The Beauty of Diversity in Recovery

by | Apr 26, 2016 | Recovery | 0 comments

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We all must work together, or the fellowship is lost. (Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock)

We all must work together, or the fellowship is lost. (Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock)

On page 17 of Alcoholics Anonymous, diversity receives an important mention. Bill Wilson, co-founder of AA, writes:

“We are average Americans. All sections of this country and many of its occupations are represented, as well as many political, economic, social, and religious backgrounds. We are people who normally would not mix. But there exists among us a fellowship, a friendliness, and an understanding which is indescribably wonderful.”

We’ve talked before about some of the stereotypes that plague addicts and alcoholics, and the fact that they are profoundly untrue. But while most of the stereotypes addressed revolved around personality myths, there are many other stereotypes as well. People tend to picture white meth users, black crack users, impoverished drunkards and wealthy pill poppers. And while all of these types of people naturally exist, they do not paint a full picture of the spread of addiction. Like many diseases, addiction is completely colorblind and does not care how much money you have.

This is something we touched upon in our breakdown of addiction statistics and demographics. But again, this is not a full picture. Because while it is important to understand that the disease can affect anyone, it is equally (if not more) important to understand that anyone can recover. Bill Wilson didn’t write “There Is a Solution” with the implication “but only if you’re a rich white man.” A colorblind disease requires a colorblind solution, and that is the one he offered. Regardless of class, race, sex, gender, religion or sexual orientation, recovery is attainable to those who are willing to work for it. And if we truly care about the principles that we need in order to make a successful run at recovery, diversity is something we must wholeheartedly embrace.

Why Diversity is Important

We’re a large group, comprised of many different types—we can’t lose sight of what we have in common. (Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock)

We’re a large group, comprised of many different types—we can’t lose sight of what we have in common. (Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock)

The passage from “There Is a Solution” that we have quoted above continues:

“We are like the passengers of a great liner the moment after rescue from shipwreck when camaraderie, joyousness and democracy pervade the vessel from steerage to Captain’s table. Unlike the feelings of the ship’s passengers, however, our joy in escape from disaster does not subside as we go our individual ways. The feeling of having shared in a common peril is one element in the powerful cement which binds us. But that in itself would never have held us together as we are now joined.”

This is one of Bill’s most powerful metaphors on the topic of fellowship, so it is important that it occurs right after he describes diversity within the program. Even more important, however, is those last two lines. Yes, tragedy and disaster have a way of uniting people. But the fellowship and unity we celebrate in recovery cannot be conditional. It can have no exceptions, for it is when our acceptance of diversity begins making caveats that it has failed entirely. We cannot truly embody the concept of fellowship unless we are willing to do so in all forms.

In other words, we need diversity in recovery not only to remind us that addiction is a powerful disease and that it can affect anybody, but also that our recovery is largely dependent on our morals, values and ethics. If a racist enters recovery and does not do anything to resolve their worldview, then how can they be sure they will not find themselves tussling with emotional disturbance if their child enters an interracial relationship? How will a sexist in recovery be able to focus on a speaker meeting in which a woman is telling her story? Then there are addicts and alcoholics who may be homophobic, and will not be able to hear potentially good advice from addicts in the LGBT community.

We may use words like “colorblind” to describe celebration of diversity, but bigotry is where true blindness resides. When we hate another person for being who or what they are, we are putting a barrier between ourselves and the rest of the world. This same barrier kept us in isolation during active addiction, and in many ways may have fueled our use. If we wish to recover, to become better people, we must tear down this barrier indefinitely.

“Do You Think You’re Different?”

If you find that you aren’t identifying with others in recovery, you should ask yourself this question. (William Perugini/Shutterstock)

If you find that you aren’t identifying with others in recovery, you should ask yourself this question. (William Perugini/Shutterstock)

In celebration of diversity, AA puts out a pamphlet: “Do You Think You’re Different?” This pamphlet includes writings from members of AA who are black, Native American, gay, lesbian, atheist, agnostic, clergy, Jewish, 15 years old and 79 years old. There is also one by a “low bottom” alcoholic (someone with a troubled history) and a “high bottom” alcoholic (someone who never saw the inside of a jail cell…essentially a high-functioning alcoholic). There is even one by a movie star which, given our extensive list of famous people in recovery, is not entirely surprising.

Upon reading their excerpts, you will discover that the disease held undeniable similarities for each of these diverse writers. Their diverse backgrounds may influence aspects of their history and their recovery, but the disease itself was the same. It was a disease that killed their inhibitions, allowing them to commit acts they would not have otherwise committed. It was a disease that put their friends and family in the unfortunate position of either enabling them or cutting them out altogether. As Bill Wilson noted, it had nothing to do with their race, class, or any other identifier that you might use. Diversity is irrelevant to the effects of the disease.

The importance of this goes far beyond accepting that addiction can affect anyone. The specific goal of the pamphlet in question is to show addicts and alcoholics that they are no different from anyone else, no matter what their background. When addiction is in play, these background factors make little difference. The pamphlet contains a quote from Bill Wilson:

“In the beginning, it was four whole years before A.A. brought permanent sobriety to even one alcoholic woman. Like the ‘high bottoms,’ the women said they were different; A.A. couldn’t be for them. But as the communication was perfected, mostly by the women themselves, the picture changed.


This process of identification and transmission has gone on and on. The skid-rower said he was different. Even more loudly, the socialite (or Park Avenue stumblebum) said the same. So did the artists and the professional people, the rich, the poor, the religious, the agnostic, the Indians and the Eskimos, the veterans and the prisoners.


But nowadays all of these, and legions more, soberly talk about how very much alike [emphasis ours] all of us alcoholics are when we admit that the chips are finally down.”

In other words, while diversity may be important, diversity does not make us special. We cannot be resigned to believe that our backgrounds make us different from other addicts and alcoholics. This may be true to a certain extent, yet we still wound up in the same boat. We must learn from others, rather than attempt to differentiate ourselves from them. If we take to the latter, then we may never recover properly, instead choosing to believe that our uniqueness—our diversity—sets us apart. It does, but only in the most literal sense. In the sense of our disease, we are all the same at heart.

Diversity at Amethyst Recovery

You’ll see diversity at any AA or NA meeting. Why shouldn’t you see it in treatment? (Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock)

You’ll see diversity at any AA or NA meeting. Why shouldn’t you see it in treatment? (Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock)

At Amethyst Recovery, we most definitely celebrate diversity. More importantly, we recognize how diversity can impact our perceptions of our experiences. While two people may have been through similar situations, a person of a different background might feel differently about some of the experiences that have befallen them. While we stress the understanding that addiction is a colorblind disease, we also do not discount the feelings and experiences of those who hail from diverse backgrounds. Instead, we try to accommodate the needs of various backgrounds while still treating the addiction itself as we would in any other case.

We state on the section of our website detailing our programs that we offer personalized care, and we like to believe this takes diversity into account. This does not mean that any member of a minority, whether related to race or gender, is treated with kid gloves. What it means is simply that we take each patient’s former experiences into account when divining the best approach to their treatment. Every addict or alcoholic, regardless of background, is different. Their diversity, whether it relates to background or simply personality, is an important factor in deciding the best way to care for them.

Amethyst takes diversity seriously. Even if the disease itself may frequently take on a similar appearance, we understand that diversity can affect recovery in a big way. Every patient who enters our doors will be interviewed, and our treatment team will meet to determine the best course of care for each individual. Our aftercare plans for these patients will also be influenced by our findings. We do not want any patient at Amethyst Recovery to feel as if their specific needs have not been met, or that any factors affecting their addiction or recovery have been ignored. We embrace the concept of fellowship without exception. Any treatment center that fails to do this has lost sight of its goal to heal as many addicts and alcoholics as possible. So please, if you or someone you know is in need of treatment and feels that diversity may be a factor, contact us today. Receive treatment in a safe place; receive treatment at Amethyst Recovery.

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