Being from a very small rural area in Ohio, it is commonplace for all that you do to be under the microscopic view of the general public that surrounds you. Many talk in their hushed circles. Many speak from the aspect of their own stories and cast judgment due to personal reference. Many also participate in these conversations for the simple task of keeping the gossip mill running, full throttle.
Keep in mind, I’m neither an active addict nor am I an addict in active recovery. I’m just a person. A girl who has grown into adulthood understanding that no matter what path I’ve chosen, and will choose, it is, has been, and always will be under constant scrutiny.
I’ve spent my life on the defense; defense of myself or of others. Not all of my paths have been the best ones I could’ve taken. However, the one aspect of myself that I have found to be consistent is that of standing my ground, and I do it well; even when shunned by the majority of those that surround me. I’m stubborn. But I’m passionately stubborn. It takes a wild soul to stand apart from the crowd. It takes an innately driven spirit to be comfortable enough with one’s self to be able to speak differently than what is considered to be the norm. It also takes many years of experience. I didn’t become this person overnight.
To those that know me, well or otherwise, it is not secret that I have suffered from depression my entire life. I chose to share this information a few years ago on social media. Some didn’t know or expect that I was affected by this; others knew and have watched me battle from the sidelines. But this battle has been a very hard one. Not always uphill, but extremely inclined when it was. I have spent many years learning to understand myself as well as aggressively despising those that didn’t understand a damn word that came out of my mouth.
As I drifted through my teenage years into my twenties, from high school and into college, I drank. I drank often. There was rarely an evening that I didn’t; there was hardly an occasion that didn’t call for it. I drank socially and I drank alone. I say I’m not an addict because I never needed it. My body didn’t physically depend on it. I liked who I became while drinking because I was brave. I also wrote, and I wrote often. My depression became the part I wanted because it was the part that brought me poetry. While in college, I may not have attended my classes all week and chose to remain on my couch during daylight, by nightfall alcohol fueled me. Slowly, I became sad more often. Not only did I carry the emptiness and uncertainty of myself and life, but it saddened me so much that I cried. I cried often and I cried a lot.
It was also during college that I discovered free writing. I wrote on the bad days, and I began re-reading what I wrote on the good days. Little did I know that this would be the start of my own evolution. In time, I started to see my weaknesses, I even laughed at times, at my words, my moods. Let alone having been called crazy by others when drinking, I began calling myself crazy when sober. It made me realize that I needed to change. The only question I had: Who was I?
I had no idea. I couldn’t answer it. I had no idea about the person I wanted to be because not only was I too busy worrying about how the world saw me but I hated the way the world made me feel. I began hating my depression. I hated this person living in sadness. I envied all of the faces that passed by me, wondering if they suffered, too. I started wondering if medication was something I should consider. Since I had been determined to overcome depression on my own, I saw relying on medicine to fix me as weakness. However, what I didn’t realize was drinking was a vice to mask it. Drinking or not, I was complacent inside, and I needed to find myself. In the same breath, the writer was the role I loved. But the writer existed because of my depression. It was as if the depression had given me a split personality, and as much as I hated her, I still couldn’t imagine my life without her; that girl that lived inside of me. The change wasn’t easy. But it happened. Today, I’m medicated. I’m functioning better than before, and for more days in a row. I still have hard days, and I always will. But my own struggle has helped me to understand more about myself than I ever would have known otherwise. I’ve seen the dark and I’m not afraid to live in the light now. Oh, and I’m still a writer. I’m now in my next to last semester in graduate school – that is, if I can survive it.
Through the years, I’ve suffered from a mentality of never being good enough. I’ve also learned that I have no idea whose standards of good enough I was trying to meet. Depression is a tricky beast. Yet, I had learned enough that I could eventually see my own triggers and work through the periods it wreaked havoc on me. Perhaps that’s why I started advocating for those suffering from addiction. Perhaps I have personal reasons close to my heart which propelled me. Either way, it’s a part of me now.
I have watched for decades as friends and acquaintances since childhood have battled with their addictions. Some have since quit in their own ways, some have been in and out of the legal system, and some are still using. The reasons for being an advocate I have concluded, are this: I live in an area that is heavily affected by the present epidemic. I live in an area where judgment is passed easier than the air that is breathed. As a human being, I am very aware that every day isn’t easy and every decision is not always right. As a lifetime member of my community, I also know that when you and others mess up, those mishaps are never forgotten. Ever. They hang over you like a bad aroma and noses turn up in your presence. If aura’s could be seen, the mistake itself would be the noticeable color. The conversations persist regardless of changes made in the positive, and the ‘I told you so’s’ fly freely, especially if another mistake happens thereafter.
I also know that along with my depression, came an intense compassion for mankind. In my most recent decision to become involved as an advocate, I’m not afraid to declare it on social media. I’m bold and brave and I say it all. I say so much that I’ve begun being shunned by family members, by friends, and by faces I don’t even know. Yet surprisingly, I don’t care. I don’t care because I have found my passion. In all reasons stated and all reasons not stated, I have found something that I strongly believe in. Living in a rural area, I have found the urge to stand up to all of the people that are clinging to a century old belief that addicts are worthless. Quite frankly, I’m tired of hearing it. I’ve known some great souls that sit on the judged side, and I realize that they can’t even be seen by others beyond their labels. They never have been seen. I can’t help but wonder why someone would choose to not socialize with another person just because of a label that another someone else gave them. The school district I reside in teaches my son and all of its students to stand up to bullying, every day; but the adults are doing it every day. It doesn’t seem right and it’s not. I know how it feels to be judged and I believe that’s all it takes for compassion. I have had a circle of friends canvasing all walks of life. I believe that every person I’ve encountered, whether I still associate with them daily, or not at all anymore, has some small part in helping me to become the person that I am.
I am appreciative of my bad days for showing me my good days. I have learned by watching and listening that remaining quiet during times that I should’ve spoken up have left me regretting my own silence. I have missed out on happiness because of other people’s opinions. I’ve missed out on being myself for the same reason. I’ve adjusted and became, time and again, and I was miserable. But today, I’ve finally evolved into the only person I can be, and I’m okay with that. There are people hindered from becoming because the rest of the world tells them they can’t. It’s sad, and it makes me sad to have watched it happen time and time again; I know how it feels being the person stuck in the same exact cycle, over and over. I know how destructive self-doubt can be, and I know how it feels to be trapped in the doubt of the world that surrounds you.
I have found solace in representing a population that remain stuck in their own evolution. I have a voice that can be heard and I’m sharing. While there are people that resent me, there are people quietly thanking me. While some call it crazy, I call it balance. While other people spend their time judging, I spend my time helping. And it feels awesome. Nothing good has come from the inability to promote growth, on any level. From the place inside of me that was once so overridden with depression I couldn’t function, to becoming someone positive, I hold true to my own belief that if I can change, anyone can change. The only question I have now is: Who’s going to stop me?
For those that understand the importance of having positive support in the recovery community, I am proud to be an advocate. However, there are many outside of this community that have no idea what that means. According to the Miriam Webster Dictionary (2015) the definition is: 1. one that pleads the cause of another; 2. one that defend a cause; 3. one that supports the interests of another. I suppose this gives a clear meaning to the word, but there a lot that is not included.
As an advocate, I have found that this position comes two-fold: good vs. bad. I am not afraid to say and share what many remain quiet about. Within the recovery community the concept that silence kills is very pronounced. Many addicts suffer greatly at the hand of their addiction and the physical dependency of their Substance Use Disorder. However, the pain doesn’t stop here. It is also suffered by friends and family members for the same reasons. Addicts will lie and steal in order to supply the need for their addiction. For many, this cycle will continue for some time. For months, years, and possibly even decades. The pain caused to all involved often tears families apart. Many addicts have failed to move into recovery because of their environments, their communities, and their surroundings. They have been tossed aside, shunned, and avoided due to their disease. Regardless of the population or location, opiates, drugs, and alcohol are everywhere. The ability to continue is equally prominent – and sadly, so is the stigma surrounding addicts. With all of the negativity and what seems to be an unforgiving and relentless cycle for an addict, why in the world would someone choose to be an advocate?
Compassion. It really is that simple. I have been blessed with many friends. I also know many that have suffered at the hand of addiction. I have known those that have lost a family member due to the grips of addiction. I see people that I have known for a lifetime still struggling in the cycle of addiction. I know that opportunities for me, the one who has not suffered from an addiction, are few for those that have. I have watched repeatedly as addicts continue to live among the people in my community that refer to them as worthless, untrustworthy, felons, and wastes. I have seen and heard comments made by people I know regarding the of shaming addicts for the destruction suffered from addiction. I have been told, whether directly or indirectly, to associate myself with better people, that these people are a lost cause. I have even been brought to a level of questioning my own judgment for friendships I have endured over the years. My community, as are others, is quite finely divided. Those that have suffered with addiction are also great people. They are people that feel lost and want to numb the pain that life seems to hand them repeatedly because the drug is what they know. The drug keeps them in that place that society has put them; they believe that they can’t change, they won’t change, and are ashamed of what they’ve become.
However, on the other side of this, I am also a Mom, as well as having an extended family covering all ages. Realizing that resources and information are limited, I would never want those I love to be at a loss in recovery. I am tired of watching those I have known battling their addictions unable to see their own worth. I refuse to accept that behind bars is where an addict belongs. I believe that help should be there, in over abundance. I am aware that an addiction can begin, or even continue, for many years before it causes destruction and wreaks havoc. I have also learned that rather than take on the problem, many will deny it exists, they will ignore that it needs dealt with, and they will continue to live in naivety. I have watched how this has done nothing except to maintain the problem for those suffering. It has kept them trapped. It has kept them outside of the boundaries imposed by the community; of who is accepted and who is not.
With this epidemic rising at alarming numbers, I am also aware that the day may come when someone, whom I love dearly, may also become victim to this disease. I have seen how friends and those close to me have already suffered. I have seen how the ignorance of the uneducated has spread among the masses. I have watched what happens to those left to their own devices, trying to survive without the resources, and having no outlet of support outside of their own immediate families. I would never wish this upon anyone, and I pray it never happens to my son, my nephews, my nieces, etc.
Quite frankly, I realized that the more I learned about addiction, the more I did not know about addiction. I have had many conversations with those that don’t view addiction as a disease but instead as a character flaw, a lack of good ethics, values, and morals. I have been told how people don’t change, how being an addict is something they will always be, and that this also means they will forever drain those around them of love and money, and that nothing good will ever come from supporting an addict. Of all of the statements, the only truth that stands at the forefront, is that an addict will always be an addict. However, I also know that this does not imply that an addict can never change. An addict does not have to remain in active addiction.
Since my advocacy began in the last 11 months, I have seen and met many addicts in active recovery. Each of them know what they are up against personally and externally. Living as a drain on society is the one thing that each of these recovered addicts are not doing. In fact, they are sharing their stories in the hopes that they will help another. Recovery is in fact the other side of addiction. Anyone that tells you otherwise, is a very uneducated individual that feels he has a right to declare another person’s worth based on past poor choices. In fact, I have found that those stuck in the shaming part of society are the ones that hold society back from progression. These are the people that live inside of their own self-fulfilling prophecies (believing that a person’s actions are based on their current opinion of them) that only maintain their own comfort zones. These are the same people that neither handle change well nor believe change is possible for an addict. What happens though is that most likely one of these people will soon know someone that is directly affected by an addiction. And then this person who refused to listen or learn, will reach out and want help, he will then want to know what addiction is and what can be done.
As an advocate, I have myself been shunned by members in my family and my community. But I have also been commended for my efforts by other members of both. I still hear and take part in conversations about one or more people suffering from addiction, I have had debates, both civil and uncivil regarding addiction. But, the change for me, has occurred because of the private messages and conversations I have had with people I know that are needing support, information, and advice for themselves or loved ones. I am aware of both the good and the bad opinions around me. I support those that need supporting.
Being an addiction advocate means that I am always learning, that I will offer support and information to those that need it. It means that when someone tries to take away hope from an addict that chooses recovery, I will be there. It means that in a world of shallowness, my mind is open to opportunity. It means that for every negative remark, I have facts to show otherwise. It means I am actively seeking change in the communities that need it the most by offering awareness and resources and being a voice for those faces that don’t have one. It means that even when people choose not to listen, I will still be sharing for the ones that are listening. It means that in a world that needs compassion and hope, I am helping to spread both. I find that those that stand against my advocacy have only fueled my motivation. I am proud of my advocacy. By sharing what I know I am able to help others. The negatives I receive, I turn into positives. Life happens to all of us, and it is up to each of us to make the most of our journey. None of us deserve to live a life stuck inside of the mistakes we have made.