Upcoming author and addiction recovery advocate, Shannon Egan, recently published her first memoir, No Tourists Allowed: Seeking Inner Peace and Sobriety in War-Torn Sudan.
The book highlights Egan’s struggles growing up in a Mormon community in Utah, and her life in Sudan where she worked as a freelance journalist for the United Nations, reporting on events like the Darfur genocide.
The opportunity to travel to Africa was the native Salt Laker’s childhood dream. Sudan was also a place where, under Sharia law, alcohol was prohibited. For a woman already struggling with alcohol issues, she hoped it would help her stay sober.
“Sudan was hard to overcome. It was in the middle of a genocide and civil war, and after writing about humanitarian crises for two years, I returned home traumatized. This led to an epic downward spiral into addiction.”
Upon returning stateside, Egan wrote on humanitarian crises for the U.N. Population Fund in New York City while her own addiction issues grew to include prescription drugs. Eventually, her addictions cost her both her job and a book contract. In 2011, she ended up in jail with a Felony DUI.
Addiction and Trauma
Egan says she left for Africa not only to sober up, but to escape Utah’s unique religious culture where oppression and persecution against non-Mormons is still very prevalent. She grew up in a Mormon household and says as a young person her desire to seek God differently than the predominant religion caused great heartache. After years of being bullied and ostracized ‘in the name of God’ she turned to drugs and alcohol in order to cope.
Following her 2nd DUI, Egan was court-ordered to attend AA groups, and since the AA program is based on God or a Higher Power, she relapsed after each meeting. While today she has no problem with these concepts, back then–due to her strict religious upbringing– she associated both with humiliation, rejection, and manipulation. Egan tried to explain to the judge that she needed individualized counseling so she could deal with these issues in private, but her request was ignored.
“Throughout most of my life, I had to deal with one adult authority figure after another telling me, rather forcibly, what my relationship with God was supposed to look like, and being denied the right to self-direct as a struggling alcoholic seeking recovery within the criminal justice system further exacerbated the original wound.”
Educating about Multiple Pathways
Now, nearly five years in recovery and working as a Recovery Advocate for the National Recovery Movement, and as the Development Director for USARA, Utah’s recovery community organization, Egan says she is passionate about educating both the government and the recovering community that there are multiple pathways to recovery, such as SMART Recovery, LifeRing Secular Recovery, trauma counseling, nutrition, and many more.
Instead of the traditional twelve-step or treatment approach, Egan’s personal recovery journey has included reading, meditation, journaling, and fitness. For this, Egan has received a great deal of judgment from the recovery community regarding which path is the “right” path — just as she did growing up within her Mormon-dominated community.
“Life is tough enough and figuring out how to quit drugs and alcohol can be an excruciating process for individuals who are already demoralized and heartbroken. Why project our method of recovery onto someone without considering their personal traumas and goals?” Egan writes in No Tourists Allowed.
Self-Direction is Critical to Healing and Personal Success
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which is charged with improving the quality and availability of prevention, treatment, and rehabilitative services, recognizes that every individual’s life is unique right down to his or her trauma experiences, and that these experiences affect and determine an individual’s pathway to recovery, and that at the core of each person’s recovery path is first and foremost: the right to self-direct it.
SAMSHA even defines recovery as a ‘process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential.’
Egan says, “By sharing my story, I hope to facilitate a positive conversation around addiction, recovery, and religion throughout the world. It’s time for us, as community members, to accept that there are a variety of well-proven methods to establish health and well-being. Perhaps there are even multiple ways to connect with God or spirituality or a higher awareness or whatever one prefers to call it or not call it. The point is: if it is not our life, it is not up to us, and therefore it is not our place to judge.”
In No Tourists Allowed, Shannon Egan weaves through tough issues of addiction, amdition, spirituality, altruism, culture shock, and trauma with grace and honesty. Individuals who have never struggled with addiction have found this story completely relatable. It is a story of coming into oneself in a big, complex world.
Readers have deemed No Tourists Allowed the “ultimate solo travel adventure,” and compared it to Cheryl Strayed’s best-selling addiction memoir, Wild. Available in paperback and eBook: www.shannonegan.com.
Watch Shannon on Good Morning Utah: Learn More About the National Recovery Movement and No Tourists Allowed