Five reasons to break my anonymity

The last four books I’ve written all deal in some way with addiction. I certainly didn’t plan it that way.  I had been mostly writing for some twenty years about women in jazz. When I planned the first one, a history of women musicians’ accomplishments – and the obstacles they faced/face – a guy I knew joked that it was going to be a short book.  No Facebook then or I would have unfriended him.  It was not a short book.  Writing about extraordinary, gifted women playing the music I love was bliss.

But then life dealt me a series of catastrophes.  Three in a row:  my husband (and best friend) died a slow, painful death from cancer; my daughter became a heroin addict; I got breast cancer. And I began to write close to the bone, three autobiographical (but fictional!) novels.      a young woman caught in the web of drink and drugs; her slide towards disaster and the perpetual mystery of reaching for recovery; and her daughter’s odyssey into heroin addiction and their need for acceptance of a new reality.  Oh and a book in which I poured years of research into the particular needs of women to recover from addiction.

Along the way, I shed what I view as outdated assumptions about anonymity, the secretiveness of recovery urged by my beloved Twelve Step program.  Now I’ve been “in the program” since the l970’s, when young people like me were inciting changes in how alcoholism was viewed.  What to do?  So many of us were “dually-addicted,” or had dropped acid, smoked pot obsessively, scarfed up cocaine, etc., along with the booze.  To us, it was all part of the same package:  deadly.  We called ourselves alcoholics but that wasn’t strictly true.  And more to the point, we had flipped the 50’s culture on its head and weren’t about to hide who we were.  Not our addiction, not our sexuality, not biases about our gender.  The A.A. line is that we should not “break” our anonymity at the public level, lest we then “go out” and people think the program doesn’t work.

I am in recovery a very long time (much to my amazement, given my track record.)  If I, God forbid, have a relapse sometime in the future, I get now that it would be part of the disease I have:  a chronic brain disorder.  Like a diabetic who “slips” and eats a lot of sugar.  I will not hide behind anonymity, I will not contribute to the shameful stigma that still attaches to addiction.  Everywhere we turn, statistics worsen year by year for those who suffer.  In the face of what has been called the worst public health crisis in our nation’s history ever, I will organize, advocate, promote and share my strength so families and friends and lovers and children see one more face of hope.  Never again will I be silent.

My addiction silenced me.  I sat at my typewriter (it was the 70’s!) every day with a glass of wine – the bottle nearby – and struggled to write my first book.  A good, even a beautiful, sentence or paragraph.  But by the time the wine was done, I didn’t know what tense I was writing in.  Thirty years later, when my triple crises hit, I found that old manuscript in a drawer.  I tore out the seams, I measured the faded fabric, pinned it and sewed it into a new and vibrant novel.  About a girl who wanted so badly to create but found herself pulled into the darkness of meaning lost.  She was me, she was not me, she was every young woman who never in a million years planned for her life to revolve around a bottle, a pill.