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Twelve steps are just the beginning in anonymous people’s recovery march

30 August 2014 One Comment

LAST year an independent, feature-length documentary, ‘The Anonymous People’, focused on the more than 23 million Americans living in long-term recovery from alcohol and other drug addictions.

For decades, deeply entrenched social stigma has kept the voices of recovery largely silent in the US and elsewhere in the Western world.

However, in this groundbreaking film, a cross-section of sportspeople, politicians, film stars and others came out publicly as recovered or recovering addicts. They explained how, through Alcoholics Anonymous and its offspring — including Narcotics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous and other 12-step groups — they are in stable recovery. Moreover, they are proud to be so.

In Australia, under the leadership of Bill Crews from Sydney’s Ashfield Uniting Church, a group of Australians in recovery also plans to come out by staging a Recovery Walk in Sydney on Sunday, September 14.

Crews’s Exodus Foundation, based in Liverpool Street, Ashfield, not only provides healthy meals for Sydney’s homeless but also, as a major part of its ministry to the marginalised and oppressed, helps alcoholics and other addicts to achieve recovery through Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step groups.

Although not an alcoholic or addict himself, Crews has a deep commitment to helping indiv­iduals get and remain clean and sober through 12-step recovery programs. This includes the recently formed Crystal Meth Anonymous.

As September marks the beginning of spring, a time of hope and of new growth, this seems to me to be an ideal month in Australia to celebrate recovery from various addictions.

At 11.30am on the Sunday in question, a group of recovering alcoholics, addicts and their family and friends will gather at Sydney’s Circular Quay. The walk, which starts at 11.45am, will make its way up Macquarie Street to finish at NSW Parliament House at noon.

This event, by bringing together many types of addicts in recovery to come out publicly, may seem to some to be controversial and confronting.

However, when Alcoholics Anonymous was founded in the US in Akron, Ohio in 1935, it was exclusively for alcoholics, and not for men and women also addicted to other drugs. At the time, and for decades afterwards, it was not properly understood that alcohol is a drug. Indeed, in terms of social harm, it is perhaps society’s most damaging drug.

AA and other 12-step programs have no rules. The 12 steps and the 12 traditions are merely suggested, and are not mandatory. Nonetheless, some 12-step group members may see a public walk as running counter to the tradition of maintaining anonymity at a public level.

Others will want to demonstrate common cause with other addicts by joining the walk. What really matters is that recovering alcoholics and addicts don’t break other people’s anonymity.

According to Crews, who has been organising showings of ‘The Anonymous People’ throughout Australia, the 12-step program is a most meaningful code by which to live. This code, he says, is rooted in goodness, and in personal growth and health: “It’s a program that changes many lives for the better.

The purpose of the Sydney ­Recovery Walk is, Crews says, “to encourage others to join. By identifying as persons in recovery they may be able to lead others out of incredibly destructive lifestyles.

Sober alcoholic Jessica M, who is one of the walk’s key organisers, puts it this way: “As a person in recovery from addiction, I believe that celebrating September as recovery month will create a new awareness and help end the shame and stigma associated with addiction.

“Our recovery walk in Sydney will be a great way for all pathways of recovery to come together ­publicly.

This optimism is powerfully reinforced by Liz G, who says: “The recovery walk is important to me because five years ago I was homeless and desperate.

“ I was lucky enough to go to a treatment centre where people came in and spoke about being in recovery and I was given a tiny flicker of hope that I could have a better life as well.

“People are dying not knowing they have a chance of recovery and this walk can help to show them and the rest of society that alcoholics and addicts do recover.

For details of the Sydney Recovery Walk contact Bill Crews on 0418 238 771. Ross Fitzgerald, the author of ‘My Name is Ross: An Alcoholic’s Journey’, will give an address at the finish of the recovery walk.

The Weekend Australian, August 30-31, 2014

One Comment »

  • Dr P. A. Smith said:

    Dear Editor

    Ross Fitzgerald (‘Twelve steps are just the beginning in anonymous people’s recovery march’) THE AUSTRALIAN online AUGUST 30, 2014) does well to highlight that many AA and other 12-step group members have embraced Facebook and Twitter in order to carry a message of hope to those still struggling with their addiction. I hope that the Recovery Walk in Sydney on Sunday, September 14 will be well supported. It is an important step forwards.

    Dr P. A. Smith

    Lake Illawarra, NSW

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