Media: Tell the Addiction Recovery Story!

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Last week, actress Kristen Johnston accepted two awards in Los Angeles from Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

One was a special recognition award for her work educating the public about addiction and substance use issues.

The other award was a 2014 Voice Award, which she accepted on behalf of Greg Williams for The Anonymous People

The Anonymous People’s Voice Award was one of 10 films selected from 125 entries and represents its fifth national award.

A teary Kristen

Johnston cried when she accepted her special recognition award, but not happy tears. She said, “I’m furious that it takes a celebrity’s death to make people care about addiction, about depression.”

“It’s time to stop focusing on the entertainment community, as if it’s a problem only we have.”

Johnston talked about traveling the country after her book, Gutscame out. During all the events and appearances, “I’ve never met one celebrity there but I did meet thousands of recovering addicts,” she said.

Thank you, Kristen, as always, for pointing out what so obviously needs to be said.

As we perch on the edge of entering September and the 25th National Recovery Month celebrations (more than 500 scheduled coast-to-coast!), the focus needs to be on the 23 million regular folks in recovery.

A great many of those folks will walk, march, dance and yes, step to the microphone in public and say, “My name is Beth Wilson and I’m a person in long-term recovery from the disease of addiction. What that means is I haven’t had any alcohol or marijuana since May of 1991 and my life is ON FIRE!”

The media’s diversion tactics

I’m a former media person so I know well that “if it bleeds, it leads.” The 24-hour news cycle, including social media, seems to eek out every piece of negative, dysfunctional, stigma-loaded story angle when a celebrity goes public with addiction and/or depression.

While that may be a blanket statement, it is true that celebrity deaths like Robin Williams and Philip Seymour Hoffman, treatment admissions (too many to list), and multiple treatment stays (again too many to list) get scrutinized. I get it, to a degree, since they often live their lives very publicly amid mayhem and destruction.

When is the public going to say, “Enough, already!” When will thousands of viewers besiege general managers of local news networks–and their corporate counterparts–with letters, emails and phone calls demanding two things:

1. Stop the incessant–and insensitive–reporting about the train wreck of addiction without balancing said reporting with facts about the disease of addiction, and

2. Start reporting about the amazing nature of recovery because as we know, recovery works for millions in this country each and every day.

Now, I’m not placing the responsibility of telling recovery stories solely at the media’s feet. Each of us must share our recovery stories publicly, whether to extended family, coworkers, groups with whom we’re engaged, or from a podium.

How else can we change the nature of how addiction is portrayed in this country?

There is much to be done, but the terrific work of Kristen, Greg, Faces & Voices of Recovery, and the thousands of recovery carriers in hundreds of communities across the country is a fabulous start.

Recovery Month in September gives us momentum; let’s ramp it up. Where will you be sharing your story? One place I’ll be is the Big Texas Rally for Recovery in Austin on September 13.

Photo courtesy of butkovicdub

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