The recent overdose of actor Michael K. Williams has adoring fans shaken to the core

I found out about the actor’s death on a call with a sober friend who was bereft. He was a huge fan and said he hadn’t been this upset since Philip Seymour Hoffman, another devastating actor overdose. He wasn’t alone. All week I’ve heard echoes from the sober community of what a horrible blow this one was. I think it hurts even more when the recovery community loses someone who has been vocal about his struggles and recovery and used so much of his influence to help educate and create social change. He was known especially for his desire to change the way the criminal justice system deals with drug offenders. This is a cause I have fought for, too, so I know how important that work is, to him and to me. In his own words:

“My goal is to end mass incarceration and to have more dialogue about how can we stop the government filling up jails with low-level, non-violent drug offenders and people with mental illnesses or addictions. Those are health issues, not criminal.”

Michael K. Williams

So, what the hell do we do when we lose one of these recovery warriors??

We mourn. We let our hearts hurt for as long as necessary and then we try to change the narrative. Let’s use this is as an example of what’s possible when things go right. You can get sober from heroin addiction and go on to have a fabulous career, be a terrific example, be a model for change, and be an adored actor.

We must remember Michael K. Williams as a success not just another tragic overdose

Let’s be very clear. What Michael K. Williams accomplished in his lifetime was nothing short of spectacular. His rise from the streets to back-up dancer to award-winning actor to activist is the stuff legends are made of. Yes, he ultimately lost his battle, but not everyone survives cancer, heart disease, or any of the other big killers. What matters is that he tried his best, and his best was pretty darn good for a long time. Personally, I totally understand how relapse happens so I don’t think it’s this huge failure. Relapse happens, but these days it can be fatal.

I think Michael K. Williams was very unlucky and scored some tainted smack. That’s the risk you take today if you relapse.

The takeaway for me is if I relapse I best be prepared to die

The drug landscape has changed. I’ve talked about this for over a decade. When I was at my worst 22 years ago, there was no Oxy available. Meth was not something I came across more than a couple of times in my drug career, and Fentanyl wasn’t around at all. It’s weird to say it was safer, but maybe it was. I am 100% sure if I had been active in addiction through the Covid pandemic, I’d have scored some bad drugs too.

To be brutally honest, one of the things that keeps me from relapse is the knowledge that street drugs or Rx drugs you get off the street are no longer what we think they are. They are laced with all kinds of other drugs and the cartels are putting Fentanyl in everything. Coke and fentanyl? What a nightmare to even think about. It’s simply not safe to take drugs. In this past year, we’ve lost so many it’s almost impossible to wrap your mind around. But, we have to think about it and write about it and talk about it to make it crystal clear that recovery is an ongoing gig. You don’t get to stop working at it.

Your recovery is about your legacy

What do you want your legacy to be? Sometimes I wonder if I did relapse, and the worst happened, how would I be remembered? For the ten years of advocacy work? For the 20 years I worked on my recovery? Or, would I just be another overdose number? A sad statistic remembered for my worst day, not my best?

When I feel bad and think about finding relief in an old way, I always consider the fact that I could die. What would that do to the people who care about me? What would that do to my recovery company and all the content I created? Would it be tainted? Probably, and I hate that. So, it’s a good reason to stay on the path and remind people when a celebrity overdose happens that this is unfortunate but let’s not make it his legacy. Michael K. Williams deserved better than that. We all do.

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Lindsey Glass

Lindsey Glass is the co-founder of Reach Out Recovery. Her 2016 ASAM Media Award winning documentary, The Secret World Of Recovery, has helped to lift the stigma from addiction and recovery and is used in recovery programs nationwide to show what life is like on the other side of addiction. Lindsey's teen prevention documentary, The Silent Majority, was distributed to PBS stations nationwide by American Public Television in 2014-15. Lindsey has written dozens of popular articles on recovery. She is a recovery advocate and frequent keynote speaker. Lindsey is the author of 100 Tips for Growing Up, My 20 Years of Recovery, 2019. Before focusing on recovery, Lindsey was a TV and screenwriter. She has worked in publishing, web development, and marketing.

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