Instead of just sitting each other down and having a conversation about what was happening, my parents were afraid of triggering me. I was afraid of what they would think so there was no communication about what was really going on. – Shannon Egan
SALT LAKE CITY — Growing up in a Latter-day Saint home, Shannon Egan balked against the expectations of her faith and, by extension, her family.
"I didn't want to be baptized but there wasn't, I didn't feel, a lot of choice in the matter as a young person. So, I rebelled quite a bit. I got into alcohol, marijuana, different drugs, trying different things," she said.
In her 20s, Egan left home and worked in Africa as a freelance journalist. At one point, she requested to work in Sudan because it was controlled by Sharia law and alcohol is not permitted, which she believed would help her. It did, temporarily.
But as she plummeted into addiction and had brushes with the law, neither she nor her family could talk about it.
"Instead of just sitting each other down and having a conversation about what was happening, my parents were afraid of triggering me. I was afraid of what they would think so there was no communication about what was really going on," Egan recalled.
"I know they were scared for my life. But they also didn't know how to deal with addiction because no one talks about it. That's the problem. People don't talk about it."
Egan, operations manager for Utah Support Advocates for Recovery Awareness, a recovery community, talks openly about her alcoholism and her recovery to help others going through similar struggles.
"I'm just passionate about it. USARA's all about people having a safe place to talk about addiction and recovery," she said.
That conversation shifts to a community forum Saturday when USARA hosts Recovery Day/Recovery Night activities in downtown Salt Lake City.
Events include the Salt Lake City 5K Run/Walk for Recovery, beginning at 8:30 a.m. All Recovery Day events will be conducted at Gallivan Plaza, 239 S. Main, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
SLC Recovery Night events, which include music, dancing, food, stories and contests, begin at 6 p.m., also at the Gallivan Center. Tickets are $5 at the door.
September is National Recovery Month. A number of community events and activities to promote the societal benefits of prevention, treatment and recovery from substance abuse disorders are scheduled statewide. For a full list, visit USARA's website, myusara.com.
The theme of this year's events is "Join the Voices for Recovery: Speak Up, Reach Out."
Mary Jo McMillen, executive director of Utah Support Advocates for Recovery Awareness, said the recovery movement encourages people to speak out about mental and substance use disorders and recovery to help reduce stigma and to connect people who struggle to community resources.
That's a stark contrast to the manner people with substance use disorders and their families have long dealt with addiction. For decades, those conversations have been conducted in private. Participants remain anonymous as they participate in programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Al-Anon for families and others affected by the excessive drinking of someone close to them.
McMillen said many people elect to meet "anonymously" because they fear stigma and judgment. Some people fear they will put their jobs or relationships in jeopardy if a larger community knows about their substance abuse issue.
An unintended consequence of "anonymity" is that it is nearly impossible to know how many people nationwide struggle with addiction. As behavioral health has become more mainstream, some leaders in the national recovery movement believe the health care system needs better data to help people in need more effectively, McMillen said.
She said she's an example of a person who moves between the schools of thought.
"I’m anonymous in a 12-step meeting and in public about my 12-step affiliation. But I’m not anonymous as a woman in recovery from addiction so other people know," she said. USARA helps to connect people with like interests and treatment strategies so they can support one another, using activities they enjoy as the vehicle for coming together, McMillen said.
Egan's journey with recovery has not been a traditional path, either. In her 20s, she worked internationally as a journalist to escape the conflict she felt with her faith, which for her she says was a trigger for her substance abuse.
On her trips home, she fell into predictable patterns.
"The problem was, they (her family) kept giving me the keys to the car and I kept getting DUIs," she said.
After a third conviction for drunken driving, Egan was sentenced to jail.
"It was eye-opening for me because of the commonality of suffering, and also I recognized my own judgments. I thought, 'I'm better than these people. I don't belong here.'
"Then it made me realize, 'I am here and these people have had it a lot harder than I have,'" Egan said.
Unlike many people she met in jail, Egan was not surrounded by people using drugs or alcohol. That helped her in her recovery. She and her family members have since reconciled.
Going to jail helped her realize "I had an issue, that I was an alcoholic. I started looking beneath the surface of what was going on inside."
The experience "was a blessing for me. That's how I look at it now," she said.
While she participated in court ordered activities and took part in a lot of self-reflection, Egan said she did not fully acknowledge her whole self until she shared about her alcoholism on Facebook.
"I wrote, 'My name is Shannon. I'm an alcoholic. I've been struggling with this for over 10 years. I've been in jail numerous times. I have a criminal background. I grew up in an LDS family and this is what I've been through …' I woke up and I had 400 likes and comments from all over the world. People had shared it and said 'thank you for sharing your story.'"
It was the first time for me I felt I had actually embraced who I was as a person, the whole part of me — not just the light part but the dark part as well. I was able to use that dark side to infuse hope in other people."
That's her ongoing goal in her role with Utah Support Advocates for Recovery Awareness, she says.
"Wherever you are in your process, we honor that. At USARA, we celebrate all pathways."