When Words are Weapons

There was a comment under an article I read that hit me hard:

“We shouldn’t have to help fund the drug problem! Addiction is not a disease, it is a choice! We should just allow natural selection to take it’s course.”

Normally, I brush off offensive statements about addiction and recovery. I even defend those people at times, telling my friends that they just don’t understand what it is like to struggle with addiction and that it’s possible they have never been touched by this disease. I almost envy them for a moment; that naïve ability that allows a person to overlook how heart wrenching it is to watch someone you love struggle with this disease or the ability to bypass every article and obituary that mentions another life lost to an overdose, nearly 200 per day in the United States alone.  But for some reason this one comment stuck with me for days…I just couldn’t let it go.

My first thoughts after reading that comment were wrong. Believe me, they usually are.

“What the fuck? Is this guy fucking serious?!?”

When I initially read it, I seriously considered replying to him. I was already cooking up some really good ideas in my head. I wanted to tell him that he was already funding the “drug problem” because a portion of his state tax dollars go towards funding our overpopulated jails and prison systems, which are comprised of 75% addicts, alcoholics and non-violent drug offenders. Add onto that unemployment, welfare, foster care, etc….carry the one…and BOOM! Wouldn’t it make sense to start funding a solution?  It’s not rocket science, and for a man who seemed to think he knew it all, I thought I should be the one to tell him he is not as smart as he thinks he is. But I didn’t, and here’s why…

Comments like his only add to the stigma of addiction, and just because we are addicts does not mean we are illiterate! Responding to him would only draw more attention to the opinion of a person lacking any actual first-hand experience with addiction and/or recovery.

Hundreds of people die every single day from addiction and there are millions of people who struggle with alcohol and drugs, so if addiction is truly a choice, then there are millions of immoral people walking among us every day. It’s a terrifying thought…and I refuse to believe it!

First, I understand that I cannot control the comments and behaviors of others, nor do I have the power to change their opinions. Like me, they have freedom of speech, and although I do not agree with them, they still have a right to it. So instead of focusing my energy on debating whether or not addiction is a disease, I spend my time focusing on the one solution that worked for me; advocating for addicts and recovery. I started bringing recovery into the jails and institutions in my community that are filled to the brim with addicts and alcoholics in desperate need of recovery.

What surprised me most, was that for a judicial system that prides itself on the possibility of “reforming” criminals so that they may be productive members of society upon their release, addiction recovery and peer support groups were sparse. In fact, one particular women’s prison only had one AA meeting per week, and didn’t even have any meetings that focused on other drugs, like , for example, Narcotics Anonymous.

We are in the midst of a National Emergency due to the overwhelming number of deaths associated with the Opioid Epidemic, and the incarcerated addicts themselves had not even been introduced to recovery from the drugs that destroyed their lives, took their babies and their husbands…their freedom. I was appalled.  

Let’s face it, it is much easier to consider addiction a choice than to try and understand it. Addiction hardly makes sense to medical professionals, let alone the ones who suffer from it, so I can understand why those who have never known or loved an addict would think of addiction as simply selfish behavior. It certainly appears that way from the outside and it would be easier to believe this theory than to try and find a way to treat something as confusing and infuriating as addictive behavior.

If a person has never been touched by addiction, they have the ability to ignore it even exists, but when has ignoring this disease ever stopped it from progressing? When has the war on drugs ever succeeded in keeping drugs off of the streets and out of the hands of our children? The truth is, it hasn’t, because it is much more complicated than simply choosing to “just say no!”

When I hear someone say, “I don’t understand why they don’t just stop using, it’s not that hard,” I cringe. It makes my stomach hurt. They have no idea, and I firmly believe that people who have no idea, should not make comments like this.

“Just say no” certainly sounds simple enough, but it has yet to prove itself as a viable solution. To me, “just say no” is the equivalent of telling a person with heart disease to “just stop having heart attacks,” or telling someone with anxiety to just “relax.” It’s absurd! Equally disturbing, for me anyway, is hearing someone use the words junkie or crackhead.

I am not an expert on the disease of addiction, and I don’t claim to be. I didn’t study addiction in college and you won’t find any credentials listed behind my name. I am, however, somewhat of an expert on my own addiction and what did and did not work for me. I feel like that gives me a smidgen of credibility on the topics of relapse prevention and addiction recovery.

I can tell you what didn’t work for me; trying to convince myself that I wasn’t sick, I was just bad; the judgments of others shaming me into silence. I was a very sick person and I needed help! It was the social stigma surrounding me that caused me to be too ashamed to ask for help.

I honestly believed if I admitted I was an addict I was confessing to a crime, and that I would end up in prison. Turns out, by NOT admitting I was an addict and seeking the help I so desperately needed, I ended up in the jails and institutions I was trying to avoid.

I didn’t choose addiction, and I don’t remember exactly when the ability to choose was taken away from me. I don’t remember which day it was that I woke up and decided to trade in my dignity and self-respect for a substance. And I didn’t choose recovery right away either. Nope! I was guided to it through a myriad of colossal mistakes, damaged relationships and chance encounters with some brilliant recovering addicts, and the very humbling sentencing from a judge who straight up questioned my commitment to recovery.

If you would have asked me back then if I was addicted, I would have told you that I was not the one with the problem, it was everyone else around me who had a problem with the way I lived my life. I didn’t know I was sick, and even when the idea started to reveal itself to me through my increasingly erratic and irrational behaviors, I refused to believe it.  Addiction does that to a person. It re-prioritizes everything in a persons brain until the addict is 100% convinced they need the substance to survive and once they find themselves in survival mode, they will go to any lengths to obtain their drug of choice. If you attempt to just take the substance away from them, they will feel as if you have taken away their ability to breath.

Cunning, baffling, powerful…

I’ve learned that if a stranger wants to view me as a bad person because I suffer from addiction, I cannot control that. All I can do is continue working to be the best possible version of myself, and continue to strive to be better than the person I was yesterday.

 I don’t believe “bad” people feel remorse or regret, but addicts do! 

I am a person in long-term recovery. What that means, is that I have not picked up a drink or drug since October, 16th of 2014. Some may call me a miracle, while others may say, “So, she finally started making better choices. So what?!?”

Me? I choose to believe I am a miracle.

I suffered in silence for years, but I will no longer allow the opinions of others determine my worth as a human being. My experiences, experiences I never thought I would ever be able to say out loud to another human being, are tiny examples of recovery in action. If society would open their hearts and their minds to the disease of addiction, millions of voices would emerge to inspire us all with stories of redemption, because just as there are millions in active addiction, there are also millions in long term recovery.

I know I cannot help every addict, but I believe I can help at least one.  

Today, I choose to be part of the solution, not the problem, and that is a choice I am proud of.

 

Vanessa Day

 

 

~This article was originally published on Addictionunscripted.com ~

21 thoughts on “When Words are Weapons

  1. I was just thinking of this…as the other day I heard again, that people who are overdosing should not be helped, to let them die.
    I was thinking of this when I heard, “It was his choice” to become an alcoholic or an addict.
    I know many people who drink like I did, but they did not become addicted.
    Of course some do.
    I did not choose to become an alcoholic.
    xo
    Wendy

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Well said!! You ARE a miracle and you shine a light into a very dark world. There will always be negative, ugly people in this world that will try and snuff out your light but you will SHINE through it just as you have proven in this post! Keep doing what you are doing because there is nothing more special and needed than people like yourself reaching out to help and encourage others along the journey of recovery.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It addiction was a choice, who would choose it?

    My brother has been an addict to various drugs since he was 12. He hates it, and he hates himself for it. He’s gotten clean many times and has spent far more time clean than in his spiral, but the disease always comes back. You can’t will away a chemical imbalance.

    Regarding that commentor: I think that a lot of people troll articles as a hobby. They get jollies on pissing people off. Don’t pay ’em mind, they’re just trying to be edgy

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I will say a prayer for your brother! I am sure it has to be difficult for you to see him struggle. And I agree, I think there are a lot of internet trolls out there, just looking to pick fights. It’s unfortunate.

      Thanks for your kind words! I appreciate you!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. My son is addicted to heroin and I now know more about this drug and the disease of addiction than I ever thought possible. I feel like I SHOULD have letters behind my name cause I know so much. But I understand and even share your feelings about people’s reactions towards it. I just listened to my son’s idiot father tell him “if he would just be stronger and have some will-power and if he would’ve just listened to his father, he wouldn’t even be in this position. That, to me… is ignorance. It angers me beyond belief that people spend more time judging and less time trying to understand. It used to be the same with depression and anxiety and other mental disorders and it was “taboo” to talk about. It seems to be more socially acceptable now and it’s almost trendy to suffer from some sort of mental anguish and have a therapist and be on Xanax. Those people don’t even truly understand what we suffer on a daily basis, but my point is that it’s becoming easier to talk about. I’m hoping the same thing will happen with addiction. My son comes from a good family, is upper middle class, white, very intelligent and always did well in school. This just shows that addiction doesn’t discriminate. At all. Thanks for writing this. It gets me all fired up. Something has to change…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing a piece of your story with me. I am sorry for the pain you feel watching your son struggle with addiction. I too came from a good home and had a happy childhood. The first time I used, I knew I was different. This subject gets me all fired up too! All we can do is be there for those who struggle and let them know that at least we can understand, and that they are not alone.

      Thanks for your message. I really appreciate you reading my story.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. There is so much ignorance, and it’s just really sad sometimes. I don’t ever want a struggling addict to determine their self-worth based on the comments of a person who knows nothing about the disease. I just try to keep encouraging and educating where possible! Praying for change!

      Like

  5. Oh V I just loved reading this. I am ashamed to say, ironically, I used to think this very thing about addiction! When I decided to quit drinking (same year as you!) I wanted to understand myself (and I had a lot of spare time ya know), I did an online course through Coursera (back when it was free) called ‘The Addicted Brain’ with Dr Michael Kuhar at Emory University. EVERYONE who doesn’t understand addiction should do that course. It changed everything for me. I finally understood myself (and addiction). Anyone who thinks addiction is a choice needs to educate themselves before making flippant comments. You know what I love about the internet though? The conversations that get had because of the dumb shit people say 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I used to think it was a choice too, until I lost my ability to choose! Most of that belief stemmed from my childhood and having it drilled into my head that all you had to do was “just say no.” Thank God I found the help I needed or I would still be convinced that I was a bad person, instead of a sick person. Congratulations on your sobriety! I’m looking forward to seeing where your journey takes you!

      Like

  6. I went with my husband to visit a lake known to have alligators because I had never seen one. There was a spot near the water where people picnic and i put a towel down and sat there. There were people all around me, a little bridge over the water where people were standing. I got out of my scooter, obviously people could see something was wrong with me, muscle disease, but I sat down and watched as an alligator came right up to me. A man next to me stated that natural selection would just have the alligator eat me, in his own words way worse than that, as if having a disease made me something that should be wiped from the earth.
    Your post reminded me of this man. His words haunted me for days. I still remember them which is odd because I don’t remember much from that day at all. But that man. Who had deemed my disease as a human not worthy of life.
    There are so many diseases. Addiction is one. It does not make a person less worthy of life, or matter less. Those who think it does…well I think those are the ones that natural selection should take care of hm?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This message brought tears to my eyes! Thank you so much for sharing this with me.

      I am sorry for the pain that man caused you on that day. 😢

      Battling a disease that society doesn’t seem interesting in understanding at times, has taught me more about the importance of being careful what I say. I never realized the power words held until I sobered up and actually started listening to them! I am a person who has always struggled with internalizing the comments of others, and for the longest time my self-worth was a direct result of their opinions, but never my own. When I started recovering out loud and owning my story, my life changed.

      You are an inspiration! It’s a shame that man was blinded by his own ignorance.

      Like

      1. Me too! I am so glad you said that! Struggling with internalizing what others say. The power of words. The power they can have over you if you let them. And that we can say them too! I have learned to walk away. I did it just yesterday actually. A very good friend has moved away and moving away she just stopped talking to everyone in the neighborhood for 6 month. I was out for a walk with my husband and she is back in town visiting and wanted to come up all lovey and ask how I and my daughter was. It was the craziest thing I have ever done to just walk away. Just literally walked away. Could have said a thousand words but why. To hurt her? To upset me? So I walked away.
        I am one to sit at night and think about things people said to me and ponder them and put them in their place in my head of truth or reality or just lies to hurt me. I have stopped doing that. I have stopped over analyzing. Because it affects my self worth just like you mentioned and they are just not worth that. Those who really love us don’t make us question anything.
        I LOVE that you own your story and how your life has changed.
        I went through my blog and read all 600 posts. Those that I found would not help me or anyone else, I deleted. I think I deleted 30. They had words in them I just thought were unnecessary. So your blog you wrote is just so so important and has so many valuable learning parts to it. I’m so glad you wrote it.
        Sorry I’m rambling here on your blog!
        Just so cool that your own battle, and finding others not understanding has taught YOU to be more understanding. I find the same thing. Exactly the same thing. I am so much more aware of someone circumstances and the judgmental part of myself is gone. It is just all real. It is exactly what it is with no judgment.
        The man that said that to me at the lake bothered me for days. Days it bothered me! That he thought I was dispensable. BUT it got me thinking about who and what society thinks is dispensable. And it just opened my mind more. So I guess I could thank him for his cruelty because it made ME more compassionate.
        Ok I will stop the long rambling now 🙂
        Thank YOU for your kind words

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Vanessa, you just keep fighting the fight.

    I don’t understand the whole “stigma” thing – I got recovery before “stigma” was a thing (1992), so I am not saddled with the need to feel like a victim in this whole recovery thing. I can say this, I was a self-centered egomaniac with an inferiority complex tornado in the lives of others. I didn’t care about anything more than when I was getting hammered again. I wasn’t a victim at all.

    That said, when it’s all said and done, you end up coming to the right conclusion. How we get there doesn’t matter as much as getting there.

    And your work in the jail/prison system is commendable.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your message! Wow! Recovering since 1992? You are an inspiration!
      And yes, I’ve learned to take responsibility for the chaos I created. I made some terrible decisions when I was in active addiction, but the disease concept does help me to understand why I was acting that way. I was self-centered and irresponsible, but not because there was something radically wrong with me. I simply struggled with an illness that I had no clue how to treat.
      I am so grateful to have found recovery when I did. I wish it would have been years earlier, but I’ve always had to learn my lessons the hard way! Maybe that will change now that I am more self-aware! I hope anyway! 😝

      Thanks for the message! I look forward to reading more of your work!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you for sharing this. My husband is a recovering heroin addict and it took me a long time to reach out and share the pain we experienced when he was actively using precisely because of this type of cruelty and stigma. Once I shared and got help I was able to care for myself and then help him in his journey from rock bottom to recovery. The hardest part was I always saw the beautiful person I loved, even when it was barely perceptible when he was spiraling and using, yet too many believe people suffering from addiction are “bad, immoral, weak, disposable “, and share such inhumane responses, and it hurts. My husband is one of the strongest people I know and it is obvious you are strong as well. Thank you for being a courageous voice of advocacy.
    M

    Like

  9. When I decided to own my addiction and declare myself publicly as an addict, I thought I was prepared for any opposite reaction or comment tainted with stigma. And… I was for the most part. However, I was not prepared for the multitude of people that would label and profile any addict over and over again. The profiling can be a challenging obstacle in every day life.
    As you have already written, I too am not here on this earth to change anyone’s thoughts, opinions or behaviors. I do know there will always be someone watching my actions and reactions to problems in life thrown my way. If I can influence another person in a positive manner, I would consider that to be a good day.
    Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

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