At a listening session on the teenage brain and drug use, Dr. Ken Winters started by asking the audience, “How many of you love chocolate?” Many raise their hands in amusement. “How many of you would consider yourself a chocoholic — you gotta have it?” he asked playfully as people raised their hands with a smirk. “How many of you would steal from a convenience store for chocolate?” Silence. “How many of you would leave your toddlers alone in the house while you went out to find chocolate?” “Would you would go to prison for chocolate?”
We were with some new friends who are dear and know that we have a son in recovery. One said, “I was so spoiled as a kid, it’s a wonder I didn’t take drugs or something.” You know where my mind went instantly, “Our child is a former drug addict because we spoiled him.” It’s my fault. Spoiled people take drugs — (research pending). I’m not gonna lie — I felt some shame.
This is the birthplace of stigma. It might be why some of us protect ourselves from admitting that we have a problem or someone we love has a problem. We believe it might be our fault and we want to protect ourselves, our image, our parenting, our status; Christian families or good families don’t breed drug addicts and alcoholics. Certainly I was in that belief camp. Then it happened to me.
It’s not all about ego of course. No one on the planet wants a loved one to suffer addiction. Denial, silence, pretending and defending protect our mind from the overwhelming grief and fear and in our case, the also, “and what would we actually DO about it?” question. Our mind sometimes needs protecting, until it doesn’t, and it’s time to face reality.
I learned that people like our kids suffer addiction but people like our kids, us, our grandparents and friends also celebrate recovery. My friend Sandi Lybert of Your Choice to Live, says that people come up to her and say she doesn’t look like the mom of a former Heroin addict. We thought that was funny. She’d often ask people, “What does the mother of a Heroin addict look like?” Awkward. She looks like a mom of a son in recovery, whatever that looks like. There’s no stereotype.
I’m not on the bandwagon of addiction stigma because I don’t want you to be uber-careful about what you say in front of me, and playing the semantics game of right terminology so as not to offend, seems silly. If I feel shame, that’s on me. I also am weary of bandwagons at the moment. I’m shining a light on recovery, because it’s true and real and brings hope that is legitimate and deserves attention — a much better use of energy. Addiction defies demographics and thus, so does recovery.
People can and do recover from alcohol and other drug addiction, and they’re the people you and I sit next to in the pew, the theatre, the Bucks vs.Timberwolves game and the company picnic — 23 million of them in America.
I attend an open 12-step meeting where anyone is welcome but only alcoholics participate and speak. If pictures were allowed, which they’re not, I’d love to post the collage: darling young women and handsome millennial men, middle age dads, fit and fat grandpas, short, white-haired grannies who walk up to the podium in sensible shoes, all of them sharing their experience, strength and hope in recovery to help the newcomer stay sober today.
In that meeting, pregnant suburban wives, and yes, hard-looking characters who might shed a tear or two, thank their sponsors for taking midnight calls when they want to drink or use, and express gratitude to God for a good life they never thought they’d see. Some are sober 40 plus years, some 40 days, some 40 hours.
At the end of the meeting the room of several hundred stands in a circle, holding hands to say the Lord’s prayer in unison. I confess that I often look up and around with open eyes because it fills my soul. For Thine is the power.