Women’s Life: Deepening Conversations! Do you think an addiction is a choice or a disease?

The other day I responded to an article in our local paper, The Vancouver Sun, entitled “Whatever happened to embarrassment?:Here’s to bringing back a little good, old-fashioned shame?” by Shelley Fralic.  I think there were likely some very valid points made in the article but I didn’t get further than the following question, asked by Ms. Fralic in response to observing a group of 12 steppers discussing their adventures in rehab while sipping beverages at a Starbucks “Why are these people not embarassed about being addicts?  Ill-mannered addicts, to boot.”

Now, I am not objective in this area as I am an “addict” myself, a happily recovering “alcoholic”, however, I was surprised by Ms. Fralic’s opinions as outlined in our very interesting subsequent email converstation which I share with you below, (with Ms. Fralic’s permission btw).  In further contemplation, I believe that had it been a group of drunk partiers talking about their substance use, I may have had a different reaction to the question.  I kind of feel that folks attempting to work through an addiction by attending any type of program deserve respect, compassion and kudos rather than  being shamed.  What do you think?  Please feel free to deepen this conversation with your comments below.

—–Original Message—–
From: Zoey Ryan [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: Tue 11/4/2008 9:41 AM
To: Fralic, Shelley (Vancouver Sun)
Subject: I’m not embarrassed nor ashamed to be an addict!

Dear Shelley,

I found your article to be interesting and yet, I wonder if you aren’t
displaying a very misinformed and out dated view of “addictions” with your
question, “why are these people not embarrassed about being addicts”?

I am an addict, a recovering one and I am not ashamed or embarrassed; I have
the disease of alcoholism.  Would you ask this same question of a group of
people sitting around talking about their experience of being at “diabetes
camp”, are they not embarrassed about having diabetes?  I am also a mom,
married, working, healthy, happy and very open about my addiction to
alcohol!  I am open about it mainly to help break apart the pervasive
socio-cultural stigma, the stigma that having an addiction is “shameful”!

Now, I too have been quietly sitting in Starbucks, sipping my latte and
feeling somewhat annoyed with the loud conversation at the next table,
however, it is usually the decibel level I find annoying, rather than the

Did you consider that the “shameful” conversations of the 12 steppers, as
raw and rough as it apparently was in the movie, may in fact act as a
catalyst for even one other person in Starbucks to attend an AA meeting and
start on the journey of recovery?

Have you ever attended a 12 step meeting yourself, I wonder?

Actually, Shelley, it is shame on you!


Zoey Ryan

Ms. Ryan:
Thanks for your note.
I am well aquainted, as are most people these days, with addiction in all
its forms.
Good for you for dealing with your problem. But alcoholism and drug
addiction are, in my opinion, too readily called diseases when they are, in
reality, the sad consequences of conscious choice.
Someone who chooses to smoke crack, or drink too much vodka, is hardly on
equitable footing with a child facing leukemia or a woman with incurable
breast cancer.
A person chooses to be an addict and, hard as it is, that addiction can be
cured simply by stopping. Not so that child, or that woman. That’s the
difference for me.
As for the shame, there was a time when people who acted out, criminally or
immorally or by drinking too much, were stung by social embarrassment and,
while you don’t have to agree with me, I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing.
Again, thanks for your feedback and all the best in your recovery.

Shelley Fralic
Vancouver Sun Columnist
Office: 604-605-2170
Cell: 604-833-0846
[email protected]

—–Original Message—–
From: Zoey Ryan [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: Tue 11/4/2008 12:04 PM
To: Fralic, Shelley (Vancouver Sun)
Subject: RE: I’m not embarrassed nor ashamed to be an addict!


Hmmm, that is a very interesting response, thank you for your well wishes
for my recovery, which is now 14 years underway.

I would say, that what is sadly missing in our society is not shame but

Can you please advise me on how I can and can not use this correspondence?
May I post our email conversation on my blog?  It is a wonderful gateway
into a deeper and more meaningful discussion about addictions.



From: Fralic, Shelley (Vancouver Sun) [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: Tuesday, November 04, 2008 11:10 AM
To: Zoey Ryan
Subject: RE: I’m not embarrassed nor ashamed to be an addict!

I always write emails with the notion that they might show up somewhere in cyberspace, so please feel free to post.
And please don’t misinterpret my previous response as an indication of lack of compassion for those struggling with addictions. I know how hard it is to beat alcoholism or drug addiction, but sometimes I think modern-day compassion is sorely misplaced, especially in the context of a social culture that too often encourages addicts to think their “disease” is not their fault, or that it’s out of their control, and that they are therefore excused for their actions.
We live in a time of making excuses, instead of making it right.

What do you feel is “sacred” in your life? I have slight keyboarding dyslexia so I often type the word “sacred” as “scared” and maybe this is actually a Freudian slip! I talk with many women who have lost the “sense of the sacred”, equate sacredness with religion, who are scared of the power of their own spirituality and who mix spirituality up with religion.

In this season of build up to many sacred religious and secular holidays, it is a wonderful time to ponder and reflect on your spirituality. First, here are some definitions from Wikipedia (www.wikipedia.org ):

Religion: A religion is a set of tenets and practices, often centered upon specific supernatural and moral claims about reality, the cosmos, and human nature, and often codified as prayer, ritual, or religious law. Religion also encompasses ancestral or cultural traditions, writings, history, and mythology, as well as personal faith and religious experience. The term “religion” refers to both the personal practices related to communal faith and to group rituals and communication stemming from shared conviction.

Spiritual: Spirituality, in a narrow sense, concerns itself with matters of the spirit, a concept closely tied to religious belief and faith, a transcendent reality, or one or more deities. Spiritual matters are thus those matters regarding humankind’s ultimate nature and purpose, not only as material biological organisms, but as beings with a unique relationship to that which is perceived to be beyond both time and the material world. Spirituality also implies the mind-body dichotomy, which indicates a separation between the body and soul.

As such, the spiritual is traditionally contrasted with the material, the temporal and the worldly. A perceived sense of connection forms a central defining characteristic of spirituality — connection to a metaphysical reality greater than oneself, which may include an emotional experience of religious awe and reverence, or such states as satori or nirvana. Equally importantly, spirituality relates to matters of sanity and of psychological health. Spirituality is the personal, subjective dimension of religion, particularly that which pertains to liberation or salvation.

So, while spirituality may be connected to religion for some, it can also be the subjective sense of “a power greater than oneself, a sense of expansiveness, connection and awe” that is experienced outside the realm of organized religion.

Your self-care enchantments for the next few weeks will be encompassing the themes and spirituality and sacredness.

Self Care Enchantments for the week:

1. Read through the above definitions again and design your personal definition of spirituality.

2. Ponder in which conditions or circumstances to you feel a “sense of sacredness”?

3. Determine what will make this season especially special or sacred for you.

“The true harvest of my life is intangible – a little star dust caught, a portion of the rainbow I have clutched” – Henry David Thoreau

We would love to hear about your experience with these enchantments. Please share about your learning and exploration with these enchantments on www.thepowblog.com in the comments section!