Survivor’s guilt is not something you expect when you decide to go into opioid recovery

Opioid recovery is challenging at best, but when your friends are dying, the trauma can become overwhelming. Many people I went to opioid addiction treatment with are dead from overdoses. Friends and coworkers are gone as a direct result of their opioid addictions. And most recently, a woman I can classify as family gave up her life to her addiction. I could sit here and come up with a hard number, but I can’t bring myself to do it. Why not me?

It’s impossible not to feel survivor’s guilt as you watch your people die. What is opioid addiction? In a nutshell, it is taking a painkiller that numbs your emotions and your body ,and takes over your will to do anything but get high. Opioid addiction not something anyone wants to happen. It is a disease that overcomes you. Substance Use Disorder is defined as a chronic, relapsing, progressive brain disease that can be managed with ongoing treatment and therapy, but not cured.

How many people are in recovery from addictions

In August 2018, an estimated 22 million Americans were in recovery from opioids and other addictions. I use the word “estimated” because states and the federal government do not track recovery statistics like they track overdose rates. I can’t find a number on people in recovery after that date … but I am here … I am one and because of that, I have survivor’s guilt.

A therapist suggested I would walk over bodies to survive

I’ve been sober for 3 years, but my journey took more than a decade. I attended my first outpatient treatment for opioid pills in 2009, and by 2011, I was in inpatient treatment for IV heroin. At some point along the way, I was in a group session where a therapist told us to look to our left, and then to our right. We were informed that most of us would be dead as our journeys continued. Having to “walk over the bodies” is a harsh cliché in the 12-step program I attend. I’ve also been told countless times that I would die — both in active addiction and sobriety — due to manifestations of my disease. 

You don’t think of those who have died at first

In the beginning, I sat in rooms and heard “so and so” overdosed but was never fazed; they were merely a name. But little by little, as I worked in treatment, attended meetings, and shared relationships with so many addicts … the death toll started to rise. A client here, a friend of a friend of a friend there. But the longer I fought to get sober, the more people died around me — and closer to me.

Survivor’s guilt crept in as the overdose numbers rose

These past three years have been different for me in many aspects. My sobriety is authentic. I fight daily for a reprieve from the malady I am blessed with and want nothing more than to stay away from opioids. However, a consistent question arises as I see others around me fall: why not me? 

On March 10, 2017, a cop knocked on my window while there was a needle in my arm. I was arrested and given another opportunity to do this damn thing. For 5 months prior to that exact moment, I had been using heroin laced with Fentanyl more often than not, but I am still here. If it wasn’t for that divine intervention (yes, I consider my arrest an act of my High Power), I know I would be dead. Why not me? 

Guilt from surviving opioid addiction is the same as guilt felt by people who survive tragedies and disasters

I have asked other addicts, and we all generally have the same thoughts. By surviving the natural disasters that parallel opioid addiction, we carry the same emotional burdens as someone who’s survived a form of trauma while other’s alongside them have not. As addicts, we share something with one another that cannot be spoken. It is automatically respected and understood. Ultimately, we travel the same paths, but so few of us recover — and those who do, have to walk over the bodies. 

Each day, 130 people die from opioid-related overdoses in America. It doesn’t matter how hard the professionals and the 12-step programs have tried to prepare me for the inevitable, I feel it. I certainly process the deaths differently, but the same thought always comes to mind. 

Why not me? Bottom line is that it is could be me. Opioid addiction and dependence are very hard to overcome. Opioids and other addictions hijack and alter the brain in a variety of ways. While recovery is possible, it takes time for the brain to heal. I’ve seen how easy it is to fall back into treacherous patterns. Even with recovery and a daily reprieve, we are all just a swift decision away from being in the shoes of those who’ve lost the fight. And so, we battle harder. I am humbled to be a recovering opioid addict and will forever fight to be in the smaller percentage. After all, I am still here. 


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Alexandra Ashe
Alexandra is a sober woman who loves animals, writing, nature, horror movies, fitness, and self-improvement. After suffering a relapse in late 2016, she revamped her lifestyle and has been sober since March 2017. She is also the CEO and founder of Kinkatopia, which is the only kinkajou-specific organization in the world. Alexandra literally lives and breathes kinkajous — in addition to working a full-time career, taking care of her health, and giving back to the world in other ways. She is a woman on a mission ... the Mother of Kinkajous. Follow Alexandra’s articles to relish her experiences staying sober and running a kinkajou sanctuary. There is never a dull moment, that’s a promise. Kinkatopia.org

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