As far as I’m concerned, Marty Mann – one of the first women to reach long-term recovery in Alcoholics Anonymous – is the reason April is Alcohol Awareness Month.
In May of 1991, when I entered recovery, I knew nothing of Marty Mann. Five years later, in 1996, when I went to work for the Kansas City affiliate of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), I didn’t realize that I owed my job to her. Mann founded the National Committee for Education on Alcoholism, which later became NCADD, in 1944.
Writer, historian and recovery advocate William L. White says Mann’s vision of educating the country about alcoholism as a disease was the “kinetic moment in the rise of what’s been called ‘the modern alcoholism movement.’”
When she was asked how she was inspired to lend her voice and passion to de-stigmatizing alcoholism, Mann described walking along Park Avenue in New York City, looking up at all the apartment building windows. She said she knew that others just like her were hiding behind those windows, maybe even thinking they were insane, as she had until 1939.
How well I understand Mann’s thoughts. I, too, hid from alcoholism, ashamed, afraid and alone on the inside while I danced with the devil on the outside.
It wasn’t until I started working with Greg Williams and his first documentary, The Anonymous People, that I began to appreciate Mann’s role and immense significance in the history of addiction prevention and the recovery movement.
Here was a professional woman who had worked in advertising and publishing, as I did before, and in early recovery. Here, also, was a woman who out-drank most men she knew, as I did.
Mann traveled the country, speaking about what alcohol does to the body. She shared her own experiences, saying that she wanted to offer hope for others who still suffered. She was “electric” on a platform and had a dynamic, charismatic voice.
The NCADD archives contains a Reader’s Digest story from January, 1963 that tells the story of a man waking in a Jacksonville hotel after a week-long drinking binge. He heard Mann on a radio station broadcasting from New Orleans.
According to the story, the man heard, “No alcoholic wants to be the way he is. Alcoholics are not bums. They are sick, and they can recover from this disease just as from others.”
After hearing the words, the man called the New Orleans radio station and asked to speak with the woman who had just talked about alcoholism.
Mann not only spoke with the man, she connected him with someone in Jacksonville.
When I think about the growth of recovery—one person talking with another, one person connecting with another—gratitude fills my heart, especially during Alcohol Awareness Month. Today, I realize the trajectory of my life, and so many millions of others, was forever altered thanks to a courageous pioneer named Marty, a woman ahead of her time.
Some of you are old enough to remember a television game show called To Tell the Truth hosted at one-time by Gary Moore in the 1970’s (also a man who was publicly in long-term recovery from alcoholism). The game consisted of a panel of celebrities had to pick who they thought was telling the truth from a group of three contestants.
During one show, three contestants – two men and one woman – introduced themselves as Marty Mann, each of whom described themselves as a recovered alcoholic who had founded the National Council on Alcoholism.
“When ‘the real Marty Mann’ stood, the panel of celebrities and the audience were astounded to learn that the only woman among the three, this handsome, poised, articulate, dignified woman, was Marty Mann, a former drunk.” – Nancy Olson
Of course the celebrities and the entire audience were speechless when the real Marty Mann turned out to be a woman. I think the astonishing part of the story is not that Marty was a woman, but that she was a brave person in recovery telling her story in whatever way she could. Marty blazed a brand new trail that today many are walking in order to change public perception and improve how each one of us is facing addiction.
During this 31st Alcohol Awareness Month, I hope and pray that we honor Marty Mann’s legacy by telling our own stories in whatever way we can. Together, we stand on the shoulders of giants.