Most people in recovery circles know the names Bill W. and Dr. Bob, the co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). A smaller number know the name Marty Mann. While she wasn’t the first female member of AA, she was one of the first to join the Fellowship. Even still, some people refer to her as “The First Lady of Alcoholics Anonymous.”
Those familiar with the basic text of AA – typically referred to as the “The Big Book” – may have read her contribution. The chapter “Women Suffer Too” appears in the second through fourth editions. At a time when alcoholism and drug addiction was primarily considered to be a moral failing, Marty Mann was pushing back. In the 1940s!
Mann’s introduction to AA came in the form of The Big Book; her psychiatrist, Dr. Harry Tiebout, gave her a copy in 1939 and recommended she attend a meeting. Following a rough start, Mann was able to realize long-term recovery. In 1944, she organized the National Committee for Education on Alcoholism (NCEA) to break the stigma and promote the disease model of addiction.
People know the NCEA today as the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) or as Facing Addiction with NCADD. In 2015, NCADD merged with Facing Addiction, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to finding solutions to the addiction crisis. Marty Mann passed away on July 22, 1980, but her legacy lives on – as does the excellent work from the organization she built.
If you are interested in learning more about Marty Mann, there are many great sources to choose from, including texts like Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers, A Biography of Mrs. Marty Mann: The First Lady of Alcoholics Anonymous, and In Search of the Mysterious Mrs. Marty Mann.
Facing Addiction in America
Unlike many of Mann’s contemporaries, she was not hesitant to share her struggles with alcoholism, her recovery, and her beliefs about what she viewed as a public health crisis. According to In Search of the Mysterious Mrs. Marty Mann, she held that (1) alcoholism is a disease, (2) the alcoholic can be helped and is worth supporting, and (3) addiction is a public health problem and therefore a public responsibility. Mann also believed it was a family disease – her father died of alcoholism.
NCADD reports that 21 million Americans suffer from addiction. This is an unsettling statistic, and the actual figure is probably much higher. However, the organization also points out that there are 25 million Americans in recovery from addiction. The goal is to make the latter number grow exponentially in the years to come.
How Americans view addiction today is much different than when Marty Mann found sobriety. What’s more, many people in recovery – like Mann – are now willing to discuss their experience, strength, and hope openly. Two such people who are sharing their sobriety with the world are Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh and Beatles drummer Ringo Starr. The powerhouse musicians and addiction recovery advocates sat down recently with Rolling Stone.
Last fall, Starr and his wife presented Walsh (25 years sober) with the highest humanitarian award for activism in the addiction recovery community, at a Facing Addiction with NCADD gala in New York City, according to Rolling Stone. An interesting aside is the fact that Starr and Walsh are both brothers in sobriety and brothers-in-law. The two are married to Marjorie and Barbara Bach; the sisters are also in recovery. The publication points out that the two couples have more than a century of sobriety, collectively.
Carrying the Message: There is Life After Addiction
Each day, men and women come together to help each other stay clean and sober. There are hundreds of different programs that one can turn to for help, but they all share a common feature: fellowship. You are invited to read the entire Rolling Stone interview with Starr and Walsh at length. The two musicians have a lot of insights about recovery and helping others find strength. The Eagles guitarist tells the magazine:
I got sober because of a fellowship of men and women who were sober alcoholics. That’s how I got sober. After a couple years, I talked about [my sobriety] with other alcoholics and tried to help them. The only person who can get somebody else sober is somebody who’s been there and done that.
I realized that I do more good showing people that there’s life after addiction. So I decided it’s okay to go public because everybody knew anyway, and if I save one life showing that there’s life after addiction I feel good about it. I believe that’s part of why I lived.
You can watch Joe Walsh’s acceptance speech below:
If you are having trouble watching, please click here.
Addiction Treatment with Hemet Valley Recovery Center
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