Recovering addicts are a mystery to people who haven’t experienced it within their family unit. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 19.7 million people (ages 12 and older) suffered from substance addiction in 2017. That’s one family per each of those people … can you fathom that number? It’s a lot.
Why doesn’t addiction treatment 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 addicts and their families 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. Some people don’t get the right treatment, or don’t stick with their treatment long enough to heal their brains. It takes some two years of recovery work to heal the brain, and that seems like a long time. But think of it like cancer; it will come back if you don’t keep up your treatment.
Recovering addicts can be anyone
Opioid addiction is a pervasive 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 cousin who just got accepted to grad school? You aunt who is the CEO of a Fortune 500 company? Or your mother who is always available to be you shoulder to cry on. These are the faces of people in recovery from opioid addiction, and you can find them within your own family.
What are the misconceptions and myths about recovering addicts within a family
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:
10 things recovering addicts want you to know
- 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 (especially to my family) 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. It is important to remember that addiction is also a family disease.
- Invite us to social outings, even if there is drinking. There is nothing more alienating than not being invited to a work outing or family 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 to friends and family members, 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 … and I know my family is too.