Recovering opioid addicts are a mystery to people who haven’t experienced it in their families. How does the downfall happen? Destructive conditioning over many years has gotten the nation used to losing 40,000 people a year to opioid overdoses. There are plenty of lawsuits and blame, and yet we haven’t found a way to stop it. Can’t family members do something?
What about opioid addiction treatment: why doesn’t it work for so many people? You see the images of people at the end stages of their disease everywhere in the media, and that feeds the myth of hopelessness and helplessness. Stigma about the disease is also a roadblock to recovery. But people do recover. It might help to think of opioid addiction like the Covid 19 virus. It’s catching and it’s a relentless killer, but there are survivors to tell the tale.
What you don’t know about recovering opioid addicts
Opioid addiction is a hot epidemic, but when you think of a pill popper or heroin user, you’re probably thinking of the strung-out panhandler at the intersection you pass on your way to work every morning. What about your neighbor’s daughter who just got accepted to grad school? The CEO of the company you work for? Or the instructor of your favorite gym class? These are the faces of people in recovery from opioid addiction.
What are the misconceptions and myths about recovering opioid addicts
There are so many misconceptions about what opioid addiction looks like. Most avenues of this topic are centralized around active addiction, but there is another powerful side to the story. I was an IV heroin user, but now I am a woman in opioid recovery. Here are 10 things I want you to know about us:
- Our pasts do not dictate the people we are clean and sober. I am not my addiction, plain and simple. When I am using, I will go to any length to get my drug; therefore, I have done many things that I am not proud of. On paper, before 2017, I look a bit like a monster. That is not the woman I am in my core. As a woman in recovery working a program of sobriety, I am true and good. I am nothing like my sickness.
- Recovery is our responsibility, not yours. I go to great lengths to assure I have a daily reprieve from the madness of my addiction. If you are not in my sober support network, don’t question if I see a therapist or go to meetings. I do not like to be micromanaged or feel like I am under a microscope.
- Addiction is a disease. Addiction is recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, or DSM 5, as a mental illness. I was born with a chemical imbalance in my brain which causes me the inability to cope like a normal person. Addiction manifests in me by setting off a phenomenon of craving whenever I use something that feels good.
- Invite us to social outings, even if there is drinking. There is nothing more alienating than not being invited to a work outing or friend’s party because they decided for me that I shouldn’t be around alcohol. I don’t like to be coddled. It’s up to me to evaluate whether attending an event would be of danger to me — please don’t make choices for me. When you do ask, let me know alcohol will be there. I appreciate it when people respect my sobriety.
- We are high-functioning, intelligent people who usually feel very deeply. Just because I appear to be high-functioning doesn’t mean I am cured of mental illness. I hit obstacles with my addiction daily, but by working a program of recovery, I am able to overcome them and stay sober — one day at a time. I work a full-time career, write for Reach Out Recovery, and run a kinkajou nonprofit called Kinkatopia. The possibilities are endless for recovering addicts; we can do incredible things.
- We are never cured. I will never be cured of opioid addiction. Trust me, I’ve tested that notion once before, and it sent me on a 5-month heroin bender. I know without a doubt that I need to work daily to become the best version of myself … every day. The longer I am sober, the longer I have that voice in the back of my head tricking me into thinking drugs are cool and that I don’t have a problem. It’s always there, but when fought appropriately, I grow to be a stronger human being.
- We fall short. Just because I work a program of action and solution doesn’t mean that I don’t screw up. I am human. It means that I have a set of guidelines and a support network that will help me recognize my shortcomings. In return, that gives me the ability to make amends and grow. I am not perfect, nor do I want to be.
- Being an alcoholic isn’t cool. I’ve had people glorify my addiction before. I am not proud of being a heroin addict, I am proud of the recovering woman I’ve become. I have also had people tell me they are alcoholics, who clearly don’t understand the gravity of what they are saying. Addiction isn’t cool. Recovery is cool, but self-destruction … no.
- We may be sober from substances, but our addictions can manifest in other ways. I overuse anything that makes me feel good: food, love, sex, exercise, body modification, animals, and most recently, gardening. If I enjoy something, I will probably become obsessive about it. I see this as both a blessing and a curse. These days, I try to use my powers for good and not evil.
- Addiction is not a choice. I did not ask to be a heroin addict, and I am not to blame. I take responsibility for my actions and the people I have hurt, but I did not want this disease.
For opioid addicts, the odds are not in our favor. I heard once that 1 out of 10 people recover from this malady. Most of us are faced with three options: jails, institutions, or death. On the flipside, a handful of us hit the lottery and were given the opportunity to live two lives in one. I see the world differently as a recovering opioid addict and for that, I am grateful.