Empowering Families in Recovery Blog
As I prepare to attend my 40 year high school reunion I can still recall my family's concern with my "partying".I started drinking heavily in high school while, like so many others with substance use disorder, dealing with trauma.
It kind of became comfortable to not be sober because I didn't have to deal with any of those emotions, I didn't have to worry about what people thought about me. Or what I thought they thought about me.
Today, 40 years later, I still have peaks and valleys, though not even close to the roller coaster ride of my "youth".
"The whole process from then until now, it's just been up, down, sideways, around this turn, around this turn. That's life. Healing from addiction is just not a straightforward path like a lot of people think and hope it might be.
The Power of Perception: Changing the Narrative
Let's be clear, problematic and chaotic drug use, substance use disorder or whatever you want to call it is absolutely a treatable condition. But one of the biggest barriers that often stands in the way is how we as a society think about recovery.
Some of the stigma is starting to disappear from mental and emotional health challenges, but there's still a lot of stigma connected with substance use disorder, and a lot of people still misunderstand it and think it's a moral issue.
Unraveling the Underlying Issue
For two decades, a friend of mine Mitchell (not his real name) used meth, among other substances, before finding himself in a federal prison. Now, he's in recovery and runs a program.He said the way we think about recovery can be the difference between someone successfully getting help or giving up.
"I think we need to put away some of our old thinking, the old school moral beliefs, the fact that it's their fault," he said.
It's like treating a broken arm with pain killers without fixing the broken bone, he said. "We didn't actually treat the underlying issue," Mitchell said. "All we did was treat the symptom."
Mitchell said the general public doesn't always appreciate that substance use is usually just a symptom of much deeper trauma. It's not an excuse to get out of criminal behavior but truthfully it should not be a crime to be in possession of and consume drugs that are not state sanctioned while allowing the very dangerous drug alcohol to have a positive social cache.
Shattering the Stigma: A Call for Empathy
Stigmas are slowly diminishing. Experts and advocates are working hard to create a culture of understanding, especially when it comes to the way society talks about substance use disorder.
Words create powerful imagery, so 'addict,' 'junkie,' gotta go. People who use drugs, people with substance use disorders, two separate populations. Not everyone who uses drugs has a clinical disorder.
But old thoughts about drug use being a sign of a moral failing make it a challenge. Addiction is always going to be around, because trauma is always going to be around. The more we continue to treat it as this anomaly of people's bad choices, the more it stigmatizes individuals and families.
Thankfully some medical schools are getting training today about treating people with substance use disorder that doctors from past generation never got. We get to make stigma a critical part of the education. Words matter.
If I change the way I handle my problems or I deal with some kind of stress, I might not resume use because I changed the process of how I think about my relationship to alcohol and other drugs.
My friend Mitchell's journey of healing and hope and millions of other stories out there just like it is a testament to the power of overcoming addiction and shattering the stigma associated with it. Through the efforts of so many mental health and addiction advocates out there, the perception of substance use disorder is slowly changing, paving the way for a more empathetic and understanding society.
As we continue to challenge old beliefs and embrace a more compassionate approach to recovery, we can provide a supportive environment for individuals to heal and thrive. By recognizing that the experience of addiction is not a moral failing but a treatable condition rooted in deeper trauma, we can address the underlying issues rather than just treating the symptoms.
It's time to shatter the stigma and replace judgment with empathy. Let's celebrate stories of resilience and transformation, and let's provide the resources and support necessary for individuals and families affected by addiction to find healing and hope.
Together, we can create communities where recovery is met with understanding and where everyone has the opportunity to build a brighter future.
For more information on how your family can address stigma, reach out to me for a complimentary coaching session.