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An Alcoholic in the Cabinet

An Alcoholic in the Cabinet

“Hi, I’m Marty Walsh. And I’m an alcoholic.”

When Marty Walsh introduced himself as an alcoholic at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, few folks knew the then Mayor of Boston was in recovery. Heck, at that time few folks outside of New England even knew the then mayor. With Walsh’s appointment to Labor Secretary however, that’s all changed. Oh, Labor Secretary Walsh is still working the 12 Steps alright, but he’s now doing so from an even more prestigious vantage point.

He’s also now doing so as one of our country’s most important office holders.

And heading the U.S. Department of Labor is indeed an incredibly important position. The White House Cabinet is headed by Vice President Kamala Harris, who leads a team of 15 Secretaries. Those Secretaries in turn oversee the Executive Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury, Veterans Affairs and Justice, which is led by the Attorney General.

The prestigious Cabinet also includes the White House Chief of Staff, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, the Director of National Intelligence, and the US Trade Representative, in addition to the heads of the Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Management and Budget, Council of Economic Advisers, Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Small Business Administration. As the Biden-Harris Administration’s Cabinet page so plainly makes clear, the Cabinet’s primary role “is to advise the President on any subject he or she may require relating to the duties of each member’s respective office.”

In other words, Cabinet Secretaries are incredibly crucial members of a president’s administration. They’ve got his ear, as well as his respect. They also have his absolute trust. For it is the secretaries who the president relies upon to help craft and then carry out his administration’s marching orders. Considering the U.S. Department of Labor fields 17,450 citizen soldiers, Walsh has a rather considerable responsibility.

That’s why Walsh’s appointment is so beneficial to the recovery community. Not only has an admitted alcoholic been tasked with overseeing a staff of over 17 thousand, but he was tasked by no less an authority than the President of the United States. If the president can place that much faith in someone in recovery, surely the rest of the world can do so too.

And I’m an Alcoholic

Speaking of no less an authority… this tale was spurred by a Washington Post story written by Ana Marie Cox, who’s undoubtedly one of the 21st century’s most accomplished and influential media operatives. She also happens to be 10 years sober. Consequently it’s little surprise that her heralding of Labor Secretary Walsh’s appointment would be as edifying as it was sobering. It’s even less of a suprise that her tribute would spur another sober story. It is to us anyway.

Cox comes through with all due credit from the very get:

“The Biden Cabinet has been boldly stacked with people whose presence is itself a statement of values,” she writes, “the first Native American secretary of the interior, the first Black secretary of defense, the first openly gay man confirmed as a secretary, the first Latino homeland security secretary. Amid these deservingly heralded pioneers, there’s a necessarily quieter debut. Marty Walsh, the former mayor of Boston just confirmed as labor secretary, will be the first Cabinet member in U.S. history to be openly in 12-step recovery from addiction.”

Hard to believe perhaps, but true. America now (finally) has its very first Serenity Prayer-wielding Labor Secretary. Oh, Walsh is surely not the first Cabinet member to quit drinking. But he is the first one to put down the bottle while the whole wild world was watching.

Cox did likewise. Founding editor of Wonkette, a deliriously lacerating politics blog, as well as a veteran of “a bewildering variety of outlets,” including Time, GQ, Air America and The Guardian, Cox currently hosts the Crooked Media podcast With Friends Like These, all the while keeping conversation with over a million Twitter Followers. Her main topics? “Recovery, politics and cute animals.” Apparently in that order.

So yeah, you could say that Cox has Cabinet-level visibility. In fact, with her propensity for front lines, her visibility quotient may be even higher. It’s definitely more vulnerable. Yet, like Walsh, she’s unabashed about recovery. And that includes referring to herself as “an alcoholic.”

The present tense introduction ‘and I’m an alcoholic’ is “an acknowledgment that our particular journey doesn’t end with having a problem ‘resolved.” writes Cox. She’s referencing the idea Walsh echoed in his 2016 Democratic Convention speech, but she’s addressing a common and prevalent issue, even within the AA community.

“I know a lot of people who don’t like that tradition,” writes Cox. “Some of them sit in the same meetings as I do, and they say something else: ‘I’m so-and-so, and I want to be sober,’ or ‘… and I’m chemically dependent’ or ‘… and I’m here because I don’t want to drink again,’ or maybe they just end with the name. There’s no rule. The tradition exists as a way of acknowledging that the 12 steps aren’t a recipe for sobriety but a road map for living. To say ‘I’m an alcoholic’ after more than 20 years sober — as Walsh does — is admission that, for you, the work of recovery is never done.”

Cox is right. That she wrote those words on the very week she celebrated “10 years free from booze and benzodiazepines” and on the very day she introduced herself as such at a Zoom meeting also makes her right on.

Applause and Gratitude

Healing Properties wholeheartedly applauds everyone involved in this sober story, from the Biden Administration for making such a vaunted appointment, to Ana Marie Cox for so keenly illustrating how much that appointment means to and for recovery. We’ve an especially roarful round of applause for Secretary Walsh himself — for the appointment, yes, but also for so fully proving that recovery is just one of a person’s many facets.

Cox again:

“Walsh’s elevation to the Cabinet is meaningful because he’s in recovery and because the Biden administration is allowing him to be lot of other things (a union leader, the son of immigrants, a two-term mayor) in addition to being an alcoholic.” [emphasis Cox]

And how.

We’d also like to wholeheartedly thank everyone involved for all that their involvement represents. Whether it’s the Biden Administration’s wide embracing, Secretary Walsh’s stellar service or Cox’s diligent heralding, we’ve much to be grateful for from them all. The three have also given us much to be inspired by, and that deserves an extra heaping helping of gratitude.

But just as one can never be too sober, one can never be too grateful either. And we’re committed to being never too much of both for as long as we can’t measure the immensity. We’ve got a steely suspicion the aforementioned three will be providing ever more good reason to do so, whether they mean to or not!

What about you? Are you among the sober and grateful? Do you want to be? It’s possible, you know. Entirely possible. It comes with bountiful rewards too. All you’ve got to do is pick up the phone and call.

Image: Keith J Finks / Shutterstock)

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