The choice to discuss your recovery is a deeply personal one.
There is no right answer to the question about whether it’s a good idea to keep your sobriety confidential or to be candid about this part of your personal history. Let’s examine the question from each point of view to help you make the decision that feels right to you.
Consider Keeping Your Sobriety to Yourself
Why would you want to keep mum on the subject of your sobriety? Privacy concerns, the nature of your relationship, and the stigma of addiction may play a key role.
• Your addiction and sobriety are a private health matter.
With the exception of your health care team, which includes your addiction counselors and therapists, information about your sobriety isn’t anyone else’s business. You aren’t under any obligation to disclose it.
• Sharing the information can make others feel uncomfortable.
Imagine you’re with a group of new friends or co-workers sitting around a table discussing addiction. Unless you know how they are likely to react, you may want to choose to keep the information about your own addiction and sobriety to yourself.
You don’t know what kinds of emotional minefields you could be stepping into by revealing something so personal about yourself. You could be interacting with someone who has a strong dislike for people with substance abuse problems due to events from their own past.
At the very least, you’ll want to gauge the conversation to decide whether the others are disclosing something personal about themselves before deciding how much of your personal information to share. A good rule to remember is to share personal information at about the same rate as the other person or the group you are interacting with.
• Stigmas still exist about addiction and recovery.
The U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy released a report in November 2016, Facing Addiction in America, calling for Americans to understand that addiction doesn’t stem from a moral failing. Even though research has shown that addiction is a brain disease, not everyone has caught up with that way of thinking. Even people who “logically” understand the nature of addiction may still have their own suspicions and lack of trust in someone with a history of substance abuse.
Think About Being Open About Your Recovery
The other side of the coin is to be open about your new life in recovery. A candid approach may work well if you’re feeling good about your sobriety or actively following a 12-step program.
• You feel good about the change you’ve made in your life.
You’ve turned over a new leaf and you’re feeling better about yourself and your life than you have in a long time. It’s only natural to want to share the news that you are living a different lifestyle now.
Keep in mind that you can be truthful about being in recovery to people you know. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to provide anyone with any more details than you feel comfortable sharing. You can develop a type of “elevator speech” that will cover the situation if you want to be honest without getting into too much detail about things you would rather keep to yourself, such as the ways you would act out while drunk or high. The elevator speech can be something like this: “I’m [X] days/months sober from drugs or alcohol addiction. I’m feeling good about myself and the possibilities for my life going forward. “
• You’re following a 12-step program.
Step 12 of Alcoholics Anonymous reads, “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”
Your interpretation of this step could reach beyond sharing your story at 12-step meetings. By sharing your story with the people you encounter in your daily life, you could help someone who is thinking of going to a meeting take the first step towards sobriety.
Confidential or Candid: Which to Decide?
You don’t have to make only one choice about whether to keep your recovery completely confidential or to be open with everyone you meet about your status as someone who is a recovering addict or alcoholic. Make decisions about what you want to tell the people in your life about your recovery on a case-by-case basis.
If you’re not sure whether you should tell someone about being in recovery, then perhaps that’s an indication that you should hold off until you have had time to reflect. Seeking advice from someone you trust, such as a counselor, friend, family member, or sponsor, can help you decide the best way to proceed.