Show off and Tell

When I read this letter to Abby, I worried that I was guilty of the same thing as this sister:

DEAR ABBY: I am a 35-year-old recovering addict currently 23 months clean and sober. I have worked hard to get to where I am today.

My problem concerns my sister. She constantly brings my addiction up to other people around me. I almost feel like she’s trying to make a spectacle of me. I know I’m an addict, and I am dealing with it. I work my steps, my program and my recovery every day. I have learned much about this terrible disease, and I am tired of feeling like a sideshow freak when my sister brings it up. Any suggestions on how to handle this? — RECOVERING BIG SIS

The writer is right of course–this is her personal, private matter to deal with, and it is not the sister’s place to make it public against her will. However, I think it’s likely that the sister is not trying to make the writer uncomfortable or embarrassed–rather, it may be that she is thrilled about her recovery and proud of her hard work to overcome addition.

I have friends who have overcome immense personal challenges with great success, and when people ask what they’re up to or how they’re doing, I’m usually delighted to report all the great things they’ve accomplished. I don’t make reference to ancient history, but usually the person asking the question was aware of it to begin with–which is why they’re asking for an update. Sometimes, I guess, celebrating triumph can imply that previously there was a lack of it.

It never even occurred to me that I might be embarrassing my friends by violating their privacy, and this letter really brought that to my attention and made me think hard about it. It’s something I will keep in mind in the future.

In this particular situation, an important difference seems to be that the sister is bringing it up to a third party with the writer present. In other words, in conversation the writer opts not to bring up her addiction when the opportunity presents itself, and then the sister jumps in and does it. That’s definitely terribly inappropriate, and Abby said as much:

DEAR BIG SIS: First, ask your sister why she feels compelled to bring up such a private matter with others. Then explain that when she talks about it, it makes you uncomfortable, and ask her to please stop. If she doesn’t comply, limit your time with her.

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