I’ve heard that going to 12 step meetings is like paying a premium for life insurance.

The more you go, the more inspiration you bank, and then the more hope you have to lean on in times of need. We listen for nuggets of wisdom that insure us, preventing our lives from returning to what they once were. Each wise word we hear becomes like a tool we can slip into our tool belts, something we can have on the ready for when doubt creeps in. It’s in those rooms that we learn how to live happier, healthier, and longer, so we go, dutifully – and sometimes reluctantly – because we have to. The premium must be paid.

“The funny thing is that I’m so healthy! Not even that I’m healthier, but I’m just generally in very, very good health,” my friend told me over the phone last night. I needed no more convincing, but she continued anyway. “My liver, my blood, my lungs… There is literally nothing wrong with me at all!” She’s also working a 12-step program, with quite a few more years of recovery than me, and has been denied life insurance coverage.

This is my biggest fear. Not specifically being denied life insurance, but being told NO to doing something, being something, or having something, because of some things I’ve done in my past. With every job interview, every new relationship, every travel plan, every medical decision – you name it – the question of whether or not I will disclose that I’m a recovering drug addict and alcoholic comes up, and I’ve now learned that discrimination is very much a real concern for people recovering from addiction. Sometimes honesty can actually work against you.

“I cannot believe that disclosing you’re a recovering alcoholic would classify you as ‘high risk’ in their eyes,” I contested. “People with good recovery are some of the most health obsessed, safety concerned people I’ve ever met! Frankly, I find it annoying…”

“Well, that’s what happened… They told me I can apply again in a few years, but there’s no guarantee that I’d be accepted then either,” she sighed.

“This might be a wrong question to ask,” I paused, for dramatic effect, “but why did you even tell them?”

It’s said (and joked about) a lot that AA and NA are ‘honest programs’, and this is because we often need a reminder. After all, these are essentially gatherings for people who are hardwired to lie. Even in doing my research after my phone call, I went to Google to type in Alcoholics + Life Insurance, and once I’d gotten as far as Alcoholics + L… the top suggestion was Alcoholics and Lying. So we try to practice an honest program. Learning to get honest and stay honest is a big piece of the policy we’re paying into. And when in doubt, calculating the likelihood of getting caught in a lie can help to keep us truthful too.

“Because it’s all over my health records,” she explained. “It’s like, either she was an alcoholic, or this twenty-something girl has had thyroid issues, a seizure disorder, alopecia… On paper, I looked pretty sick while I was drinking, and I drank like that for many years.”

“So you’re damned if you do, and you’re damned if you don’t,” I asked, to clarify.

“Pretty much,” she confirmed, still somehow sounding positive, in the way that she always manages to.

People working a program of recovery spend a lot of time separating themselves from their actions. Once the dust has settled, following the demolition of our lives, the proverbial wreckage of our pasts lies behind us; a constant reminder of what we never wish to return to, in the form of rubble and ruins.

I know I personally must tell myself that I am not what I have done, and that the ruins – or more directly, the things I ruined – do not define me. With this, I repeatedly try to redirect my focus to the joy of the present, and the possibility of a future. For me, working a program of recovery, living a life of abstinence, and hiding it from no one, affords me that joy and possibility. But it also makes me susceptible to criticism, skepticism, and second thoughts. Disclosure, in certain cases, though honest, leaves me vulnerable to judgment.

The obvious irony in this life insurance scenario is that people get into recovery, or receive treatment for mental illness, because they no longer, you know, WANT TO DIE RIGHT AWAY!?

We may not all be approved for life insurance, but those of us who choose to be active in our recovery from addiction or mental illness are afforded a kind of life assurance; if we keep it clean, we are promised a future, and there is great security and confidence to be found in that. With life assurance, you don’t need to be dead for the pay out to arrive, and all it costs is an open heart, an open mind, and the willingness to listen.

Does that make it any easier to know that I’m going to have a time-and-a-half applying for life insurance? Hell no! It still pisses me right off. (‘Honest program’… right?)

About Carli Stephens-Rothman

With a BA in Journalism from Ryerson University, Carli has been writing professionally for seven years. Today she can admit that six of those were mostly a blur. Reaching a year clean and sober in December of 2015 -- after privately (and then not so privately) battling addiction for much of her twenties -- Carli has refocused her personal and professional lives in order to nurture a new path. From her home on Vancouver Island, she continues to freelance for a number of Toronto-based publications, including The Toronto Star and SheDoesTheCity, while setting out upon a new academic journey in the field of addictions and mental health. When not writing or studying, or exploring the brilliant world of recovery, she teaches yoga with a focus on healing and confidence-building.

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