Parsing with Anonymity

By Jolene Jones 09/24/14

What can you learn through anonymity?


Parsing: to analyze something to discover its implications or uncover a deeper meaning.

I love and agree with the language of empowerment concept found in the New Recovery Advocacy Movement. I myself have been drug and alcohol free since 1999 (with one 4 month slip in 2008) and I am very comfortable sharing that too. We do need to reframe our messages in order to raise awareness and stop the shaming. 

Anyway, I lived with a good friend (Joe) for years. He still struggles mightily for his sobriety and currently is in a very good long term program. Yet I find myself telling lies to nosy people who ask about him. I can live with that for now because I agree that the change is going to have to come about by planting seeds in subtle ways.

Should my friend reach a point in his recovery where he is comfortable with others knowing his situation…it would be a lesser thing. But, it is his story and if he wishes his privacy respected that is his right. Equally true is that many addicts are not comfortable sharing because they know it’s like handing ammunition to very ignorant and self-righteous people. Still I find myself hell-bent on raising awareness about the disease of addiction where I can, when I can.

For example: My nosiest of neighbors shockingly developed several very serious cancer tumors…scary, scary stuff. She even apologized to me for the bad-mouthing she’d done about a back handed way... “I only told you those things about Joe a few months ago because he bad-mouths you…you know.”

“For God sakes,” I tell her, “don’t you know by now that when people act out it’s because they’re feeling bad about their own selves?”

She did then mellow it out.

A few weeks later I invited her to ride with me in an art parade. I knew it would be a thrill for her and I need to model right behavior too. I was impressed that she refrained from asking about Joe. I have had to shut her down hard on this topic many times before and still she goes on. But… she is fighting for her life in a different way and really willing to try to learn everything she can to live right too.

So then on the ride home from the parade, we got to chit-chatting about my case management job. Somewhere in there, I touched on the harm reduction model as it pertains to addiction, and how developing the trusting and nurturing relationship is one thing and then to know when and where to still be able to intercede enough to offer hope that doesn’t come off like some placating idiom… is another.

Well, with all the sanctimonious gusto she is famous for, she went right to the “but isn’t that enabling?”

Okay so now we are squared off right where she loves to go and I found myself telling her, “Enabling’s not even a word anymore. It’s about not shaming them further.”

"Wow,” she says, “enabling’s not a word anymore? I didn’t know that!”

See…I’m writing this whole article because I don’t want to burn in hell for lying. There’s an excellent chance I pulled that one out on a dime… because I’d recently read Bill White’s Rendezvous with Hope article where he implied we have evolved through that stage now and we realize we need to offer hope more than anything else.

She stumbled around more trying to keep it going because historically she has thrived on this type of topic, to feed her unconscious need to gossip for one thing, but she also does want to try to understand on a certain level, too. I was able to just wrap it up then by defining loving compassion for her with the example of a man passed out drunk. You have a choice. You can kick him or put a blanket over him.

She accepted that and I was happy to learn that I have the ability to put boundaries around others' nosiness. But this is still such a treacherous area to navigate. Tonight is National Night Out with a party on every block and I’m not going to go…because I don’t really know what to say when they ask about Joe.

Jolene Jones is the author of Dwelling: A Memoir about Addiction and Recovery.

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