“People have a lot to say about lives they’ve never lived.”
When I was being taken back into the detox unit I stayed in the first thing that was said to me was, “You don’t look like an addict, let’s get you help before you do.” Even at an NA meeting I had someone come up to me and because I don’t “look like an addict,” they assumed that I must have been a family member or a friend of an addict; that because I don’t look a certain way I couldn’t possibly be suffering. I get comments like these all the time. All. The. Time. While I understand people are trying to be nice in saying what they’re saying, this comment actually infuriates me because it is placing addicts in a box of what society thinks they should look like. And it makes it harder to recognize those who are suffering who don’t “look” like they’re suffering. It, honestly, has made my recovery harder because I don’t often feel seen or heard.
I recently posted a question on Instagram that asked, “When you hear the word addict, what/who do you think of?” I got a lot of responses: “Dysfunctional. Junkie. Needles. Sadness. Nose bleeds. Ignorant. Piece of shit. Crack whore. Track marks. Crutch. Liar. Alone. Selfish. Weak. Homeless. Strung out. Obsessive. Sick. Death.” All negative. And then one came across my screen that got me thinking. It read, “I think of two types of people, those who have lost their life (physically or mentally) to the disease and those who have fought to find gratefulness and hope to live.” This comment. This is why I fight so hard for the addicts out there, both in recovery and in active addiction. There is hope. There is recovery, if it is wanted. We live in a society that STEREOTYPES addicts like it’s nobody’s business. Most people, who more than likely have never personally been affected by addiction (thank God), have a very clear mental picture of what an addict should look/be like. And I’m guessing that picture entails almost every word that I just listed above. To be completely honest, before addiction touched my life, I got that same picture.
But that picture is not always the case. An addict is not always the homeless person sitting on the street corner. An addict is not always the girl with the messed up teeth. It is not always the guy with all the tattoos to cover up the track marks. It is not always the person you can never count on. It is not always the person asking for money. It simply is not. An addict can be all those people. But an addict is also the person with a steady job. An addict is the person who helped you when you when your hands were full. An addict is the person who smiles at you in the grocery store. The person sitting in church on Sunday mornings. The person always smiling. The easy-going, loving, caring, empathetic person. The person who helps others. The person going to school to get their degree. The person living in a nice home, the person with a loving family. An addict is your peer, maybe your friend even. Me. I am an addict.
I am in NO way, shape, or form trying to glamorize addiction by saying that you can live a “normal” life while using. No, if you’re using life is sad, depressing, excruciating, cruel, lonely, and full of pain, anger, and a hell of a lot of self loathing. What I am trying to say is that addiction and mental illness aren’t always easy to see. Sometimes people who need help look nothing like people who need help. Sometimes it’s the happiest person you know who is barely breathing. Sometimes it’s the person who seems like their life is perfect who is shooting up in the bathroom. Sometimes it’s the person who has been there for everyone else who needs someone to be there for them. Sometimes addiction and mental illnesses are hidden so well that you would never think twice about the fact that maybe, just maybe, that person is suffering.
My whole life has been a silent fight to be okay, and it’s taken me years to be as open and vulnerable as I am now. Only through fighting in silence for so long did I realize that my pain has actually been propelling me into my purpose. And now I feel very passionately that my purpose on this earth is to use my experiences as a catalyst to raise awareness. That I am supposed to use my past to help others. One step at a time, one person at a time, and one day at a time. Addiction and mental illness are all around you. So open your eyes, but more importantly open your heart. Don’t judge. Don’t place blame. Don’t hate. Stop stereotyping. Look. Listen. Help. Love.