My name is Michael Botticelli, and I serve as the Acting Director of National Drug Control Policy, President Obama’s senior advisor on drug policy.
I am also a gay man. I am also in recovery.
Twenty-six years ago, I wouldn’t have dreamed of speaking those words, let alone writing them for a publication. I would never have dreamed of the opportunities I’ve been given since then—the chance to speak to countless Americans about their own recovery, to represent the Obama Administration, to work at the White House. Twenty-six years ago, I couldn’t have dreamt I’d be here today, because I could not imagine life as a gay man without alcohol.
I didn’t know I could have a life full of unimaginable joy on the other side of addiction.
I didn’t know that a vibrant community of gay people in recovery was waiting for me on the other side of my disease. I didn’t know that I’d be just one of millions of others in recovery living joyous, healthy, full lives.
And I couldn’t have predicted that in 26 years, one of the most important drug policy reforms in a generation would become the law of the land. Under the Affordable Care Act, mental health and substance use disorder treatment services are a required benefit—and treatment for these diseases must be offered at parity with other chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes. Twenty-six years ago, I could only have dreamt that one day I’d serve a president who supported same-sex marriage, and that I would be married to the love of my life.
Pride Month is a time for celebration, but it’s also a time for us to reflect on how far we’ve come as a community. One of the most empowering things about being out—both about being a gay man and about my recovery—is that I can bring my whole self to my job. Far too many of us have lived our recovery in silence and shadow, while stereotypes about those with substance use disorders proliferate.
These stereotypes, and the stigma they reinforce, are toxic to those of us in recovery. They’re also the biggest barrier to treatment for people struggling with addiction. How can we tear that stigma down? By being open and honest about our recovery and by showing our friends, families and co-workers that we are not our disease. If you’re reading this and you’re in recovery, I encourage you to get in touch with us to share your story. Remember: We have done this before. The extraordinary progress we’ve made with LGBT rights over the past several decades started with the simple act of coming out to our family and friends.
If you’re struggling with your own substance use issues, please know that treatment is available to you—and it’s within your reach. I encourage you to visit Covered California to learn about enrollment options.
Serving as a presidential appointee has been the honor of a lifetime, and while I have many people (my husband, my family, my friends, my colleagues) to thank, I know that my life today would not be possible without recovery.