WHEN FAY ZENOFF became executive director of the Bay Area chapter of the National Council on Alcoholism in 2014, she decided that the organization eeded a new, more vibrant focus. Yes,
addiction was having a huge impact on the country. Zenoff,
an MBA with years of corporate experience, could see it from
her office window in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District. But
where could her organization have the most impact?
Zenoff enlisted the Harvard Business School’s
Community Partners to help her clarify her mission. She
and her staff knew that there were resources (though
not enough) for people who had reached crisis stage and
needed treatment. But what about for the 23 million
Americans currently living in recovery from addiction?
It was a subject that Zenoff, a Larkspur resident, knew
well. She’s been sober almost 10 years herself.
After much brainstorming, Zenoff and her staff
decided they could do the greatest good by working to
remove the stigma attached to living in recovery. And
in 2016, they unveiled their rebranded organization,
San Francisco’s Center for Open Recovery, with a motto
that neatly summed up its mission, “End Shame. Open
Recovery.” The center offers a variety of services including DUI classes, clinical assessments, alcohol and drug
counseling, recovery support groups and yoga. Like many
social movements, COR, which has an annual budget of
$1.2 million, is starting at the grassroots in the Bay Area
with plans to expand to Los Angeles and New York by
2019. In the meantime, it’s launching an ad campaign,
hosting its annual Road to Recovery event (which took
place in April at Crissy Field) and spreading the word
about how healthy life in recovery can be.
What do you mean by “Open Recovery”? We believe it’s a
paradigm shift to celebrate and be open about our recov-
ery. It’s an invitation for people who have recovered from
addiction to step out of the shadows of shame and share
what their lives look like now. Recovery looks different
from addiction, and it should be treated differently. We
have this incredible resource of people who have been
successful in achieving recovery. They could inspire
and educate others. But they remain silent and invisible
because of the fear of discrimination and backlash. It’s so
different from how we treat other diseases. When we talk
about breast cancer, we talk about “survivors,” right? We
talk about remission. We celebrate that someone has over-
come the disease.
Isn’t it taboo to identify yourself as being in recov-
I want to make it clear that I don’t speak on behalf of A. A.
ery? Isn’t anonymity an important tenet of groups like
Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous?
But anonymity in those peer-to-peer fellowships means
only that you don’t publicly identify yourself as a member
of that group. It’s about program membership, not the fact
that you’re in recovery. There are many different paths to
recovery. I’m talking about integrating recovery, and the
healthy lifestyle that goes with it, into all parts of your life.
I’m a better mother, worker and partner as a result of being
in recovery. For me not to bring that into my conversations
means I’m holding back who I am and what I have to offer.
It’s like being a vegan but only being able to talk about it in a
kitchen or a hospital, or with somebody else who is a vegan.
When you talk about stigma and discrimination, what
do you mean? One of the biggest ways we discriminate in
this country is by identifying addiction as a moral failing
or criminal matter rather than as a public health issue. As
a result, the disease — and recovery from it — doesn’t get
funding for research. There are about 20 million people
in the U.S. struggling with untreated substance use disorders. Last year, 33,000 people died from opiate use alone.
Thirty-three thousand. What portion of the population
isn’t touched by this? There aren’t enough beds, there’s not
enough access to treatment and insurance pays for only a
very short period of treatment. There’s almost nothing for
One of the biggest ways we discriminate in this
country is by identifying addiction as a moral failing or
criminal matter rather than as a public health issue.