Addiction expert and America’s favorite 12-Step contrarian Stanton Peele recently talked about, of all things, a Reese Witherspoon movie. If you’re not up to speed yet on the forthcoming film ‘Wild’ and why it’s generating buzz in addiction circles, here’s a bit of Stanton’s piece:
“The movie is based on Cheryl Strayed’s bestselling memoir, directed by Jean-Marc Vallée and written for the screen by Nick Hornby (whom Substance.com recently interviewed). Cheryl-slash-Reese’s heroin habit is depicted through flashbacks during her thousand-mile hike up the Pacific coast. After her beloved mother’s death, Cheryl progresses from snorting to injecting the drug, has her life threatened by a drug user wielding a knife and has indiscriminate sex with the other heroin users she lives with. Yet Cheryl never joins a 12-step group or enters rehab.”
Stanton has, for decades, promoted the reality that many people who struggle with drug abuse and dependence can (and do) recover and go on to lead lives of relative comfort and normalcy—without being abstinent, dedicating their lives to the 12 Steps or ever having step foot in a formal rehabilitation program. He recently talked about this in a compelling interview with DPA's asha bandele, which can be heard here.
I know that’s true—because I’m one of those people. Like many people, apparently including Cheryl Strayed, I spent many years in a substance-fueled state of decadence and tumult and then I worked very hard to change and improve my life. Not all journeys to wellness and happiness after years of drug problems revolve around weekly meetings or never having a glass of wine.
Stanton continues along these lines:
“We know how Cheryl Strayed’s real-life “case” turns out. Shortly after completing her hike she met her second husband, to whom she is still married. They have two kids. She became a professional writer. Then, 17 years after the events depicted, she published her memoir.
Although the book made her famous, Cheryl leads a low-key life. She hikes locally with friends. And she still drinks regularly: “Two drinks is generally my limit, though I’ll occasionally drink more.”
Her husband rarely drinks. As for her kids, “I think my children have a healthy exposure to alcohol. My husband and I talk to them about moderation in all things, and we generally model that too.” She has achieved this balance despite having an abusive alcoholic father, a relationship shown in the film.”
“So Wild is nothing like the standard recovery narrative. It’s simply the most common reality. Yet nobody has pointed this anomaly out. Is it any wonder that we continue to worship at the Recovery altar when we are incapable of noticing both its failures and the alternatives that are present all around us?”
It’s essential to let people know that recovery is possible. But it’s perhaps even more important to let people that all kinds of recovery are possible. Pick the one that works best for you.
If rehab, 12 Step, abstinence or chanting a mantra work for you, stick with that. But if you found peace after addiction in a way that didn’t involve any of those things, that’s okay, too.
As Stanton says, “Addictions are part of people’s life journeys, not the end of their roads. We all are capable of getting beyond addiction. And most of us, like Cheryl, do so.”
Meghan Ralston is the harm reduction manager for the Drug Policy Alliance.