I am not anonymous.
No kidding, right? A more obvious statement has not been typed into this space — or any space I frequent on the World Wide Web, for that matter. That’s my given name and my actual mugshot (I just updated it, so it’s even recent!) up there. Both are also attached to the Twitter, Instagram and Facebook accounts that have all morphed into one big Overshare-y Sobriety Saga since I quit drinking 78 days ago.
My identity right now is completely tied up in the quest to beat addiction and re-route a life that went awry. Not once did I second-guess my decision to “come out” to the world and publicly post the real, raw details of the fight, for every single person with an internet connection to read all about if they so choose.
Well, that’s not completely true. I did have a couple of second guesses. In fact, the subject of this post dominated my thoughts this week after I was gently reminded that technically, forfeiting my anonymity while also taking to the cybersphere to trumpet my affiliation with a decades-old 12-step support group that was founded on that very principle is, let’s just say, potentially problematic.
So I’m not going to reference the support group anymore. I respect traditions and never intended to flout them. I do, however, want to continue talking about the idea of anonymity. More accurately, I want to talk about why one might decide to “out” herself when tackling deep issues that are at once intensely personal and also astonishingly universal.
My purpose for writing this blog is to tap into that universality. I mean, it’s also because writing is in my blood and I truly love it with every fiber of my being and I find no other outlet quite as therapeutic for working through the densely tangled web of overthinky-ness gumming up my brain…
But mostly, it’s because I understand the power of openness. I understand the sweet relief and sense of empowerment that comes with knowing you’re not alone and that someone else is struggling to overcome the same shit, and, great news: YOU DON’T HAVE TO HIDE AWAY IN SHAME JUST BECAUSE YOU ARE NOT PERFECT AND YOU DON’T KNOW EVERYTHING AND YOU MIGHT EVEN HAVE FAILED MISERABLY AT A FEW THINGS YOU TRIED TO DO!
I do not subscribe to stigmas. Everyone has issues, and those who say they don’t are either lying or they completely lack self-awareness, which is in itself a serious issue.
Trust me, though, I totally get why someone might feel like hiding. In my jobs as a journalist, dating back to college in the mid-90s and extending all the way until Sept. 7, 2018, when I turned in my video camera and left the Courier Times building for the last time, there were many, many times I wished I could remain anonymous. Almost every day, come to think of it. The job forced me — and all my social anxiety and awkwardness and crippling fear of failure — way out of my comfort zone. If I’m being honest, I never — not once — actually wanted to show up places and interview people. I definitely didn’t want to call them on the phone! I would work myself into complete near-panic mode before every assignment, just to dial the number or get myself out the door.
I’ll never forget the first time I had to enter a pro locker room. It was a Chicago Bulls preseason game at the United Center in the winter of 1999. I was literally shaking with fear, and if not for the horde of real reporters asking questions around me, you’d have heard my knees knocking together.
That was when I was a 19-year-old intern, though. You’d think it would’ve improved with time. And yet…
I’ll also never forget being assigned to do a Facebook Live show from the Doylestown bookshop, interviewing fans waiting to meet reigning Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles as he signed his autobiography. I parked all the way over at CB West and walked to the store in like 100-degree heat so I could have more time to calm my nerves. And this was LAST SUMMER, after 20 years of journalism experience.
These stories illustrate why I could never drink before work, and why I always drank after work. To the one reader who recently asked about that….there’s your answer: No. Never before work. I needed to be in hyperdrive to do the work, and alcohol relaxed me too much, which made it the natural solution to help me come down. Tequila was the way I rewarded myself for getting through another harrowing day, and however much I drank, it just never seemed like enough.
What was I so 🤬-ing scared of? Ha. That’s pretty much the underlying question of every issue known to man, isn’t it? Basically, for me, it came down to perfectionism. I was petrified of not doing a good job, and as a result, not getting the approval from others that was always my primary source of self-esteem. I have let that fear rule me, in everything I’ve ever tried to do, and it ultimately fueled my various addictions throughout the course of my life.
It wasn’t until I quit drinking, came out with my story and found fellowship in both my real-life and online communities — as well as in the “quit lit” and recovery podcasts I’m currently obsessed with — that I began to realize the truth about myself. Furthermore, I didn’t realize how many others shared the same truths and turned to the same unhealthy coping mechanisms as I did. I didn’t realize how amazingly powerful that sense of connection really could be, and how crucial it was to the day-to-day practice of one-day-at-a-time sobriety.
In summary, it’s because I didn’t hide that I have started to find myself. It’s because I admitted feeling hopeless and alone that I now feel neither. And it’s because I didn’t stay anonymous that I am now accountable — to the entire internet and every single person I know — for my decisions going forward.
It seems pretty crazy, now that I see it written out like that. But why go back and second-guess what has helped get me here?
3 thoughts on “Anonymity”
Jen, this post just randomly showed up on my WordPress feed. I went to a weekend retreat back 2012 for addiction recovery. It was life changing, biggest take away I had was having others look me in the eye, after I spilled my guts and affirming me as a person. Addictions do not define who we are….it’s the shame of keeping things locked up inside that gives it power..So this post is powerful! thank you. DM
The unbelievable commonality we shared on our road to addiction continues to amaze me! I switched my major from print journalism to advertising precisely because of my fear of making phone calls (or asking people questions in person). Picking up the phone to ask for support during recovery isn’t much easier. But knowing there’s a whole community of people out there who share our fears and have found a way to overcome them makes each day easier to get through. And before you know it you’ve gotten through another…and another…and another. Keep up what you’re doing Jen. You’re helping all of us. And helping others is the key to helping yourself. As for the Cubs…
more than Amen!