Addiction & Recovery

Fighting The Stigma Of Addiction & Recovery

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Recently, I head people arguing whether a substance use disorder is a disease or not. I wanted to respond, but those arguing it was not a disease were so adamant I knew this was an argument I would not win. I find it hard to believe there are people who believe a substance user disorder is not a disease, but a ‘moral failing’, and that people choose that lifestyle because they are weak and can’t control themselves.

A substance use disorder IS a disease, NOT a moral failing. Substance Users are not weak. They are people like everyone else. They have families, jobs, and could be our neighbor or friend.

I believe the reason people feel a substance use disorder is not a disease is the STIGMA attached to people struggling with it. Stigma is a major barrier a substance user needs to overcome to receive help. They don’t want their employers to find out they are going into treatment for fear of losing their jobs. They are reluctant to share their use with their family due to the shame it might bring them.

We need to do more to end the stigma that surround people with a substance user disorder. We need to take down barriers so all who wish will seek recovery and lifesaving treatment. Their families need to find recovery as well. Substance Use IS a family disease, and all are impacted by the insanity that occurs with the substance user’s behaviors.

There are a few things we can do to end the stigma:

1. Reach out, let families know they are not alone. Others have been through this before. There is no shame admitting your family member is actively using or is in recovery. Families in this crisis feel isolated and ashamed. Parents feel they have failed, and have tremendous guilt and shame. This is a family disease, everyone is affected, and there are resources they can use as well.

2. Support treatment programs, either financially, with material donations, or your time and expertise.

3. Be an advocate for people fighting the disease. They need our support, and taking down barriers will increase their chance of successful recovery.

4. Help your community see that substance use is everywhere. Local papers are quick to publish the latest DUI, but overdoses or people entering treatment are not newsworthy. Substance use does not care about race, religion or socioeconomic status. Overdoses occur under the radar, and we need to educate the doubters so they see this is a serious public health issue.

Ending the stigma about substance use and recovery will not be easy. The more we talk about it, educate and spend time with community outreach, the more people will see that this is a health issue that affects everyone in the community. Lessening the stigma will allow individuals and families suffering from this disease to find the help they need, and see that true recovery is not just a possibility, but a reality.

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Life Happens, Cancer Happens, Life Goes On

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So, what happened?
Life happened.
Work happened.
Having a busy schedule and commitments happened.
Not writing a post since June is not what I wanted.  But somehow life just got in the way.

AND, getting prostate cancer and having a Radical Prostatectomy on Dec 9 happened.

It is absolutely amazing how the layers of life can get so complicated
and busy and then you receive a cancer diagnosis on top of it and all
of the shit that is hovering near the fan hits and gets all over
the place.

The good news is I am cancer free.
The bad news is recovery after surgery can suck the life out of you. My surgeon
was great and did an excellent job. What they don’t tell you before the
surgery is how tough the recovery is, especially after a major four hour
surgery.

The first few weeks were horrible as I had no energy and all I wanted
to do was sleep, not to mention going home with a catheter and an abdominal drain for a week. My continence is getting better but still not the greatest but I am told that this will improve with time. I need to be patient.

The most important thing is I AM CANCER FREE.

This whole experience has taught me alot about myself. I am not as strong
as I thought I was and I truly now know what it means to have to live one day
at a time. In the hospital I had to learn how to live sometimes one hour at
a time when I was waiting for my pain medication. My Al-Anon program
really helped me through the tougher times of this recovery and gave me the
strength and the guardrails to weather the days when my patience with my
body wore done and I started to lose it.

I still have bad days, but as I get stronger my resolve gets stronger and I am
able to weather and push through the tough moments. I am very lucky the cancer
was found in such an early stage and I am grateful for my long term prognosis.
I just need to be more patient with my recovery, take the bad days that come
along with the good, and live my life one day at a time.

More to come. Stay tuned….

Addiction Misconceptions and Philip Seymour Hoffman

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Overheard in the cafeteria this morning “……things would be better if he would just stop. I don’t understand why he just can’t stop using”. I wanted to butt in and give my two cents to another of the misinformed, but walked away and kept my mouth shut. It got me thinking about addiction, and my brain started to think about “famous people” dying from the disease and the public misconceptions that swirl around these deaths.

Philip Seymour Hoffman is the most recent in a long list of ‘famous people’ (actors) that died from a drug overdose where the toxicology report determined they were addicted to prescription drugs. I am not an addict, but like many people have some addictive behaviors. Many of us have some sort of an addictive ‘thing’ we do all the time (a certain food we eat, a TV show we can’t stop watching, cleaning our home, washing our car, etc.). My goal here is not to talk about addiction to drugs as I have no experience with that. I am frustrated how so many people think addiction is a personal and moral failure. “Just stop using” so many people say, without having a clue about what that really means.

Addiction is real and not easy to ‘beat’ or control. Addicts don’t beat the disease. All they can do is keep it at bay. When an addict is sober they are not recovered, they are in recovery. This is a disease that stays with them the rest of their lives, always lurking in the background, waiting for a weak moment to strike. The FIRST step of any 12 step program talks about the admission of being powerless over the disease.

Russell Brand (who I am starting to respect) recently said:

The mentality and behavior of drug addicts and alcoholics is wholly irrational until you understand that they are completely powerless over their addiction and unless they have structured help they have no hope.”

People have said that Hoffman must have been depressed, otherwise why would he use drugs (he was, after all, a ‘famous person’, and famous people don’t have problems). We don’t know what was going on inside his head so it is a waste of time to jump to conclusions. People need to understand that addicts don’t choose to become addicts, that this IS a disease and there needs to be greater empathy towards people struggling with it.

As a society we need to do a MUCH better job helping the addicts in our lives stay sober. There must be more empathy and less stigmatism. It really bothers me when I read or hear someone say that ‘all they need to do is stop drinking/drugging’ and they will be better. Tell that to an addict and they may respond that you should stop eating or sleeping. To an addict, using is just an important to them as eating and sleeping is to us, and we need to find better ways to help them.

Addicts are people to. They have jobs, families, friends, hopes and dreams. They deserve our love and support, and not people who turn their backs on them. As with any disease, they need our help, and don’t need to be locked up in a jail cell or isolated in a dark hotel room somewhere because they think nobody cares about them. When they reach their bottom they need to be able to shout out and someone will be there to reach out a hand to pull them out of the rabbit hole and get them the help they need.

And, one more time, back to Russell Brand:

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death is a reminder, though, that addiction is indiscriminate. That it is sad, irrational and hard to understand. What it also clearly demonstrates is that we are a culture that does not know how to treat its addicts. Would Hoffman have died if this disease were not so enmeshed in stigma? If we weren’t invited to believe that people who suffer from addiction deserve to suffer? Would he have OD’d if drugs were regulated, controlled and professionally administered? Most importantly, if we insisted as a society that what is required for people who suffer from this condition is an environment of support, tolerance and understanding.”