On taking our language from In-house to the Outhouse…

Years ago, while sitting around the table at a regular 12-Step meeting that I used to regularly attend, I would inwardly cringe when one person in particular at that meeting was called upon to speak: “Hi, my name is Bart and I’ve got a Ph.D… I’m a Poor Helpless Drunk!” I think “Bart” was trying to be clever. Some of the members would laugh a little or chuckle, but even way back then I would wonder how his introduction might have made a newcomer feel. At the time, Bart was sober for quite a few years.

For those of us “In the Rooms”, we sometimes use “in-house” language as a means of self-disparaging humor: “My name is John, and I’m a drunk!” I’ve heard (and made) comments such as this for countless years. Some may refer to their Higher Power as GOD (Group Of Drunks). We sit around the rooms talking about getting “Clean & Sober”. No big deal… everyone does it. As an “Insider”, I can easily get away with using language in such a fashion. I remember while still in rehab hearing a fellow patient jokingly proclaim that a result of the education he received while in treatment: “This place got me a promotion… when I came in here I was just a drunk – now I’m an alcoholic!” We all laughed.

Some of us may use such language with a fair degree of conscious awareness and intentionally poke fun at ourselves: we know we’ve made progress when we learn to laugh at ourselves. For some others – they may not have sufficiently recovered to be aware of the subtle self-deprecating language they still use that reinforces their lingering guilt and shame. “My name is Tymeka and I’m a drunk”, or, ”I’m Michael and I’m an addict.”

However, with the advent of the new recovery movement, the language we use with relative mutual acceptance “in-house” becomes a whole new animal when we take it “out-house”- out to John Q. Public: to the schools, the legislators, the judges, funders, higher education, the media, and elsewhere. It’s one thing to call ourselves an “addict” in the rooms, but when we do this in public settings, it simply reinforces the very stigmatizing concept that we’re now working so hard to reverse. Language DOES matter. I don’t know that we can say this enough – or in enough different ways.

Until we do, we’ll have a very difficult time changing THEIR attitudes, views, and beliefs until we change our own.

This blog post was provided by John Winslow, Program Director, Dorchester Recovery Initiative, a Charter Member of the Association of Recovery Community Organizations (ARCO).