In 2004, two boys were in high school. The first, Mikey, was diagnosed with cancer. While his family was devasted, they were able to find the best kind of care and an outpouring of support for the community. Two streets away, Gary's son Brian was also struggling with a disease. But Brian's family couldn't find medical care that was based on science and the community didn't rally around their family. Brian struggled with addiction. And that made all the difference.
This story left me pondering the stigma associated with addiction, and how quickly we associate addiction with "wrong choices” and/or “self-control.” We wonder “Why can’t they get it together and make better choices?” Those with mental illness face similar prejudice and some are deemed unworthy of inclusion in society because they are considered "crazy." However, when someone has a disease like cancer or diabetes, people are so quick to show empathy, love, and support.
Having support for complicated and debilitating diseases is fantastic, but aren't we all human beings deserving of the same empathy and support? Aren’t all life-threatening diseases worthy of treatment? Isn’t every life worth saving? Is there a reason society is so quick to judge and cast off those who have done things differently or been dealt a different hand?
I've provided support to many people during my time at Shatterproof, and I've heard it all: "They shouldn't have used drugs in the first place." "Stop using." "The answer is Jesus." "A person who uses drugs will not stop until they want to stop." Many people have emailed me criticizing our mission and work. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but here at Shatterproof, we like to stick to the facts.
Plenty of scientific studies support this claim. No one should feel alone or ashamed of having a disease. My time at Shatterproof has taught me that recovery is possible, that everyone deserves a second chance, and that medical advances have allowed people to maintain their recovery, though recovery differs from person to person.
Just as with other diseases, having a support system you can rely on when times get tough is essential for recovery. For so long, there was no single place to find out about addiction, how to prevent it, and how to recover, so we made it our mission to help individuals and families overcome the societal hurdles, the medical red tape, the miseducation about addiction, and the stigma that prevents millions from asking for help. But things are changing.
A growing and welcoming community await those who are seeking help for themselves, or their loved ones, as well as those who have felt alone and misunderstood. No matter where you find yourself on your journey in dealing with addiction, or how it is affecting you and your family, there are people all over the country who are willing to help you succeed and who understand your situation. Even if your local community, friends, or family aren't cheering you on, or understanding, you can be assured that many supporters and partners do not want you to go at it alone.
We can all move forward together with a bit of education, compassion, and kindness.
No matter where you are in your journey:
It's okay to talk about addiction, your loved one, or yourself (when you’re ready). By talking about your own story, you find your voice, your strength, and your support system. and you signal to others that they are not alone. I have taken what a wonderful colleague once said to heart: “When we are free to show up as ourselves, we enable others to do the same.” Similarly, when it comes to showing your support for a friend or family member, you don't have to have all the answers. Simply showing up can ease the isolation and stigma your friend or loved one may be experiencing.
You didn’t fail as a parent, sibling, or friend. If you love someone who struggles with addiction, you may carry a sense of guilt. Addiction is a complex social issue and a difficult medical condition. You did everything you could with the tools you had at your disposal to make sure that your loved one was safe.
Change won't come overnight, even with your best efforts. Patience is a virtue, especially when it comes to a loved one's recovery because their journey is their own. To understand this better, it’s helpful to learn about the Stages of Change.
Addiction is perceived by many as a moral failing, and it takes time for people to understand it as a disease. Allow yourself and others grace. Unlike other medical conditions, addiction is stigmatized more than any other illness. Together, we can dispel addiction myths so that people find the compassion and support they need to get better. It will take time for some of the population to catch on, but we will get there. Science-based education is the key to changing hearts and minds.
You are the source of change. Take care of yourself. We cannot change others' views, but we can change our perspectives. Change begins with us. No one put it better than Viktor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.”
Your crew is waiting for you. The people who do not understand you or your experiences need not take up your valuable time or energy. There can never be enough emphasis placed on the importance of having and building community. In addition to feeling healthier physically and mentally, people who are part of community groups have the support and resources available to them to work toward their recovery, grief, or advocacy aspirations. Moreover, the sense of belonging and collaboration makes for a strong and healthy support system. Whether you are dealing with life's unexpected challenges or have been through a tragic loss, family support groups can provide assistance and comfort.
Share memories of loved ones on our National Addiction Memorial. These stories send a powerful message: We are losing too many of our loved ones and no one should die from this treatable disease.
Become an Ambassador-Share your story to help others connect with the cause to inspire progress. Being an Ambassador allows you to share your passion and your connection to our cause in the ways that best match your interests and time.
Be a member of the Junior Council to help support Shatterproof's advocacy. Our Junior Council members share persuasive stories that support the organization's program priorities.
Need a little extra help? Whether it's treatment providers or support groups, you'll find a wide range of addiction resources here.