John Gottman, a researcher, studied positive and negative relationships among 700 married couples believed that negative experiences (words and emotions) needed to be balanced with positive experiences in a relationship in order for the relationship to be successful. He thought that there was a ratio of positive and negative experiences to balance or cancel the negative. Gottman used a 5:1 ratio, 5 positives to every 1 negative in his study.

Other studies have been done as well and while the exact ratio may differ, the results are the same: Negativity breeds negativity. Within the recovery culture, what I have found is that a large part of the issue is that we use words we may not perceive as negative. While “junkie” has a more obvious negative connotation than “addict” both are identity labels. They are words that describe our essence and in many cases, addict is a word that is encouraged by many 12 Step groups. The teaching that typically comes from these groups is meant to reinforce the problem in my life. My name is Jody, I am an addict.  The intended message is: My name is Jody, I am an addict and I will always be an addict. The perceived value in this is that I may never forget that I have an addiction and that knowledge would keep me from straying from my support group, my meetings, those things which keep me sober. This is a well known accepted theology within the subculture of recovery.

For the last 15 years, I have fought against this in many different ways. The statement “I am an addict” elicits a fierce response from me, as anyone who has made that statement in my presence can tell you. I abhor those words and generally treat them as though they came from the devil himself.

Struggling with addiction is not a part of my identity. It is a descriptor of my identity. In a time when the question “How do you identify?” holds so much weight in our society, it is one that we should weigh carefully before we respond. Identification has become so key, particularly in our political system, that I believe we have lost sight of our true identity and our purpose.

My name is Jody, I am a follower of Jesus and a woman in long term recovery. That’s who I am and I proclaim it though I know that there is potential for misunderstanding, but in spite of that, this is how I identify and wish to be known. Changing the negative (addict) to a more positive (in recovery).

About 5 years ago I was invited to serve on the State of CT Alcohol and Drug Policy Council. It is a privilege to work with policy makers to shine light on the stigma of addiction, mental health and recovery. Out of my time there, we have developed a best practice for Language Matters. Language does matter, so much. My chances of recovery are much greater when those around me understand my addiction and mental health issues and love me anyway. I won’t feel judged, I will feel encouraged and connected and I will begin to believe for greater things for myself and my life. I encourage you to take a peek at Language Matters and think about how you might begin to share this document where you work or other groups you are a part of.

Together we can make a difference.