing instead to jump in with all four feet. I decided that it was time for me to actively engage the debate from my clients’ side of the aisle, from a viewpoint I DO passionately and practically represent.
That decision gave birth to an antithetical moment. And within that moment, I was struck by this harmonious personal and professional truism:
Regardless of how an addict experiences addiction, MY experience of addiction is an independent and stand-alone subject. And speaking exclusively from that stand-alone viewpoint, I actually DO have an answer to the question, “Can addiction be compared to another disease?”
And my answer (after I second-guess myself for one brief millisecond) is a big, fat, frank, resounding, aren’t-you-glad-you-asked-me-again…
Not for me. Not for us. Not for this.
Not in a million years. Not for a million bucks.
Perhaps addicts CAN compare their addictions to other patients’ diseases. (Or perhaps they can’t. Honestly, as a non-addict, I’m not willing to force a hard-line position on behalf of an experience for which I’m only indirectly informed.) But here’s what I do know to be true, an assertion that I AM fully qualified to make:
To the world at large, loving an addict doesn’t gain my clients any measure of empathy, acknowledgment or appreciation. In fact, quite the opposite is more often true. Loving an addict emblazons his partner with a crimson letter of nefarious alliance. It seals her with a ruby-red stamp of embarrassment, of isolation, of “guilt-by-association.” It inducts her into a scarlet sisterhood, one that’s laden with infamous assumptions and inflammatory implications. Not because of anything she herself has done (or not done)—her socially identifiable “sin” is the act of loving (or having once loved) the addict with whom she shares life.
I understand that partners of addicts are not the focal point for the majority of addiction professionals, so it makes sense that their voices are less commonly addressed within “the great disease debate.” AND YET, for every single addict we treat, counsel or coach, there is AT LEAST ONE more heartbroken soul who’s intimately invested (and significantly impacted) by the damage caused by that person’s addiction. These partners are simultaneously victims and survivors; they’ve earned their spot at the table, and they deserve to have a voice within this evolving dialogue. No, they’re not addicts, which simply means they speak from a separate-yet-equal point of view. They may not be the clients who sit in your office (and that’s okay), but they, too, have skin in this recovery game.
As someone who (a) loves an addict myself, and (b) coaches other women who rise to meet a similar fate, I’ve gained a whole new level of appreciation for Hester, The Scarlet Letter’s signature “woman of scorn.” Hester knew a LOT about facing a tough crowd, and some days, I feel like I’m right there with her. After all, I’m married to a modern-day sex addict, and I spend my career with women who carry similar designations of infamy. Wouldn’t THAT just shock the socks off of those puritanical Bostonians?
BRACE YOURSELF: IT’S A JUNGLE OUT THERE.
When someone is diagnosed with a non-addiction illness (I’ll abbreviate that hereafter as “NAI,”) the world at large is generally compassionate, caring and concerned, both toward the patient and toward the patient’s significant other. They champion the patient’s prognosis for recovery, no matter how small its likelihood for success. But when someone becomes a drunk or a junkie or a sex addict, the world at large can be judgmental and shaming and blaming—even if it isn’t politically correct. They often assume the worst outcomes, belittle past successes and distance themselves from the addict AND his closest loved ones.
When a patient is diagnosed with an NAI, nobody’s likely to urge his spouse, “Just leave the sicko! He’s putting you through hell! What are you waiting for? You deserve better!“ But many people WOULD tell a recovering addict’s partner exactly that.
For partners of addicts, it’s obviously painful to hear such comments from the world “out there.” But in the face of those hurts, a partner can always reach out to her close friends and family, seeking comfort from those she KNOWS will understand. Right?
Or… maybe not.
Imagine how much worse it gets when negative assaults are launched—and land—closer to home? Imagine a client being met, in her deepest vulnerability, by uncaring coworkers, uncompassionate relatives and unconcerned members of her faith communities? Imagine her discouragement when under-trained professionals (clergy, counselors, coaches, therapists, doctors, social workers, educators, law enforcement officers) regard her loved one’s addiction as a basic moral “failure?” When they diagnose his behavior as an unfortunate “mistake?” When they minimize his problem as an ill-advised “bad habit?” Imagine how much it hurts when others ASSUME that she, as someone who loves an addict, (a) caused the problem, (b) enables the problem, or (c) is as pathologically addicted to the addict as the addict is to his drug of choice?
Suddenly, in those scenarios, partners of addicts don’t experience addiction as a condition that solicits much (if any) understanding—either from the jungle “out there” or from within their own networks of inner-circle support. They’re more likely to feel abandoned by those they once trusted, expected to somehow “suck it up” and “figure it out” on their own.
ENTER GROUND ZERO: “HOME IS WHERE THE HURT IS.”
For someone who loves an addict, it’s acutely painful to be alienated from her old inner circles. But in response to that loneliness, she can always bunker down, tune it out, and cling to the one other person beside her in the trenches. Surely she can draw support from the one other human stuck right there with her, the one with whom she actually SHARES this proverbial hellhole. Perhaps nobody “out there” gets what she’s facing, she concludes. But even though her partner caused this freaking mess in the first place, surely he can appreciate how fiercely she’s digging to get them out of it. Right?
Or… maybe not.
Imagine that partner, already devastated by the effects of her loved one’s addiction, feeling deserted by everyone she assumed would support her, only to realize that her two loudest, boldest, most vicious critics are impossible to escape. They’re inextricable from the crisis itself, residing at its very epicenter. Perhaps you’ve seen this happen with a client in session: there’s a sickening silence that accompanies the moment she recognizes those two cruel voices: they belong to her addict (bad just got worse) and to herself (worse just got incomprehensible).
When patients are diagnosed with NAIs, very few blame their intimate partners for “making them sick,” for “making it worse,” or even for somehow “making it all up.” In most cases, NAI patients are neurologically and psychologically clear-minded. They don’t often project their pain onto the people they love most. They can consciously empathize with their intimate partners, from initial diagnosis through long-term treatment. An NAI patient is usually capable of recognizing, respecting and validating the way his partner experiences his disease; he understands that even though the NAI is ravaging HIS physical body (unilaterally), it’s simultaneously attacking THEIR shared life (bilaterally) as a couple, to their very core. NAI patients rarely flood their partners with the emotional burdens of their diagnoses. They often accept help from their healthier partners, and they generally don’t resist the very treatments that could save their lives. As NAI patients struggle to eradicate their own diseases, they typically don’t push away their partners or shut them out from their recovery processes. Their loved ones’ support means EVERYTHING to most NAI patients, and they rarely treat their partners as adjunct afterthoughts.
For the partner of a recovering addict, this experience is painfully and profoundly DIFFERENT. Her addict’s voice becomes the first critic she struggles to escape. Unlike NAI patients, addicts often DO accuse their partners of imagining, exaggerating or misconstruing symptomatic reality. (It’s common for addicts to gaslight, dismiss and deny their partners’ experience of addiction; it’s one of the classic mechanisms by which addiction survives and thrives.) Recovering addicts often DO dismiss or deflect their partners’ legitimate pain, projecting their most unbearable emotional issues (shame, anxiety, grief, regret, fear, powerlessness, trauma, withdrawal) onto their loved ones, unaware that their partners are feeling many of the same emotions. Addicts often DO resist, resent and reject any outside intervention, even when their lives are hanging in the balance. And sadly, addicts often DO minimize the value of their partners’ care or commitment, considering it a peripheral (sometimes even counter-productive) influence to their recovery. As a result, partners often feel diminished and demoralized, rejected by the very ones they’re trying, against-all-odds, to love and support.
Remember, I said there were TWO voices that call Ground Zero “home” for my partner clients? That second voice (the partner’s own) resides with her 24/7, her very own in-house “judge, jury and executioner.” Addiction can wreak havoc on her own inner dialogue, using it as catalyst for searing self-doubt and paralyzing confusion. This voice echoes ALL of the “out there” assumptions, but it also interjects a few choice phrases straight from purgatory: “How stupid are you? This is your fault. I told you not to marry him.” This voice borrows material from her deepest insecurities: “You never lost that baby weight. You’re just like your mother. If you were less needy, he’d come home more often.” To complicate an already confused situation, this voice is quick to contradict itself: “You know you don’t believe in divorce. But if he does it one more time, THEN you should definitely leave him.”
Bottom line: there’s no ammunition this voice won’t engage, and there’s no source of shame it considers off-limits. When someone loves an addict, it’s freakishly easy for her to lose her own emotional bearings, no matter how fully she maintains her sense of self. This “voice-of-reason turned instrument-of-insanity” is one of the paramount reasons WHY.
RELAPSE, REMIT, REDUX.
For my last point here, I’m going to address the transition between remission and relapse. As I watch my clients healing from sexual betrayals (particularly as they tearfully call to schedule those tough emergency sessions), THIS is the factor that MOST distinguishes a partners’ experience of addiction from other forms of NAI recovery. Relapse is the bell that often sounds that intractable “death knell,” that final, echoing, agonizing note that declares to my clients (and to me, as their coach) that addiction manifests in ways that CANNOT be “lumped together” with other health-related analogies.
Let’s break this down: when an NAI returns to a patient living in remission, we attribute that resurgence to the NAI itself. When addiction returns to someone living in sobriety, we attribute that resurgence to the addict, not to the addiction. When an NAI “comes back,” we blame the disease, not the patient. But when addiction “comes back,” we blame the addict; he becomes the bearer of failure and fault. When an NAI patient slips from remission into relapse, that setback rarely involves lying, hiding, betrayal, infidelity, abuse, financial loss or legal complications. By comparison, when an addict slips or relapses, it usually DOES mean EXACTLY that. When an NAI returns with renewed vehemence, it’s rarely accompanied by acts that undermine the patient’s most intimate relationships. When an addict returns (however briefly) to his drug of choice, he rips the scabs from his partner’s deepest hurts. His actions refuel her most desperate fears, and they resurrect her most unbridled anxieties. He betrays whatever fragile trust she’s begun to place in her addict’s recovery, contradicting every sliver of hope she’s been holding on their behalf.
Worst of all, when an addict slips or relapses, he induces a complex trauma response (along with other kinds of serious psychological injury) within the life of his recovering partner. Slips and relapses are deeply retraumatizing, and they compromise every ounce of healing partners work INCREDIBLY HARD to secure for themselves in the first place.
NO FAULT… JUST DEFAULT.
To be fair, I’ve known a few addicts who, like most NAI patients, are capable of empathizing with their partners, even in early recovery. But more often, if/when an addict does develop empathy for his partner, it’s a process that occurs (a) several years into recovery and sobriety, and/or (b) as the direct result of highly skilled coaching or therapy, provided by a trauma-sensitive professional.
Here’s an important sidenote, as a matter of record: this commentary isn’t about fault or blame, and if there’s one thing I’m definitely NOT suggesting, it’s that addicts deflect or inflict their partners’ pain deliberately. In my experience, very few addicts intend to hurt or harm their partners, motivated by any form of callous maltreatment or malicious resolve. On the contrary: in most cases, deflection and infliction seem to be the automatic, inadvertent and default dynamic of an addict’s early recovery. It happens most prolifically while addicts are sincere about recovery, but not yet (understandably) strong in their sobriety. It happens before addicts are sober-minded enough to manage their emotions in positive, non-medicated ways. It happens when addicts are legitimately afraid of worsening an already unbearable situation, terrified of “pouring more salt” into wounds they inflicted in the first place. Some addicts operate from extreme modes of self-protection and self-preservation; they’re hyper-focused on maintaining sobriety at any cost, indifferent to the fact that relationships rarely survive that distinctive brand of egoism. Other addicts devolve into naïve forms of traumatizing behavior, operating from the belief that, by doing XYZ, they’re actually “helping, loving and protecting” their grief-stricken partners.
Regardless of their motivation, recovering addicts make many of the same common (albeit unintentional) mistakes: they force emotional distance, withhold pertinent information, censor painful disclosures, control relational narratives, confuse healthy priorities and withhold emotional intimacy. At some point in recovery, many addicts begin to GET the pain they’ve caused their intimate partners—and that’s a very good thing! But until an addict learns HOW to accommodate his partner’s trauma, in ways that effectively serve to heal her pain (not to alleviate his guilt), he’s highly prone to contradict, invalidate, or shut her down entirely, violating her most tenuous emotional vulnerability.
NOT BETTER. NOT WORSE. JUST DECIDEDLY “DIFFERENT.”
Here’s another quick (but important) disclaimer. Addiction and non-addiction illnesses are both very personal; there are obvious exceptions and contradictions to every possible generalization. No two patients—even two patients with the same disease—are exactly alike. The same NAI can present itself as “apples” one day, then “oranges” the next, dependent upon a variety of factors that affect its development. Likewise, comparing two different addictions—or even two manifestations of the same addiction—provide an almost unlimited spectrum of variety and specificity. In these equations, there are no “one-fact-fits-all” absolutes, no clear declarations that defy all potential for irregularity. With respect to that, I’ve taken care to qualify these comparative dynamics as “typical” or “common,” and I avoid making unconditional conclusions on behalf of anyone but myself.
If there’s one other thing I’m certainly NOT saying, it’s that addiction is either better or worse than any other non-addiction illness. What I AM saying is that addiction is definitively DIFFERENT than its comparative NAI counterparts—if not to an addict, then at least when viewed through the eyes of that same addict’s traumatized partner. For partners, the battle against addiction is unique and distinct and utterly incomporable, in ways that genuinely, legitimately count.
SO, WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
For whatever it’s worth, my outlook on my clients’ recovery is predominantly positive—and thanks to an incredible network of colleagues, I know I’m not alone in my assessment. In many cases, partners who love (or have loved) an addict go on to lead rich and recovering lives. Partners heal deeply. They love passionately. They dream with renewed meaning and hope and confidence, with remarkable capacity for post-traumatic growth. Partners survive whatever crises thrust recovery into motion, and they thrive within lives that are stronger and more resilient as its direct result. And though it may not be obvious from this specific commentary (I know it’s been a heavy one), I actually dedicate much of my writing to the beauty that’s born in the aftermath of addiction’s darkest hours. (more at womeneverafter.com/writings).
As far as I’m concerned, “the great disease debate“ is one very important piece of a larger, multifaceted mosaic. In the grand scheme of things, I’m striving to communicate so much more than one simple (albeit significant), compare-and-contrast exercise. Assuming there’s a moral (or a mission or a mandate) to be drawn from all of this, it’s that our world needs more professionals willing to recognize the challenges faced by partners of addicts—these very same partners who, along with our help, courageously battle both external (public) and internal (personal) complexities.
In my own life, it’s this mosaic that creates synergy between my personal and professional endeavors. I didn’t begin my life in recovery to sit around and wait for outsiders to work on my marriage; neither did I begin my work as a partners’ coach to sit around and wait for other advocates to pick up my megaphone.
Instead of “sitting and waiting” impatiently, I’m fast becoming energized by diving right in and SAYING IMPORTANT STUFF. Inspired by the unmet needs I see hemorrhaging around me, I’ve morphed into a woman of editorial activism. I’m done sitting by the sidelines, listening to crickets, in lieu of a genuine, multilateral dialogue. I’m shouting this message from my proverbial rooftop, seeking to advance the presence, purpose and profiles of my most courageous and inspiring clients. I’m typing like a madwoman (as fast as my fingers can fly), transmitting my clients’ cries for help across our virtual health-and-wholeness stratosphere. I won’t STOP writing on behalf of my clients, this “scarlet sisterhood” for whom I so passionately advocate—not until my clients’ message is echoed throughout our community of addiction, recovery and relationship practitioners.
However (and this is important), here’s the tricky thing about mosaics and missions and mandates: they don’t materialize into anything through wishing or wanting, and they rarely gain traction when isolated to polite conversation. Without an intentional, communally orchestrated, trauma-sensitive strategy for reorienting conversations (like “the great disease debate”), THIS is the deafening silence that will roar throughout HALF (and more) of the addiction recovery field. THIS is where partners of addicts will land in their moments of crises, desperate with needs to hear and be heard, and THIS is the narrative from which our clients will learn what addiction and recovery are all about.
And this is where YOU come in. Because, as driven as I am to make a significant difference? There’s no way in hell I can do this alone.
OUR TASKS? DIALOGUE. DEMYSTIFY. DESTIGMATIZE. DECONSTRUCT.
It’s all quite practical, if you stop to think about it. As professionals who stand in support of our clients, we are uniquely positioned to influence this dialogue. WE are shaping the future of our vocational field (either intentionally or incidentally), steering it toward whichever direction we want to go next. WE are setting the standards (either actively or passively) for our world of behavioral health and wholeness. All of that means that WE (drumroll please) have the power to begin overhauling this crimson icon of social derision, moral division, and relationally based incrimination.
Fully on board, but not sure where to start? No worries! Try these ideas on for size:
(a) As we circulate within our professional networks, let’s dig into the DIALOGE—not only about this topic, but about whichever topics we find irresistible or irrepressible. In other words, let’s start talking (simple enough), listening (that one’s harder, at least for me) and processing those conversations, as deeply and broadly as possible—and let’s stretch ourselves to initiate dialogue with those we know hold a very different viewpoint.
(b) As we educate our clients about addiction and its impact upon relationships, let’s aim to DEMYSTIFY (not dilute) the keys to successful recovery paradigms. In other words, let’s refuse to “dumb down” principles that lead to solid recovery work; let’s not summarize addiction into pithy soundbites, simplistic similes or too-easy rhetoric.
(c) As we further social awareness about these issues, let’s work to DESTIGMATIZE the experience of anyone who loves (or once loved) an addict (or addicts). In other words, let’s work to empower our clients to “opt out” of judgment, indictment, and guilt-by-association. Let’s seek to spare our clients the brunt of popular external recrimination (the kind projected upon one by others) and internal incrimination (the kind generated deep within our clients themselves). As we do, let’s seek to honor the unseen heroism of these individuals, knowing that they traverse an intimidating and unforgiving emotional landscape.
(d) As we disseminate popular truisms (i.e., “addiction is a disease, not a death sentence”), let’s be willing to deconstruct those statements, layer by layer, challenging them for accuracy, for veracity and for viability. As we seek to reframe topics like “the great disease debate,” let’s frequently pause to clear our own filters (personally and professionally), from the most permeable to the most impenetrable. Let’s seek to recalibrate the key applications through which we treat or counsel or coach—first as helping professionals (because we owe that to our clients), and then as human beings (because we owe that to ourselves).
OUR NEW (AND-IMPROVED) SCARLET LETTER.
For those of us who work in an addiction-related field or capacity, we often stand directly upon that invisible line of demarcation, the boundary that clearly separates “ground zero” (our clients’ private experience of recovery) from that “jungle out there” (the rest of the world).
But humor me for a minute, and think about this: What if that line wasn’t quite so invisible—and what if increased visibility was actually a good thing? What if our clients knew that we were fully invested into their wellbeing, rallying for their success on both sides of that border? As watchers? As witnesses? Holding both sides sacred on our clients’ behalf?
Now humor me for one more moment: What if this newly visible border needed a newly visible flag? Something to match its newly visible high-profile? A new banner? A new icon? A new “red badge of courage?” What if our flag needed a new telltale crest, something tightly woven from layers of depth and drama and destiny? What if our crest featured a crimson color palette, hues brightened by highlights and shades darkened by lowlights, combining in ways that only “art imitating life” could so masterfully display?
Bottom line? If we’re going to make a case for revamping our scarlet symbolism, let’s make it stand for something more inspiring than “A” for addiction. If we’re going to bear a new standard for the whole world to see, let’s make it something progressive and profound and proud. Let’s use our new mantle to clarify, amplify and unify our voices, rising to meet the challenges we’ll continue to face on behalf of our clients—regardless how tectonically our world continues to shudder and shift.
Sitting here with my laptop, I can think of a few alternative “A” words—nouns, verbs and adjectives—titles that might effectively replace our default use of “A” for addiction. But in honor of this work (and those of us who do it), I’m going to propose a label that seems altogether appropriate:
Today, I’m reclaiming the scarlet letter “A“ for (you guessed it) “advocate.”
Author’s Note: I’m keenly aware that addiction presents in every possible gender configuration. For purposes of this post, I’ve used male pronouns in reference to addicts, and I’ve used female pronouns in reference to addicts’ partners. These pronouns are NOT intentionally exclusive; they represent the genders I most commonly encounter for each role, within my field of practice.
GAELYN RAE EMERSON
©2015–2019 | All Rights Reserved
A FOR ADDICTION? THE SCARLET SISTERHOOD was written by Gaelyn Rae Emerson in August 2015. Edited for helping professionals and published by Counselor Magazine in October 2017. Republished by Women Ever After in February 2019, with minor biographical edits.