We live in a society where most of the publicized news feels far from our own doorstep, especially the negative headlines. Saying things like, “Not in my family,” or, “That would never happen to me” is a common reaction. In light of the overwhelming appearance of addiction, especially in the wake of the heroin epidemic, many families have had to concede to the reality that yes; addiction does not discriminate. And millions of people are waking up to the reality that addiction can happen to anyone, as they experience it with their own family members and loved ones.
And like other social issues that have taken a long time to
become commonly accepted, such as gay marriage, addiction is another stigma that has taken the public a long time to accept as commonplace, finally publicizing that it is a disease that affects people from any demographic, any social background, at any age. But just because our community has taken a public stance to de-stigmatize addiction, doesn’t mean that discrimination doesn’t still exist.
There will always be people who hold on to their beliefs that stigmatize minorities; even when the evidence and social injustice is profound. As a recovering alcoholic, I wanted to write this
piece in light of a recent experience I had, that for the first time in my life, made me feel exactly the emotions that many groups of marginalized individuals feel when confronted by those who do not accept their reality.
To be clear, we all naturally hold onto misconceptions, generalizations and discriminate against certain groups, whether it is their ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or lifestyle. We are all divinely different, and also uniquely individual in our thoughts and feelings. But addiction is a dichotomy, and deserves to be explained.
Until now, addiction was realistically the only hardship I had to deal with in my life. Otherwise, I was intelligent, successful, strong, confident, and by all standards, blessed. I do not “look like an addict,” if there even is such a thing any longer. But when addiction took hold of my life, it changed everything. And only in recovery from alcohol have I regained my authentic self. It is the single best part of my life- my sobriety. So when I have had the pleasure to explain my journey with others, many of which are extremely curious about it to begin with, I have been met with overwhelming positivity, excitement and encouragement. I believe that my experience has changed the minds of many people who previously held prejudices against addiction.
On a walk with my dog, I happened upon a couple. They stopped
to chat. We found ourselves discussing many topics, like the neighborhood, weather, politics, and then suddenly- addicts. Not addiction per say, but addicts themselves. They didn’t know that I was in recovery, but assumed I was “just like them”. So when they proceeded to say discriminating things about addicts, noting a transitional living home down the block from us, I was taken aback. Not only were the terms they used derogatory, but they stated, “They’ve never been a problem, but you don’t want them in your neighborhood.”
Now I can understand that perspective since some people who suffer from active addiction are susceptible to violence, criminal activity and mischief. But recovering addicts are not. In fact, some of the most successful, generous, charitable and gregarious people I’ve ever met are recovering alcoholics and addicts. They live a life devoid of emotional barriers and physical interruptions. They are authentic, open, giving, accepting and transparent. To me, being a recovering alcoholic, who works a 12-step program, has made me the best possible version of myself. Not only do I respect myself today, but I am an accountable employee to my employers, a trustworthy friend, a responsible daughter, and a law-abiding citizen.
Surely the couple simply must not have known any real recovering addicts in their lives. But the couple went further to discuss with me their experience with people who they’ve known who went through 12-step programs. They wanted me to know that self-help groups, specifically 12-step programs, simply don’t work. Now, at this point, I was not willing to explain to them that as a recovering alcoholic myself with several years of sobriety, that they were wrong. Instead, I silently prayed for them. They don’t know the ignorance of their own beliefs. But how could I even judge. This was their experience.
For the first time, I felt the feelings of being a stigmatized minority. I am forever grateful for this experience. This one conversation helped me see, even if just in a small way, how our erroneous or prejudiced beliefs of others can negatively affect those people. I myself have been guilty of wrongful convictions of other’s lifestyles. These folks spoke to me on a topic and in a tone assuming I was not an addict. Well, I’m glad they made that mistake because I want to take the opportunity through this article to let them and others know that addicts are not worthless, that we add value to our communities and that most importantly, 12-step recovery networks really do work.
What stuck with me, and what has encouraged me to publish
this article, is that I was horrified to think that there were perhaps millions of people out there who are also convinced that 12-step programs are useless and that people who suffer with addiction are helpless. Working the steps is arduous and takes a level of commitment that is difficult to muster. But everyone has the potential to recover from addiction if they find the authentic desire to work the program and continue living by the principles of it. It takes strength, conviction, faith, hard work and drive. I believe that the people who have not succeeded perhaps weren’t strong enough, or weren’t ready. And that’s ok too. We are all on our own journey.
Help support the millions of people who battle with addiction to know that they are welcome, that they are worthwhile and that they have the ability to recover. Share this article on your social media pages to raise awareness about the reality of addiction and that lasting, long-term recovery is possible through 12-step fellowship programs.
Written by a staff member from Grassroots Treatment Center, a residential and transitional community that has roots right here in
the same neighborhood.