Addiction Recovery: Why This Alcoholic Won't Play Small

09/08/2012 17:14 BST | Updated 09/10/2012 10:12 BST

It's one of those illnesses that you never get over, addiction. But far worse than the looming fear of relapse, is the fact that addicts are not 'allowed' to do anything other than recover.

Addiction is an insidious illness. It creeps up on you, it deludes you; it makes you act like a lunatic, while simultaneously making you believe you're not really ill. It's a messed-up, maddening mind-screw of an illness.

Recovery is like a reprieve, because once you're an alcoholic, you can never drink again. Once a drug addict, there is no room for recreational dabbling. Addiction does not go into remission, no matter how long you've been clean and sober. Unlike most illnesses, you're never, ever safe from it reappearing.

But as if that wasn't enough of a burden on our shoulders, recovering addicts are subject to the scars of this illness long after we have 'officially' left it behind.

Even in recovery, we are never free of the judgements of others, the shady pasts we are scared to show, and the belief that, actually, we will never really amount to anything.

Despite the fact that respected researchers, experts and scientists have shown that true addiction is a disorder, and not a moral failing, people still blame us for being ill. And we take that blame and turn it into a stick, with which to beat our self-esteem into tiny fragments.

Fine, I can deal with ignorance. But what I can't bear is the fact that many recovering addicts remain mired in their shame, even when they have got themselves clean and sober and are living respectable lives.

Even when you are in recovery, often you feel like you can't, or 'shouldn't' do as much as everyone else.

You hear of people getting over other serious illnesses and disorders, then organising giant feats to celebrate. Cancer sufferers swimming the channel; people who have lost their legs running marathons.

But the recovering addicts tend to keep quiet. Most addicts don't say: "Look, how amazing - I beat the odds and got over my alcoholism. Now see what I can do!"

Addicts seem to be expected to get on quietly with things, have small successes and be happy just to not be drinking and drugging.

Sure, I have massive gratitude for the little things and the fact that I'm no longer a complete wreck - but that's not all there is to my life.

I wouldn't be honouring my recovery, or the people who helped me achieve it, if I were to play small. I would be letting my illness pull me down further and limit me even more.

If I have taken from society when in my active addiction, I now want to contribute, big-time. If I have devastated my family, I now want to make them super-proud. If I have learnt lessons on my journey, I need to share them. If I have recovered, I need to show others it is possible.

The stigma won't end if we all duck our heads down. The ignorance won't end if we remain forever anonymous. And people struggling with addiction right now will have no hope that it can be better, if some of us don't publicly show them it can. After all, why would addicts want to get better, just to spend the rest of their lives with heads hanging in shame.

Addicts in recovery have achieved something amazing and they have a lot to give to the world - if only they could bring themselves to believe it. It's time to play big for me. I need to do it, not just for me, but for others. Will you let me? And will you join me?