I posted recently about a presentation I was scheduled to do at the college where I work about Alcohol Awareness Month. I met with some resistance from my supervisor about including the fact that I am in recovery from alcoholism myself, in the presentation. You can read the whole story here and here. Well, last Wednesday, I gave the presentation, and I wanted to give you all an update to the saga.
First of all, my talk hit the three main objectives of the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence’s Alcohol Awareness Month: raising awareness, decreasing stigma, and presenting information about treatment. I have to admit, wrong or right, that while my presentation included all three, it mostly focused on decreasing stigma about alcoholism. The reason that I did that, of course, was because of how I was treated a couple of weeks ago by my supervisor when she told me that I should keep my recovery hidden. If I’m honest, part of me wanted to debate the point with my supervisor, because I really thought that she was wrong in what she said to me, and she clearly needed to be schooled in what to think. Yep, I’m still an alcoholic, with alcoholic thinking. But there was also a part of me that was really hoping that as I talked about the negative stereotypes of alcoholics, asking the students to join me in listing them, that my supervisor would come to her own realization that maybe her perception of alcoholics (especially those in recovery) wasn’t quite accurate. I stressed the fact that alcoholism does not discriminate, and that most of its victims look just like you and me. I stated the fact that I am in recovery from alcoholism at the beginning of my talk, and that was the reason that I was presenting on the topic…because it’s something that I know intimately and that I am passionate about.
On assembly day, we do two presentations, one for the morning students and one for the night students. My first presentation went off without a hitch. It was great! I was nervous, as speaking in front of large groups is, most definitely, not my thing. I spent some time praying before I had to “go on,” asking God to give me the confidence to make it through the presentation without sounding as nervous as I felt, and to let those that needed to hear it have open ears. Fortunately, my supervisor had told me the day before that she wouldn’t be there for the morning assembly. That gave me some peace, because I knew that if I said something she didn’t like in the morning, she could easily pull me from the second assembly. My campus director spoke first and then introduced me. As I walked up in front of everyone, I felt calm, confident, and knowledgeable. The students paid attention, answered questions when I asked them, seemed thoughtful, and laughed when I hoped they would. When I was finished and turned it back over to my campus director, he said some really nice things about both me and the information that I shared. IT WAS AWESOME! I had some amazing responses after the assembly, including one student that immediately followed me into my office to talk. I had some other discussions later with both staff and students; that made my anxiety all worth it.
The second presentation went fairly well, but not as great as the first. Night students are a different breed (I knew this going in), in that they are not as attentive, most of them work during the day so they are tired and distracted, and there aren’t as many that know me personally. I did still get some participation though, and I was happy for that. I was much more anxious for the second talk for two reasons: my supervisor would be there, and my campus director, my supporter, would not. As I started the part of my talk that covered the stigma attached to alcoholism, I did my very best to not make eye contact with my supervisor, even though she was right in the front row and I felt like I was talking directly to her. I made it through the presentation though, and again I had some really good feedback, and some conversations that proved that there was a need for some to hear what I had to say.
At the end of the day Wednesday, I was glad that it was over and I was pleased with myself that I stuck to my guns and talked about my own recovery. I would’ve called that a success if the positive responses had ended there.
But then Thursday morning came….
I was working in my office when I saw my boss coming toward my door. Here it comes, I thought. She’s going to be angry with me for ignoring her advice (warning? directive? whatever you want to call it) about not revealing my own recovery. She had a piece of paper in her hand and an envelope. I immediately thought that it was going to be some kind of disciplinary write-up and that I was in trouble. She came in and closed the door…bad sign. I was starting to get my arguments in order mentally, my adrenaline was beginning to flow, and then she said it: “Jami, I want to thank you for your presentation yesterday. It was very informative, I learned some things, and you presented it well. You could easily be an instructor here, you did so well.” Wait…what? I was so surprised to hear what she was saying that it took me too long to mumble a thank you. She stood up, came around to my side of the desk and hugged me and gave me a Starbucks gift card to thank me. Holy cow, I was dumbfounded! This is not the scenario that had been playing in my head for the past week. I was ready with my defense, but where was the offense I had expected? It took me a minute to regroup, and to thank her properly. And then we went on to talk shop about the upcoming start of classes.
My boss’ reaction to the presentation was a real shocker. A very pleasant surprise. I think that it was as close to a retraction of her previous statements as I am going to get, and I am over the moon about it! I don’t know what her motivation for thanking me was; maybe she was told by our campus director to do it, or maybe she was just doing what she thought was the right thing to do. But maybe, and this is what I am choosing to believe, she listened to what I had to say, kept an open mind and had a change of heart. I really hope that’s the case.