“I Am Not Anonymous …kinda” is a very true statement. If you don’t know me, haven’t heard from me in three years, or only know me professionally my name is Greg Kelly and I’m an alcoholic. I have spend the last three years of my life in recovery getting sober and healthier; physically, emotionally and spiritually. I’m a recovered alcoholic as I no longer have the obsesssion or desire to drink or put any other drug in my body. That would change the moment I ever do drink or drug.
I Am Not Anonymous…kinda as I’m very active in the local, vibrant Recovery community in the Newburyport area. I attend meetings regularly and speak at them often. I’m quick to give out my phone number to others in recovery and usually will give both my first and last name or pass them my business card. I also try to volunteer regularly at local rehab hospitals to speak with others dealing with addiction in order to share my story of hope & recover. I’m not shy about using my full name or where I work in order to make a point that addiction affects all walks of life. Anonymity is very important in AA and I would never intentionally break that trust. However I choose to be open about my addiction and my identity in the rooms and parking lots of AA or when I bump into friends from AA in Market Square, local offices or Market Basket. I Am Not Anonymous…kinda.
I also have become a very active member of my church, Hope Community Church of Newburyport. At the rock bottom of my life, when I was dropped to my knees broken, alone and shattered, I asked God for help and was Saved. He took away my obsession with alcohol. I shouldn’t have been surprised as the AA Big Book said it would be taken away right there on pages 84-85. I wasn’t expecting it to work but despite my fake faith I still dropped to my knees each morning asking Him to take it and He did. Despite all of my efforts nothing had previously worked until I consistently prayed to God for help. It was as if our pug Coco had all of a sudden spoken with a winning lottery number and I won. You don’t think I’d ask Coco for another lottery number the next night just because everyone says your crazy to think a pug can talk? So I jumped in with both feet and started teaching my youngest son, Brody and his kindergarten classmates Sunday School. Having grown up Catholic I had walked (or sprinted) away from the church during the pedophilia scandal and honestly never truly knew who God was anyway. I now had a newly found relationship, a personal relationship, with God that I never knew I could have. Yet despite years of CCD, first communion and a confirmation I had never read the bible or knew how relevant it was to my life. As I tell people today when I share my testimony, I learned the bible reading The Kids Storybook Bible and other kids bible books to Brody each night he was with me those first months and years of my recovery.
In the Fall of 2015 I made the decision to be baptized by the Hope Church. I had been baptized as a baby however I wanted to make the personal decision as an adult. As part of this I was asked to be in a video to be shown during services the day that a group of us were to be baptized. I stressed over what I would say in my video message. Would I ‘come-out’ as a drunk in front of my entire church? How could I skip that part of my story? In no way did I wake one day and decide to become religious. I got there through desperation. I was at war and was left backed into a corner with no choice but to surrender. I did chose to tell of my addiction, loss, desperation and my rebirth thanks to God.
God was also responsible for putting the right people in my life when I needed them. As this blog is named I’m a self proclaimed Ragamuffin. Another alcoholic, Father Brennan Manning, coined the term Ragamuffin for we recovered addicts, we saved sinners. He is the first to change my view of my relationship with Jesus, who he says is daring us “To trust that I love you. Just as you are. Not as you should be. Because none of us are as we should be.” So that’s what I said in my video testimony shown at two church services that Sunday morning before I was baptized in the stormy surf of Plum Island. Following those services I was surprised to be approached a half dozen times by others who themselves or family members where struggling with addiction. I Am Not Anonymous…kinda.
I’m also very active online in the Twitterverse. I use Twitter. A lot. I’m very involved with a Recovery community on Twitter. We call ourselves #RecoveryPosse and interact throughout the day, everyday and anyone is welcome to join us. At any hour of the day, we share our stories, fears & struggles, strength & solutions. Often for me it’s at 3am when my head and internal alarm clock collude to wake me & attempt to torture me with regrets, resentments and guilt. My defense is reading tweets and blogs while also posting my own thoughts or retweeting messages I think could help others. We have a meeting going on 24×7. Twitter introduced me to a new world where I didn’t “know” anyone yet we could be open about our recovery, our feelings, struggles and progress. In doing so we help each other. Today I know more about some of these twitter friend’s lives than I do about people I’ve known my whole life…yet with only a few exceptions we’ve never met. I Am Not Anonymous…kinda.
You see, three years ago when my personal life crashed down in shattered pieces I dropped off all social media. I had been trying to get sober for over a year and a half, regularly attending AA meetings, but I just couldn’t avoid a drink for more than several weeks or months at a time. I was trying to white-knuckle my way through recovery using only the strong willpower that had allowed me to achieve everything in my life before this. I would go to AA meetings but I’d stay in the shadows and not interact. I wouldn’t raise my hand or put my hand out to meet those who I’d seen have success. I truly didn’t want to drink again. I wanted to be sober for my wife, Sarah, and my boys, Aidan and Brody. I wanted to be sober for myself too. I knew what I had to lose. I had already been through a divorce and carried guilt for years that my son Aidan had a broken family and slept most nights under a different roof. I knew I was torturing Sarah, who would have to smell my breath to see if my actions truly matched my words. Or I’d blow into a home breathalizer I had purchased after another ultimatum and more broken promises to quit drinking. I knew the fear she carried that her whole life could come crashing down again if I drank. Yet I would pick up again with the phrase “this isn’t going to end well” replaying in my head.
My final drink was on a business trip to an annual leadership forum in Charleston, SC the first week of February 2014. I had just started this new role in the same company with new colleagues who weren’t aware that I obstained for ‘health reasons.’ So I drank. And the final morning just a few hours from my flight home I woke up in a hospital with stitches over my left eye. I had two new colleagues worried overnight in the waiting room and no idea what had happened having blacked out. I flew home telling myself I’d be honest with Sarah yet out came another lie and eventually the end of my marriage.
Those first hours, days, weeks and months I had so much anger at myself and so much hurt and shame that I wanted to shut off the world around me. I dropped off of Facebook as I couldn’t bear seeing all of those happy, problem free families who were my ‘friends’. Obviously I knew that we all post only the highlight reel of our lives on social media yet I still wanted to shut myself off from it. Just this past week I’ve opened a new Facebook account for the first time in almost three years. My first ‘friends’ were the people in my daily life today; members of my church and both my local Newburyport area and Twitter Recovery communities. Quickly though that circle has been expanding with family and old friends from my hometown of Marblehead and the Newburyport area that I haven’t spoken to I three years. I found myself questioning what to post or share about my addiction and recovery. Two friends I admire and try to emulate most from my Twitter world, Melissa Johnson (mytruthstartshere.org) and Tami Harper Winn (drunkless.com) encouraged me to share my blog on FB but I hesitated. Once again, I Am Not Anonymous…kinda.
Then there’s work. In my career there are only a select few who knew that I landed in the hospital at an annual leadership forum in 2014. Few knew I am an alcoholic who was struggling unsuccessful to not drink for the first two of the past five years. Or that in the early days of the past three years I would lock myself in a bathroom stall near my office to cry or fiercely pray for this obsession to end or beg God for my marriage to be saved. Few knew that I was an active member of AA, a born again Cristian or even divorced for the second time. My office walls still displays those happy family portraits from years ago.
Throughout my career my drinking was in sync with the work hard, play hard atmosphere of the business world and my company. I lived on expense account for several years and have been fortunate to live and travel around the globe. I’ve lived in Holland for a year, Brazil for six months, NYC for three years and drinking was how I blew off steam with my colleagues. In one role as an internal auditor we travelled 100% of the time and had weekly edicts to have an ANO, auditors night out, which usually involved the best restuarant in town, lots of cocktails and expensive wine …and then binge drinking. I drank differently than most peers, although many did drink like me.
However,my career was one area of my life that wasn’t being impacted negatively by my drinking. At thirty four I was plant manager of a life sciences manufacturing business with 120 employee despite being the youngest one in the building. Together we turned the business from a loss to a profitable business while applying my companies approach to to Lean Six Sigma, EHS and financial accountability. We also reversed the long held no drinking policy and started hosting wine events when leaders would visit and serving beer at our annually summer picnic.
Since finally getting sober the two colleagues who had spent the night with me in the hospital were very supportive yey kept our secret. After several months I reluctantly asked to speak to a senior executive whom I supported to let him know why I wasn’t always easy to find having disappeared to run to an AA meeting or to school to pick up one of my sons being again a ‘single parent’ with set custody days. I was pleasantly surprised. Actaully I was blown away when he sat back after hearing my tale of recovery from alcoholism and the loss of marriage and he asked, “How is your faith?” I talked about how my relationship with God had grown strong as part of my recovery and he countered that he had his own but different struggle that led him to God and how God’s grace made him a better man today.
I remember my first business trip following my rock bottom like it was yesterday. I stressed for weeks over how I would explain to my collegues that I wasn’t drinking. Did I have to tell them everything? Would they be horrified that I was an alcoholic? When the moment came during our preflight drinks at Logan airport before boarding a plane for Europe they all ordered craft beers. I ordered a ginger ale. And no one said a word. At our layover in Europe more drinks were ordered and still no explanation was asked of me. So happens that during the trip I kept getting bumped to first class and they laughed, remarking how it wasn’t fair that the guy who doesn’t drink gets first class! It wasn’t easy though. We sat at a Paris cafe in the May sun for over three hours while they drank. I didn’t drink. As I watched them sip and somewhat nurse their drinks I had tools to remind myself what would happen if it did have one drink. I remember thinking I’d be doing it different and it wouldn’t end well.
It’s still not easy at work today. I attend work events regularly that center around drinking. I attended a year end celebration at a brewery one night this week. I’m on a plane writing this blog post now for Montana where every night will involve drinking.
I’m used to the quick puzzled glance or the sarcastic comment when I order a non alcoholic drink. Since I have chosen not to be open at work with being an alcoholic their comments are not meant to be mean. It is still odd today not to drink. Many hotels I stay at have stocked mini-bars. Some of the countries I travel to order shots for the entire group after dinner and its almost looked at as rude when I deny one. A group I travel with today all use the app Untappd so we end up bouncing to different pubs or breweries so they can check in with a new beer & selfie. I know you can see me & my soda water or La Croix in the background of some of the pics on the app. I’m considered funny or quirky to travel with as I will often get up and walk out of the bar we’re camped out in to go on a walk-about by myself. In the Polish city of Wroclaw I’d disappear only to return with dozens of pictures of hidden gnomes they have around the city to send to Brody. They’d just look at each other and roll their eyes. They’re not being insensitive. I don’t share that I’m an alcoholic. In Paris a year ago, I confided in the same colleague who had been with me that night, and then snuck off to the American Chuch in Paris where I received my two year chip surrounded by a about a hundred expats. I’m comfortable in those situations today, traveling with colleagues who drink. I carry this secret struggle giving myself permission to take myself out of them as soon as I need to.
I don’t talk openly about being an alcoholic at work because the stigma still exists. When alcoholism comes up I’m never shocked that the stigma of a lonely, depressed, derilict is the picture many see. There’s an affinity group for everyone in my company but the corporate world doesn’t seem ready for the #RecoveryPosse just yet. A year ago I sat with a union leader and expressed how sorry I was to learn that his son died from an overdose. We talked of the opiod epidemic and he claimed that at least four families who had attended his son’s funeral had since lost kids to this brutal disease. I learned that he was also a “Friend of Bill W’s” having been sober for over twenty years. Early in my attempts at recovery I also met another hourly colleague, Tom, at an AA meeting in Newburyport. The big, burly, blue collar guy suggested I visit him at work during a break. I didn’t see Tom again until the days after my last drink. He asked where I had been and again I promised to visit him in the shop. He then bragged that he had since retired. Despite me being in ‘management’, Tom texted or called me almost every day during my two years of recovery providing constant support. God provided me with a colleague I could talk to, who knew my work environment and my addiction struggles, even if he was retired. Tom presented me with my one year chip at the home group AA meeting we share.
I pray to God often on whether or not I should just be completely open about my addiction and recovery at work. Whether I should help develop a platform at work to share my story and bring awareness to this issue. There aren’t many families who remain untouched by the wreckage of addiction. An estimated 21 million people in our country are living with a substance use disorder yet only one in 10 substance abusers is receiving treatment, according to the the first-ever Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health released this past Fall. “One in seven people in the U.S. is expected to develop a substance abuse disorder at some point in their lives,” Dr. Murthy said. “Alcohol misuse contributes to 88,000 deaths in the United States each year; 1 in 10 deaths among working adults are due to alcohol misuse. Seventy-eight people die every day in the United States from an opioid overdose, and those numbers have nearly quadrupled since 1999.” Yet the report continues, “few other medical conditions are surrounded by as much shame and misunderstanding as substance use disorders. Historically, our society has treated addiction and misuse of alcohol and drugs as symptoms of moral weakness or as a willful rejection of societal norms.”
I recently brought up a ‘you know you’re old when…’ you learn Harry Potter (actually the actor Daniel Radcliffe) is an alcoholic who admitted being drunk on the set of Harry Potter and who would lock himself in his hotel to get drunk alone. Yet today he’s blessed to be ‘One Of Us’ and sober by the grace of God. The reply I got was how terrible that is. I smirked, “what is terrible; that he’s an alcoholic or sober?” And she replied, “he’s so young and can never drink again”.
Two weeks ago I received a message on Twitter from a young Newburyport women who wrote that although we had never met she was reaching out because she had just dropped her husband off at rehab and didn’t know what to do. Just yesterday, two weeks after I received her message, Brody and I picked her husband up early Saturday morning to attend What’s Good About Today, my home group and favorite AA meeting. It was his first AA meeting since being released from detox a few days ago. He was brought to tears as he saw several people he knew and picked up his first chip. Brody and I patiently waiting for him as several regulars wanted to talk to him and share their contact information following the meeting. None of this would have happened, at least God wouldn’t have used me in this young man’s life, if I hadn’t been open about my recovery on Twitter. I Am Not Anonymous…kinda.
In three weeks on February 6th I fly off to my third leadership forum and not by coincidence I’ll celebrate my 3 year sobriety anniversary on February 7th. Each of the four nights will be scheduled with cocktail receptions and dinners where waiters will constantly ask if I want another drink or to fill one of the two empty wine glasses in front of my place setting. The final night we’ll have a smaller team meeting after the conference ends at a …you guessed it…a brewery … #untappd. There’s nothing wrong with executives coming together and alcohol being served and enjoyed responsibly by most.
Yet somewhere in the rooms each night will be an executive holding a drink in their hand despite the ultimatum from the spouse at home for the family holding on by a thread. The voice in their head is saying they’ve earned it for all of their hard work and it’s telling them they can drink like the others …just a couple of drinks and they’ll stop. Despite the willpower they’ve used to propell themselves in to a leadership role in one of top companies in the world it’s useless for the first time in their life. Despite every best intention walking into that room they soon have another drink in their hand. Even if they do avoid alcohol they’re already planning an early exit instead of wearing the scarlett letter of a gingerale in a big plastic cup. They Are Anonymous …and alone.
I Am Not Anonymous is a movement started by Kate Meyer and Tom Goris as a mission to break the stigma of addiction. “Our mission is to bring the SOLUTION into the conversation in hopes of helping the millions of people who remain untreated and help the world understand that addiction is not a moral failing.” They stress how the stigma can be as deadly as the disease itself.
They also write …
“Addiction is not just about drugs and alcohol. I drank to fill the cracks, the emptiness. I drugged to feel ok with myself. I felt weak, broken and all alone. My solution turned into my biggest problem. I was afraid my dirty little secret would drive everyone away. I was never a bad person. But a soul with no purpose. I wish someone told me …. I have a disease that talks to me in my own voice. And tells me I’m not sick. Help me. I can’t stop. For the first time, I was honest with myself. It was time to face the fear. The shame. …and find recovery.”
“The world has seen addiction but not recovery. …and Recovery Is Everywhere.”
“I felt a new kind of freedom. I could picture a life without drugs or alcohol. I was exposed to a vibrant, compassionate world full of people in recovery. I heard my story in their story. They helped me find my voice. I now use my voice to bring recovery into the light. Stigma only grows in the dark. Together, we can put an end to it. Recovery is not a consolation prize. It’s about rejoining the human race. As a full participant. …and contender for life’s greatest prizes. I want to give a voice to the voiceless & inspire hope. I want to advocate for my rights. In recovery I’ve got everything back and then some.”
My name is Greg Kelly, I am but one of many recovery stories.
I Am Not Anonymous
Thanks for reading,