Intolerance in the Recovery Community – By Nicola O’Hanlon


It occurred to me this past week, that the level of intolerance is rising within the recovery community at quite a disturbing level.

It seems to be stemming from the fact that people are choosing for themselves what their recovery process will be and especially because of the new thinking and concepts that are arising around recovery programs.

In some quarters, you’re always sick, you’re always selfish and your own thoughts, decisions and understanding is completely unreliable. And you are told that on a constant basis.

But thankfully, people now have access to a plethora of information and possibility to learn and understand from a vast array of teaching, philosophies and concepts. There’s no limit to what we can access when seeking to overcome our difficulties be it from addiction or any other self-harming behaviour.

I’ve been a member of the Addiction and Mental Health Recovery Community for over seven years now. At one point, as I’ve written about before, my perception of addiction and ill mental health was a limited one and my recovery options were even more limited.

So I decided to educate myself a little more because some of the stuff I’d come to define myself by was no longer true for me.

For example, I don’t see myself as diseased or having the disease of addiction. That just doesn’t sound or feel true for me so I don’t identify with it any longer.

I also don’t go to certain 12 step meetings anymore nor do I think it’s healthy to reinforce negative labels over and over again because of the type of person I am. That never worked for me and I feel a great freedom and empowerment from detachment from that no cure idea.

If these things work for you then it’s absolutely fantastic. I totally support you in that and applaud you for taking care of yourself your way.

I engaged in 12 step recovery for a few years and learned many great tools and met many great people. It was just time for me to move on to a broader concept.

I also know people who were in AA for years and now have a drink every couple of months and are living completely normal and productive lives.

I know people who were addicted to drugs who have an occasional drink without adverse effects and again, are living superb lives.

Shock. Horror. What is this blasphemy! How dare they find their own way.

I must stress, that these people, who are my friends, have done deep intensive mental, emotional and spiritual work on themselves. I am most definitely not advocating for anyone to go back to drinking or using again. Total abstinence is a must for some.

I as a person am progressive. I move forward constantly. I can’t read or learn enough and new ideas and concepts are what keep me alive and hopeful. They excite me beyond anything, and they make me want to care for and treat myself with the highest of respect.

What really disturbs me within our community of late, is the lack of tolerance for people’s growth and expansion and choice to think and do differently. It reeks of my childhood Catholic teaching that if you step outside the box, hellfire is gonna get ya. Everyone is wrong. We are right. You must repent.

Radicalised thinking at its best.

So here’s my understanding; most addiction and mental health issues are based in some form of trauma in our lives, and the results, if not dealt with effectively, manifest as addiction and for me depression and anxiety.

Trauma and the use of chemicals and obsessive behaviours change the functioning of the brain, which by the way, can be reversed and healed.

I didn’t make that up either. The healing part. That’s scientific fact.

Dr. Gabor Mate is someone who’s philosophy rings true for me and he has said that if we do not understand trauma then we cannot understand addiction. And pretty much any professional I’ve spoken to concurs with that notion.

So for me it’s been way more positive to understand that my brain has been disordered and that it can be fixed rather than telling myself that selfishness is at the root of my problems and that there’s no cure.

And I completely accept and respect people’s choices and viewpoints that are contrary. I absolutely love to engage in conversation about these topics, because that’s how I learn and discover and find out what truly works for me on a deep level.

And then you have this guy:

 “ Lol…ty for your concern Nickyo! Not that it’s a competition, but believe me, I’d stack up my service efforts, and how many suffering addicts are positively affected, against yours any day of the week. And, mine happen in the real world free from the shackles of advertising dollars, and ego attachment of being “in charge” of something.

You go on painting me as the “bad guy” if you need to :).”

This was in reply to me standing up for someone he’d torn to shreds with pissy, personal attacking  comments because she had the audacity to suggest that it was better and more productive for her to not identify with the disease model.

I’ll let you come to your own conclusion about what recovery path he engages in. Apparently love and tolerance is the basis of his much treasured programme. Oh, and don’t forget humility!

I will say also, that I know wonderful genuine people on this same path who would never treat others like this. They must have read the part in the literature where it talks about open mindedness, compassion and empathy.

And this woman, in reply to a comment I made on an artilce “Safe injection sites are a radical new approach to battling addiction”  saying I agree with the concept to save lives and there’s strong evidence in European countries that it’s effective. I mean if addiction is a recognised medical issue,  why not treat it as such and give addicts equal, sufficient, medical care like the rest of the sick people in the world….right?

Apparently, I’m completely off the wall!

“And that kind of thinking is so off the charts nuts it takes my breath away. For Gods sake, they are not all using dirty needles, in dirty drug dens. Engage a junkie? Go ahead I’d like to see you try. They have to hit rock bottom, they have to want to stop. Enabling them is a solution that works somewhere in the atmosphere. Look, I am sure your heart is in the right place, but I wish you do gooders would just shut up.”

These are just two of many this week alone.

Believe me, I’m used to this kind of personal attack. It’s part of the job for most writers and especially those who go against the cookie cutter social thinking. But recently it’s coming fast and hard.

I do know one thing. A high presence of aggressive ugliness and lack of tolerance, empathy and basic politeness comes from deep fear. Perhaps a subconscious knowing that your perception is weak, and that you are so attached to that perception you need to guard it violently regardless of the consequences for others. Pretty basic philosophy.

It cannot be denied that this low energy, aggressiveness is extremely prevalent in society at large. The world is most definitely engaged in revolt. It’s just really sad that this same revolt seems needed in a community that is supposed to support and promote the growth of others.

But it does show that change is coming!

Nicola O'Hanlon

About Nicola O'Hanlon

Meet our Editor-In-Chief, Nicola O'Hanlon. She created this website, along with the help of the InTheRooms team in September 2015. Her work has been published in several recovery magazines, including Recovery Today, In Recovery Magazine,, Psychology Today and Reach Out Recovery to name but a few. She has also had her work published in two Feminist anthologies and a book of personal recovery stories. Born and raised in Wexford, Ireland she still lives there with her two children, Christopher and Jessica. Her background is in healing through Massage Therapy, Reflexology and Sechiem Energy Healer. She has combined her professional and life experience and now coaches women on how to empower themselves. She runs the Womens Wisdom Healing Circle meeting, on every Sunday (Noon est 5pm UK & Ireland), which is a non program specific gathering of women seeking support, encouragement and healing. Already an expert on how not to live life she is a constant seeker of new and better ways of being. Nature is her Higher Power and she believes in magic, crystals and blames the phases of the moon for her multiple personalities.
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