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.
~This article was originally published on Addictionunscripted.com ~