I have never been a private person, partly in rebellion against my parents’ insistence on presenting perfect family portraits, a reflection of the times. Yet, when I decided to go public about my history of addiction, I worried the reaction would be shock and awe. It was more like bored and ignored.
Most people would nod politely, then steer the conversation back to themselves. So I decided it was safe to go further, with a post about how stories change lives, as I’d learned listening to thousands at 12-step meetings.
I wanted to share this evidence of the profound power of storytelling, which we knew long before the neuroscientists. Also, I was tired of pretending the ginger ale in my glass was scotch, to prevent well-meaning people from pushing booze on me.
I’m on the side of people like author Susan Cheever, who argue that the insistence on anonymity is keeping us recovered alcoholics in the closet of shame, much as it did with gays. The anonymity of Alcoholics Anonymous was essential when it started in 1935 and for people newer to recovery today.
But the blanket rule is a reflection of times past. Besides, I am proud of what I have overcome and become.
With my misspent youth so far behind me, I don’t have much to hide. Of course I zealously guard my bank password and other information people could use to rip me off. I’d prefer people didn’t know my age and weight, but when it slips out, most people are nice enough to say I look younger and it must be mostly muscle.
I don’t offer a lot of personal information on my online profiles, where I’m warned that evil forces will attack. I prefer to reveal on whim, like my attempt to be funny about my too-frequent need to pee, inspired by the hilarious shit-free diarrhea scene in the movie Bridesmaids.
We keep hearing that people won’t get hired if they share too much on Facebook. But as I discovered when my daughter got a part-time job with a large retail chain, recruiters don’t rule out everyone who is tagged in photos with a beer bottle or a bong. There wouldn’t be enough candidates left.
I think our privacy commissioner and other government officials overreact. They should focus on keeping private what needs to be guarded, not information that I have chosen to share on Facebook or other public forums.
I’ve been reading Public Parts by Jeff Jarvis, where he discusses how the right to privacy is a relatively recent social construct, not a divine right. By going public about his prostate cancer, even though it meant disclosing problems with peeing and sex, he was able to connect with many other people going through the same things. And it made him human.
Because I’m not famous, I don’t worry about the tales, some true but many false, that were discussed in the recent British investigation into the Murdoch newspapers’ phone hacking. Because I’m not a blogging celeb, I’m not concerned about twisted allegations, like those I’ve seen in the David Navarro-Naomi Dunford drama.
Although I despise this prying and exploitation, they’re the tradeoff for a mostly free press and internet.
Public disclosure helps keep corporations honest, deters pedophiles and puts looters in jail. Photos of me dancing on tables or throwing up might have encouraged me to clean up earlier. Still, I’m relieved there are no ghosts hauting me on Facebook. But what I choose to share with you today is fair game.
As long as there are restrictions to curb deceit and hate, as there always have been with free speech, the benefits outweigh the occasional embarrassment. I’m comfortable with the parts I choose to make public. And I respect your right to keep some private.
But with the proliferation of cameras, from cell phones to security systems, we all have to live peacefully with our paparazzi.
Fortunately, I’m comfortable with my public parts. Are you?