Thursday, January 8, 2015

In Yo Face

There are few things in my life that I don't question (I second guess myself A LOT), but I do not waiver in my understanding of addiction. Had I not lived it myself, I would question it all, but I am a survivor of this illness and so I know--I know, what it's like to be totally and utterly powerless.

Living with addiction is scary. It's sad and lonely and it causes us to loathe ourselves--it causes us to really and truly believe that we're bad. Living with shame is not living, it just isn't. Living with shame, is like living without hope, and a life without hope, is simply not worth living. When living a life that is not worth living, there is no reason to fight. When living a life that is not worth fighting for, there is no reason (and no way) to ever get better--ever. Even if we can find a reason to live, we already know that we're terrible people who do terrible things and no terrible person could ever perform the miracle of sobriety--so why even pretend to try?

And so we live in our shame. We live with our self-hatred and fear and sadness and anger and we do everything we can possibly do to relieve ourselves of that pain. I stuffed more and more drugs, whatever I could find, into my body and I learned to live for those fleeting, but oh so blissful, moments when everything would just melt away....those moments when I no longer had to care and nothing else mattered and I couldn't feel the pain or remember why I even felt it in the first place-- when I was relieved of it all. Those moments may have averaged out to be minutes counted out on one hand in the matter of a week, but they were so profound. It is those moments that we strive for, that we will stomp over our loved ones for. Because ALL we want, is to feel that peace inside our hearts, one more time....

For as "messed up" as I was, I could see myself reflected in other people's eyes. I saw the way they looked at me--I saw the disgust, the incredulity, the superiority. I saw the disappointment I inspired in others and I saw the judgment. I knew what people were saying behind my back and every single part of me knew that they were right. I knew that they were disgusted by me, because I was disgusting. I knew they felt superior and sorry for me, because they were superior and I was a sorry excuse for a human being. I was pathetic. I was a failure in every way. I was a drug addict and how could I possibly believe that it wasn't MY fault?!

Our loved ones easily experience a similar shame and powerlessness and they quite often feel responsible (in their own way) for our addictions. It's shame for all! It's a parent who feels they cannot "brag" to their friends about their child's successes. It's a mother who feels she does not deserve sympathy for her child, who is sick and fighting to survive. It's a father who believes his son has let him down. It's grandparents who stop sharing stories and pictures of their grandchild who once made them so proud. It is the shame that grips the entire family, that sews our mouths shut, that turns our hearts to ice. Shame closes our minds to the truth that stands before us. Shame is the true killer. Make no mistake about it.

I was recently hired for this A-Mazing job that I love, love, love. More than that, it's a job working for a company that I respect and admire--a company that I am beyond proud to work for. I have been given the honor and luxury of continuing to do my advocacy work while finding new and inspiring ways to be of service to my community. Among other things, I'm now being paid to support my brothers and sisters in all ways addiction, recovery, prevention, and awareness related. SCORE!

I could go on and on, bragging about this incredible company I now work for, but I'm going to refrain for the most part (I'll share more in an upcoming post). I'm just going to share a few important details (it's probably about time that I get to the point of this whole damn thing). It's just important to know that this company invests 10% of their pre-taxed profits back into our communities. These folks are the real deal. They do not discriminate when it comes to love, support, and compassion for all--and yes, that even includes drug addicts. Fancy that.

A couple of weeks ago (at work) I shared an idea for a bumper sticker that my mom had once lamented she wished she could have on her car. It is such a great idea. It's bold, it's "in your face", but it's also so right-on and ultimately sends a message of tolerance and love that is so very badly needed in our culture. Everyone loved the idea for the bumper sticker, we couldn't believe no one had thought of it before now! We became giddy with our self-proclaimed brilliance and when a lovely co-worker printed a prototype, it put us over the edge. It was PERFECT!

 I left work that Friday evening knowing that we were on to something really special. I actually had happy butterflies in my stomach--something I don't often experience as an adult.

By that same time the following Friday, everything had changed. Emails had gone back and forth all week about the appropriateness of using the word "addict" in the bumper sticker. People felt it was too "in your face"--they wanted to soften it and say "person in recovery" as opposed to "addict in recovery". Then there was discussion about using the word "pride" and how pride is "ego driven" and ego has no place in recovery and should an addict be touting pride when it comes to their recovery and so on. Alternatives began to circulate.

I was crushed. Like, I kind of couldn't believe it. A part of me felt like saying, "So, is it too 'in your face' when I introduce myself as an addict?", "is that offensive to you?", "should I worry about using such a harsh word and stick to 'person in recovery'?" Because as far as I can tell, most people are in recovery from something at some point in their lives. There are people recovering from Ebola right now for crying out loud! Is it really "too much" to make the distinction?

Recovering from the disease of addiction is huge and make no mistake about it--I am extremely proud to call myself an addict in recovery. Recovering from addiction is the best thing that has ever happened to me and I wear my recovery like a badge of honor. I guess I can accept that my pride is ego driven but you can be damn sure that no one would be telling a woman who survived breast cancer that she's being egotistical when she speaks of her pride for fighting, and ultimately beating, her cancer. I don't believe that those who lose the battle to any disease have reason to feel shame, but my recovery has required so much strength, so much resilience and determination and courage--all things I never even knew I had, and I honestly could not be prouder of the work I've done over the past 3 1/2 years. I know that the word "addict" on a bumper sticker is "in your face"--it's supposed to be! How else does change happen--if not from a small group of people finally standing up and saying, "I will no longer apologize for who I am."???

I was disappointed to learn that no matter what, no matter how progressive this company may be, the shame is so ingrained in us that it continues to dictate our choices and ignite fear, even in the best of us. I'll be honest, it hurts. A lot. But I also totally get it, too. It makes me sad that even some of our biggest advocates are scared of the word "addict"--that it still has so much negativity, so much shame attached to it. But this is the world we live in right now, whether I like it or not.

In the end, I chose to practice one of the greatest lessons I've learned in my recovery--that it is entirely up to me how I react to something. I can allow it to make me angry and bitter and I can form a resentment towards these wonderful people (who do amazing work), or I can use this experience as motivation to continue in my advocacy work--to educate and enlighten, to share with the world what it's really like to live with addiction. I want to unlock the stigmatic shackles to which we've been bound, for far too long. No more shame. No more judgement. Because that's the kind of world that I want to live in.


  1. As an alcoholic in recovery (who became a substance abuse counselor and social worker after I got sober) I had to comment to say how much I agree with your message. Shame has to stop being a part of recovery. If there is shame in those on the front line of this battle, how are we going to get supporters to be proud of helping us? Not only should those people in recovery be proud of their success, those who are struggling to get clean and sober should be proud as they keep coming back after repeated relapse. Recovery is not easy. Your post helps to explain that using isn't always about wanting to feel great. Often it is to not feel miserable so one can live another day with self hatred.

    1. Very recently, someone told me that the way I talk about my recovery is "extremely off putting" and "very inappropriate". He reported that addiction is something a person should be ashamed of and that he doesn't understand how I can possibly be proud of being in recovery. He said that when he reads something I've written about my recovery his reaction is always, "Who cares?! WHY would she tell people this?!".

      I'll admit that these words hit a pretty raw nerve and rattled a still very vulnerable place inside me. Before I could put rational thought to good use, my immediate reaction was "Oh God, what have I done?! I'm such a FOOL!". It's obvious that this young man doesn't understand addiction and what it means to be in recovery and I know that it's important for me to speak out about my experiences. I do feel badly for him because I know that anytime I have wanted to shame someone else, it was because I needed to feel better about myself--I needed to feel like I WAS better than someone else. So I know he said those things because of his own pain and ignorance and understanding that DOES help me to have compassion for him. But I would be lying if I said I haven't spent the past few days going over and over (and over) that conversation in my head, just thinking of all the clever things that I WISH I had had the presence of mind to say at the time.

      A part of me is grateful for the reminder of how far I've come. The mere fact that I didn't let someone else's words ruin me, is proof positive of how much I've grown over the past 4 years. The fact that I was able to find compassion for him, despite his hurtful words, and the fact that uncovering those old feelings did not result in a total loss of self, is just the best feeling in the world!

      I'm just so unbelievably grateful to every single person who has stood up, spoken out, and shared their story of hope and recovery so that I might find that morsel of belief that "maybe I could do it too". I'm so grateful to those who refused to be silent, who shared their truth with the world, who gave me the inspiration I needed every time I felt like giving up--every time I felt that it was impossible to take one more step forward. They are my heroes.

  2. how do you love an addict when they think they don't have a problem and they have told you to go fuck yourself and think your an asshole

  3. This is a complicated question with so many layers to it that it's difficult to know where to begin. But let me say this: IF you really love this person and IF you're "in it" for the long haul, I highly suggest you plant your feet firmly on the ground, grab onto something sturdy and reliable, and hold on like hell. Because this is going to be one VERY bumpy ride!

    Here's what we do first:

    We work hard to stay mindful that we're dealing with someone who is very SICK. Because of this reason alone, we must work on our compassion. When your loved one tells you to "Go fuck yourself", you feel SAD for them (maybe even pity--although that can be a dangerous word so maybe don't repeat that one!), we feel sorry for anyone battling a potentially deadly disease. The reason your loved one can't face the truth right now is because s/he is scared. When it feels like we've found the ONLY solution to life, to dealing with our pain, our fears, and anxieties, we feel justified in our using because inside it really DOES feel like a solution--THE solution. Everything about me--my brain, my body, my emotional and physical self, are telling me that this is IT. So when someone suggests that I might have a "problem" or they start drawing attention to my character defects, I feel attacked and my brain is telling me that that person just doesn't understand, that they're judging me, and it's "easy for THEM to say", etc.. Anyone who wants to take away the ONE thing I believe I need in order to survive, becomes the enemy.


    You take care of yourself! This is SO important and it's something that our loved ones forget to do A LOT. Everything becomes about the addict--they are the center of the universe and when our loved ones aren't taking care of themselves, EVERYONE is getting sicker.


    Make sure your addict knows where you stand. Be clear about your feelings and then stand by them come hell or high water (even if it causes your addict to "hate" you in the meantime). This is no joke and I know from personal experience that even the smallest habit (few pills here and there) WILL end up deadly if it goes on long enough. Make it clear to your addict that you love them. Be clear that your love is not conditional and that you love them even when life is ugly. It's OK to be totally honest about how you feel and if you're scared, say so. If you feel torn or confused or angry or whatever, SAY SO. But do it gently, with love and compassion. Try to remember that it's the disease you hate, not your addict. It OK to tell them that too and I think it's really important to let them know that you do not believe they have anything to be ashamed of. When a person is struggling with addiction they are dealing with something SO much bigger than they are. It has absolutely NOTHING to do with our failings as human beings. It doesn't mean we suck at life or that we're "less than" in ANY way, shape, or form. But you best believe that your addict is convinced that ALL of the above is true.

    Also, if it's early on in your loved ones addiction, they may still be in the "honeymoon phase" with their drugs. Which means that they truly can't see how their using is affecting ANYTHING and they can't see the EVIL yet. If it's past all that, then your addict is in a lot of pain and is feeling very defensive. Speak your mind gently and do it once. Lay out your ground rules and stick by them NO MATTER WHAT. Even if your addict is kicking and screaming and swearing they will never forgive you, even if they have every excuse in the world, STICK TO YOUR GROUND RULES. Remember that this is a progressive disease and any enabling you do is putting them in their grave.

    I hope I haven't scared you too much. I'm always here if you need someone to talk to or if you just need someone to listen as you vent. I swear I know how to listen too! Much love, Raina

  4. I am in tears after reading your words " any enabling you do is putting them in their grave". Though I double check myself frequently, I know I have been guilty of enabling when I don't even realize it.
    Now if I lose my son , I will be haunted by those words.

    1. No. You can NOT do that to yourself. Dealing with a child who is struggling with addiction forces you to go against ALL your instincts as a mother and there is NOTHING harder than that. My heart aches for you and I am so, so sorry for the nightmare you're living right now. Listen, the ONLY thing you can expect of yourself is to do the very best you can in any given situation. That's all ANY of us can do. And remember; sometimes our "best" looks really great and sometimes our "best" doesn't look so good at all. This is what makes us human. You are trying to love and protect your son while he battles something so powerful and evil and scary and manipulative, and the only thing anyone can expect of you is to love him and protect him in the best way you know how. Nothing, when it comes to addiction, is black and white, and there are rarely any clear answers about ANYTHING. There is too much shame and too much blame in the world of addiction and we cannot let either of those things consume us. Just promise me that you're not trying to do any of this alone, and please, PLEASE, don't forget that there IS hope! Don't you ever give up on that boy. I'm absolutely certain that he wants nothing more than to become the man that you've always known he has the power to be. P.S. Have you seen the documentary film The Hungry Heart? Check out the trailer at , or click on "The Hungry Heart" right here on my home page (on the left hand side/halfway down the page) FYI: I'm the one at the end that says "as long as the shame is there....etc." (you would never be able to recognize me otherwise! lol)

  5. Addiction affects more than just the addict. When a loved one is struggling with addiction, that pain hurts everyone around them. One of the major steps in helping a loved one move forward, address the issues of addiction and start to rebuild the connections that have been damaged is finding the right rehabilitation facility.

    Johnnie Smith @ Ranch Creek Recovery