Matthew Cohen: Why I Refuse to be Anonymous

addiction recovery

My name is Matthew Cohen. I am a person in long term recovery…and I refuse to be anonymous.

But why?

Why, when it seems to make more sense to put that dark part of my life behind me and simply move on. I mean, if my past is not supposed to define me, why would I want to stand as a representative of a people group who are largely still in the shadows, still dealing with stigma of the general view of “the addict?”

I guess the first questions to ask would be, who are we? Where do we come from?

Who is The Addict Anyway?

I am your mother.
I am your father
I am your brother.
I am your sister.
I am your….uncle, aunt, nephew… neighbor, coworker.
I’m the guy who carried your groceries to your car yesterday and I’m the doctor you have an appointment with next Tuesday.

Do you get where I am going with this?

People in recovery are amazing people. We come from all walks of life. It’s like night and day. The thing is, no matter how different we are we all have one thing in common… Addiction. And addiction plays no favorites. It affects all people groups and crosses all socioeconomic lines.

I believe the world needs to see us. This is one of the main reasons why I refuse to be anonymous. Standing with and building a strong recovery community and showing others that they can build strong, purposeful lives can drastically change a person in so many ways.

So, how is this accomplished? How do we build a recovery ready community?

Recovery Ready Communities

The first thing we can do is prevention work. I met Michael DeLeon who is working on a documentary called An American Epidemic: Kids are Dying. He told me about some of the work he is doing and I said, “Sign me up…What can I do?” Bringing positive role models into a school to educate young people about addiction can possibly stop the problem from where it is most common to start. I can’t really be anonymous and accomplish this. I can’t worry about the few who might judge me. I have to be more concerned with helping others.

I remember growing up never learning anything about addiction. Then again, if it were right in front of me I probably wouldn’t of took the time to listen or I might have just dismissed the idea of someone trying to tell me something for the simple fact of doing so. Now I am on the other side seeing life from a completely  different perspective.

I wonder…How would I be able to reach the kind of kid that I was?

Some would say there is no answer. They’d like to think that some kids just can’t be reached. They might be right, but I am not willing to let the answer be that easy. What if someone who had come through my kind of pain tried to reach me?

I’d like to think that if I had a good role model outside of my own family growing up I would’ve had a better chance at understanding the world more clearly. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying this because I need something or someone to blame. I take full responsibility  for myself and all my actions in my life, —good, bad, and indifferent. What I am simply saying is that more positive role models to look up to would be a great thing to have if you were a lost kid like I was. Looking back, I can name a few people who if they grabbed my attention at the right time I would of followed them.

When I watched the documentary The Anonymous People it changed my life because I never even knew there were things like recovery high schools and collegiate recovery programs. What an amazing thing to have in our communities. Talk about giving someone a real chance to say yes to life and opening their world up to something so amazing. Recovery community centers are opening up all over the country providing a safe place to serve those who seek or are in recovery.

Standing Proud With YPR

I decided to take action and become and advocate with Young People in Recovery (YPR) because they do all the things I just spoke about and more. I am proud to stand in recovery. It was no secret when I was drinking and it is definitely no secret that I am sober. I am not ashamed to tell people that my name is Matthew Cohen and I am a person in long term recovery.

YPR supports people in the areas of education, employment, housing, and access to treatment by working hard to build relationships to create recovery ready communities.

The cool thing about it is you don’t have to be in recovery to help people in recovery.

For example, if we have people building business relationships in our communities to find recovery friendly employers, both people win.  We are providing a person in recovery with an opportunity but we are also giving an employer the chance to make a difference in someone’s life. A person given a chance to work in early recovery builds their self concept, self esteem, and self confidence. Why wouldn’t you want to help someone gain that? You could apply the same with education. It’s all about empowering individuals and all of these things help people maintain their sobriety and lives.

What I have seen all too much is this stigma, this discrimination towards people in recovery. It makes me sick to my stomach. How could you tell someone they can’t have a job, a place to live, or a chance at an education because somehow you have this idea that if a person has an addiction they’re a bad person?

If you don’t like someone that’s your business, but why deny them a chance at life?

You wouldn’t tell someone in a wheelchair that they can’t work at your establishment because they can’t walk. That person will probably work harder than other people you have employed before. You can say the same thing about someone in recovery.

I could go on forever, but I’ll leave you with this.

To the recovery community: So many people have been advocating for so long and it amazes me that I’m just first hearing about it.  I’m very passionate about my recovery and if I could go to the top of a mountain and yell how awesome recovery is even on my worst day so that everyone could hear me… I would do it immediately. But it’s not up to me alone. It’s up to all of us together to be a voice. We need you.

To non-addicts supporting the recovery community: You’re an amazing group of people to support us, believe in us and rally around us when the rest of the world still needs to learn how amazing we are and all the great things that can happen when everyone comes together. Thank you.

RECOVERY IS COOL… DON’T YOU EVER FORGET THAT.

And you don’t have to hide it if you don’t want to.

“There is a bit of of good in the worst of us and a bit of bad in the best of us; but we are all children of God and we each have a right to be here.” —Anonymous

 

Editorial Note: If you want to watch the movie, The Anonymous People, it cycles through Netflix.

About Matthew Cohen

Clinical Outreach CoordinatorLife of Purpose Chapter Lead for Young People in Recovery - Delray Beach Supporter of I Am Not Anonymous Matthew is very passionate about addiction recovery as well as advocacy for the recovery community. A supporter of the I Am Not Anonymous movement and the belief that we should never be ashamed of our story, Matthew is always sharing, inspiring and gaining insights from those around him. Friend him on Facebook.

25 Comments

  1. Shannon O'Regan

    I too release my personal anonymity in my recovery – – a non-addict who supports the recovery community, loves and has lost people who didn’t/couldn’t find their way. I too am in recovery, though a non-addict, I am a recovery advocated for I have been affected as well – – deeply. Here’s a piece of my story: http://papillondamourstory.blogspot.com/2013/02/reality-is-bitch-with-gift.html

    Thanks for continuing to keep it real and stand in-front of curtain, in the light – – of hope, courage, and strength. Peace

    1. Matthew Cohen

      Thank you for reading and sharing your experience with me. I am sorry for your loss.

  2. Danielle Buda

    Matt, I thank you for your brutal honesty and above all the unconditional compassion you have towards addicts both in recovery and those still suffering to find a solution. I also choose not to be anonymous for many of the same reasons you are so passionate about. I was terminated in 2013 from my job as a middle school social worker because after 2 years of my employer’s help I had one final chance to remain clean and sober or else face termination. The day I relapsed again and showed up to work under the influence for the final time was the same day I decided to remain anonymous no longer. Quite honestly, it wasn’t really a secret to my collegues what was going on with me but it was time for the world to see another example of the Stigma addiction still carries. I too have never used my addiction as a way to place blame or play the victim role. I always held myself accountable for my choices, actions and any consequences as a result. I feel your method of reaching across race, status and statistics and providing role models to our future youth has significant potential. When I was working with teenagers everyday in active addiction I often thought about my personal story and wanted to disclose myself many times but I feared the judgment, the administrative microscope I was under as well as my anonimity because I was a member of AA. Now, everybody in my world is aware because its who I am and I don’t give a hoot what people think, say or do anymore. The documentary, Anonymous People is definitely a step in the right direction but unfortunately the most important people that need to view it are not only addicts its everyone else. I don’t think the film reached enough non-addicts in our own communities who could be potential advocates for change and believing that addicts too could benefit from a second chance. I have been blessed with an opportunity to teach life skills to teenagers with trauma histories but not on a clinical level. I’d like to someday get back to that position but until then I’m going to continue to be a voice for the anonymous and anticipate what you have up your sleeve for the next step in your mission. I’d like to help in any way I can if you so desire.
    Grateful Recovering Addict,
    Danielle Buda

    1. Matthew Cohen

      Thank you for reading and reaching out. There are so many ways we can come together as a community. Reaching people in recovery is easier than to change the minds of those who are not. I feel like most of the time, unless someone is directly impacted by the disease in one way, shape or form they have no reason to do something about it. This needs to change. thank you for giving me some more talking points for future articles. I always like to feed off others energy and inspiration.

  3. Alan Beck

    My Name Is Alan Beck, I Am A Person In Long Term Recovery And What That Means To Me Is That I Have Been Sober Since December 18th, 2011.

    As always thanks Matt for helping to make people in recovery and people not in recovery wiser and informed about addiction….

    Sincerely,
    Alan Beck

    1. Matthew Cohen

      Thank you Alan. Congratulations on your sobrety. You are a great friend and have inspired me to keep going even on the difficult days.

  4. Heather Morris

    My name is Heather & I too am in long term recovery from alcoholism-I’m in my 27th year.
    I refuse to be anonymous as I find that simply by sharing my history, I can help others. It helps those addicted, their friends & family.
    Being so open can cause problems though? I hate the stigma that is still there about addiction.
    I would love to see other films like ‘The Anonymous People’ it gave me a lift but we need the joy & honesty of recovery to be touted more??

    1. Robin Bright

      Heather,
      I agree. We need more people in recovery to be open about their own personal story. Whether we are new in recovery (like me) or have years behind us, together we are a powerful voice and a container of hope to those still lost in addiction. Our disease wants to isolate us, to make us feel shameful, to hide in the shadows. I was like that when I was sober for a 18 months. But I felt so ostracized and alone. Finally, after a terrible relapse and 3 months in treatment, I decided (with the encouragement of my son) to stand in my own truth. He is 23 and wise beyond his years. He told me, “Mommy, you’re never going to stay clean until you are comfortable with who you are.” And then he made up this story on the fly. He said, “If I had three fingers on one of my hands, I wouldn’t hide that hand in my pocket. I’d love that hand and use it when I talk and I’d be proud of it. It’s MY HAND. These are MY three fingers. If someone doesn’t like me because of my three fingered hand, well, that’s their business, I guess.” When he told me that, I immediately told everyone about my recovery. It started with my “announcement” on Facebook and to all of my clients that I was going into treatment. Do you know what I got from that first Facebook post in November? Hundreds of people cheering me on! Sure, a couple people told me to quiet down. One person told me to stop sharing on Facebook…He even said God told him to tell me to stop…but I didn’t. I couldn’t. I was…for the first time in my life…free.
      One day sober or one thousand, I will not hide in shame. The feeling of standing in my own truth far outweighs the feeling of shame or the stigma. I figure the third step prayer, God deliver me from the bondage of SELF sums it up. I have given up my right to be understood by everyone…and I love it!
      Thank you Heather for your stand! xo

      1. Matthew Cohen

        Thank you for sharing that story with us. I got the chills the first time you told me that story. It is amazing what we can learn from just about anyone if we allow ourselves to.

      2. Heather Morris

        Keep trekking the road, Robin….
        It’s odd how things work out-I’m a retired teacher & about 3 years ago I decided that I wanted to do voluntary work overseas. I applied to VSO & went to London for an interview. I was asked about smoking & then drinking-I answered honestly that I didn’t drink as I was a recovering alcoholic of 24 years. I got turned down much to the shock of the other 3 people who were there being interviewed that day.
        I was hurt & a little despondent but I resolved to try something else. I emailed various organisations & I had a reply from a lady in Portland, Oregon. She works for VOA & she suggested they may be able to use my skills. I duly booked a flight & I have now spent my last 2 summers in Portland volunteering at their Family Relief Nursery & Drop-In Centre.
        I’ve met the nicest people & I’ve been made to feel so very welcome!!! VSO’s decision to ‘fail’ me has proved to be the best thing??
        Yes, Robin, your son is wise beyond his years: dare to be different!! There was a time when it was just me, a room & a bottle. Now I’m happy to share my life story with anyone who may benefit from knowing that they are not alone!! Hx

        1. Robin Bright

          We have a lot in common. If you don’t mind, I’m going to take that little piece…”me, a room and a bottle” and turn it into my next article. For some reason as soon as I read those words they went right through me. This is also my story. Thank you for sharing that and I’m so glad that God worked everything out for your good with the volunteering. He has a way of doing that, doesn’t He?
          Much love to you, Heather!
          xo

        2. Danielle Buda

          Wow..Heather thank you for sharing. Your words, Me, a room and a bottle…by the end of your comment I thought immediately how that could have been some foreshadowing going on…like the book A message in a bottle..the work you do today is carrying the message, God’s plan, his Will, fate, a calling, your greater purpose, ALL of the above but what is so powerful is you got turned away from one country but that didn’t stop you…going back to Matt Cohen’s article about going to any lengths. Thank you for your service.
          Danielle Buda

          1. Robin Bright

            We are building community. Even through our comments to one another.
            I love it.
            xo

    2. Matthew Cohen

      Thank you for reading and sharing. I find it amazing that there are so many peopel like us out there. If we keep sharing and keep leading by example, we will reach everyone.

  5. Shane Watson

    Very well said. I applaud your decision to use your experience and wisdom for the sake of prevention. I do the same thing for an organization in Arizona called notMYkid/amplif(i). I’ve shared my story with numerous middle school and high school students and can’t exactly be anonymous in the process, nor do I care to be.

    Keep up the good work.

    1. Matthew Cohen

      Great work, Prevention is much needed work to be done. thank you for reading.

  6. Diane Mintz

    I am so grateful that I just celebrated 23 years of sobriety and that I am very non-anonymous after being in secret shame for many years due to the stigma of having bipolar disorder. Then I wrote a book & it all came out and it is so freeing! Now I speak on 3 speakers bureaus about mental illness and always emphasize the importance of sobriety when dealing with serious mental illness/mood disorders. I love to band together other non-anons who will reach out & speak out so we can educate others and especially warn our kids. Thanks for your passion Matthew – I share it!

    1. Matthew Cohen

      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. I am learning that there are so many of us out there that want to be open about our recovery and it has truly increased my already deep passion.

  7. Teresa

    I too am a VERRRRY Grateful Alcoholic …. I am also a SOBER Alcoholic. MANY of my (other*) friends Do NOT get this. Some are even offended that I align myself in such a way.
    I have been a member of the Fellowship since 2000 & had 13 yrs DRY before I ever knew there was a Program. Dec 19th, I celebrated 27 yrs.
    I currently volunteer at the snack bar of an Alano Club in Belleville, IL – of which I am also an Officer on the Board of Directors & the Club’s Volunteer Coordinator. In my District (14) I am considering joining the Committee to Carry The Message to varies Community Groups. I have just been asked to accept the nomination for the Committee Chair of our District Web Site & to assist the Area (21) Webmaster .
    When I came in – I was Spiritually, Emotionally, Mentally & Physically Bankrupt & BROKEN … more than I Ever thought a human could be & still breathe. In my Wildest, Darkest nightmare – I could NOT have come up with this – Life.
    I am PROUD of the Transformation I have experienced, the Recovery, the Healing, the Freedom & the Joy that I walk in today – I could have NEVER dreamed or penned – Sober or NOT !!
    A few months ago, a meeting was started at our Club – ‘Primary Purpose’. Each week we alternate reading the Steps & Traditions from the 12 & 12. Last week we read Tradition Eleven [11] – Long Version: ” … Our relations with the general public should be characterized by personal anonymity. We think [the Program] ought to avoid sensational advertising. Our names and pictures as [Program] members ought not be broadcast, filmed, or publicly printed. Our public relations should be guided by the principle of attraction rather than promotion. There is never need to praise ourselves. We feel it better to let our friends recommend us … “. Short Version: ” … Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio & films … ”
    ALTHOUGH I AM FOREVER GRATEFUL THAT I AM – TODAY – HAPPY, JOYOUS & FREE ….. DO NOT GET IT TWISTED !!!!! I can see that IT WAS NEVER ‘ME’ that brought this about in my life. It Was & IS my ‘Higher Power’ Whom I KNOW – IS GOD !!! My Creator & the Lover of my Soul !!!!!
    I have heard the argument in meetings: ‘I shouldn’t get rewarded for doing what I was already supposed to be doing’ – FLIP SIDE – ‘Yes, it is A MIRACLE (for Me – Us) to do what the ‘Others’ do all by themselves, all day long – without being told or without having any threat of harm hanging over their head’ ….
    My ANONYMITY comes into play – for me – when someone wants to congratulate ‘me’ for being \ staying sober. I WAS NEVER – IS NOT – & NEVER WILL BE ‘ME’ !! It IS by the Grace** of my God, inspiring 2 drunks, then 3, then 6, then 50 …. now Millions … to suggest to me that perhaps I am a Bankrupt, Broken individual who left to my own choices, who if allowed to react based on my feelings, who mis-perceives Every Thing can & does make Very Wrong – often times risky & some times dangerous decisions. That perhaps without Help – IT is ‘too much’ — B.S. … IT IS IMPOSSIBLE for me !!! And although I have always had a very strong Relationship with God (as I understood Him – the best I could with the mind of a child & young adult) — it was in [The Program] that I FOUND HIM – the God I serve today. The ONLY ONE that Can & Does keep me SOBER …..
    TODAY – “I” PERSONALLY AN ANONYMOUS — MY Story, My Victory && My Testimony ARE NOT !!!!! -tk

    * The ‘others’: Who some call – the ‘normals’.
    ** Grace: God’s Power imparted to me – Supernatualy providing me the ability to do what God created me to do.

    1. Matthew Cohen

      Thank you for sharing. I want to point out that I will not identify myself as being a part of any specific fellowship. What I do, is talk about recovery as a whole. It was not a secret when I was drinking and it is not s secret that I stopped. What I feel is important for people who choose to.. is share there story so that others can understand what recovery is and as a community we can fight the stigma associated with our disease. It is important that our communities have the resources available to serve those who suffer from this disease. What we have now is an epidemic and not enough is being done about it. 80% of all people who are incarcerated need treatment not jail. 11 % of all people with a problem actually receive treatment. These numbers need to change and the only way we can do that is if enough people come forward and push social change.

  8. Jim S.

    Mathew, I appreciate your commitment to the recovery community. My problem is with the “I refuse to remain anonymous…” aspect of your story. Nowhere in any of AA’s literature does it suggest we be anonymous in our communities. AA tradition requests we remain anonymous at the level of press, radio and film… It is an ego deflating exercise. It keeps the “great me” from jumping up and down, shouting “LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME!”.

    I am not anonymous in my community, I have done work with the incarcerated, gone into treatment centers and shared my story, told my employers of my recovery and offered to try to help anyone that may need it.

    What I will not do is give my full name while identifying myself as a member of AA, on the level of press, radio and film. For me this includes social media sites. I will say I’m sober, but not identify with a 12 step program.

    God bless you in your efforts. Just some food for thought.

    1. Matthew Cohen

      Thank you for your comment. The reason I like the title is because I want to show people that they can talk about their recovery and they don’t have to be ashamed because so many are led to believe that they shouldn’t talk about it. It is a choice to do so. I resepct those who wish not to. This is a subject that needs to be talked about and if I can inspire people to come out and talk about their recovery we can make some changes within our society. I agree with you. Not once in any of my articles have I identified myself as a person in AA and I will not do that. This isn’t about me saying look at me “great me”. This is about fighting the stigma associated with addiction and building strong recovery ready communites. The only way we are going to do that is if we stand together with one voice. I don’t just want to reach people in recovery but I want to reach people who are not in recovery.

      Thank you for sharing with me and thank you for the work you do in your community. Keep up the good work.

  9. Fern

    WOW, great article. As the parent of someone that doesn’t remain anonymous I am proud of her and all that she has taught me.

    1. Matthew Cohen

      Thank you for reading

  10. Hart Lechter

    One of the things that continues to amaze me is the marketing concept of your movement.

    I get that Recovery shouldnt be in the shadows–but your reason for assuming the “Anonymous”programs are “in the shadows” or “off the grid” are entirely wrong, way off the page and plain stupid. If you read the materials THOROUGHLY rather than going off your in-bred research on the word “anonymous” relative to AA (and lets be serious–thats where you really take this issue to), then you would understand the concept of Anonymous related to the “Anonymous” programs.

    You think that by pronouncing yourselves a “Recovery” movement–THAT will be the magical title that will somehow remove the stigma more so–get real. If someone wanted to discriminate against a former alkie/dope head–you could call yourselves GOD and the result would still be the same. So bashing the other programs intended to do good works as well is really low-ball AND low rent. When all is said and done, you’re still admitting you’re an addict to folks that would discriminate against you anyway. Only now–its on the 6 o’clock news. For those that still WATCH television.

    Your party line is divisive. Anonymity has nothing to do with it–and its not anonymous BECAUSE of a stigma–the stigma is the result of being a designated alcoholic or addict IN active addiction. Those that were “Recovered” and helping others to recover, chose to EASE the pain of stigma–not AVOID it. The education that came about thru their actions spoke LOUDLY and this was born out thru the many publications about AA when it first came on the scene and years after. It wasnt necessary to raise questions about the spiritual, altruistic way they went about helping others. In that world, maintaining a spiritual humility is key.

    So now, there are many paths to Recovery and that is a wonderful thing. This is old news. The one thing you will not hear from AA or ANY of the “Anonymous” programs is the continual failure of the “upstarts” to fight statistics that find new ways to feed the addictive personality. The “Anonymous” programs realized this a long time ago. You’re not going to save every one. The job at least–and this is the whole point—is save the ones you can.

    And by the way—NEWSFLASH—where your program fails–an Anonymous program might succeed OR vice versa. Real talk.

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