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It’s Not Always Sunny

Today was a bad day. I couldn’t escape active addiction. I tried, but it was everywhere. I am not talking about my own. By the grace of God I haven’t picked up in 2 years, but when you actively participate in your recovery and are involved in service work in the community, you bear witness to the horrors of addiction every single day. 

When I talk about my recovery, I usually talk about the positive things that have happened in my life since I took my last drink or the things that have inspired me to want to help others. I often share about my rock bottom and talk about what I did to pull myself up. I talk about how grateful I am for the women in my life, the ones who held me up when I couldn’t stand on my own.

But there is something else you should know…recovery is still hard work, no matter how much distance comes between who we were and who we are today. We don’t just put down the substance and suddenly our lives are perfect. We still face adversity, we still have financial and relationship troubles and we are not immune to crises. Tragedy still strikes us unexpectedly, and sometimes it’s enough to knock a recovering person off of their feet. While we are learning to navigate life on life’s terms, the one thing that is impossible to ignore, is the fact that addicts are dying every single day.

Most people my age are going to more concerts than funerals. Most people my age are receiving wedding invitations, not cutting obituaries out of newspapers. 

I’m so tired of losing people to this disease. I am so tired of the stigma. I am so tired of people losing a battle that could have been won had they just had the proper resources made available to them. I am tired of insurance companies denying treatment. I am tired of seeing young people sent to prison before even being introduced to recovery. 

I am so frickin’ tired of people shaming addicts by posting pictures of overdoses on the Internet, causing their rock bottoms to go viral! Those people are near death! Have we seriously become so desensitized that another human beings near death experience and/or personal struggles are now considered some sort of sick entertainment? To those people who laugh at the struggling addict, you are part of the problem, NOT the solution! I am so tired of hearing people, who know nothing about the disease of addiction, blame and judge and make outrageous comments about an addicts death. 

“That’s what they get for taking drugs. They should have known better…”

I want to scream at them, “Well you know what? So should you!!!”

I am exhausted and I have an emotional hangover. And yes, that is a thing. Maybe I am hungry, or lonely, or maybe I am just overwhelmed because I read more articles about people dying from addiction, than recovering: and I want to change that. I want to scream from the tallest building, “Look at me! I made it! I am doing it and so can you! Because you are worth it! You, yes you! I know your despair, because I lived there too. Come, take a walk with me, and tell me your fears! And I will do whatever is in my power to introduce you to this new way of life.”

It’s easy to sit behind a computer and rattle off heartless comments, but I have to imagine that the people spewing insensitivities would have a difficult time saying those words to the face of an inconsolable parent or a now parentless child. I have to believe that even the most narrow minded person would have to have just a shred of compassion when met with the overwhelming loss one persons life can have on an entire community. I have to believe that, or I would be no different  than those people tapping away at their keyboards.

In recovery, I have been faced with death more often than I care to admit. I don’t talk about it often. Maybe it’s because it hurts too much, maybe it’s because I recognize that I only have a daily reprieve and that terrifies me. Or maybe, it’s because I feel the pangs of  guilt running through my body every time I read about another addict or alcoholic who died from their disease. Why them and not me? Why was I given another chance, when I know so many people who wanted it just as badly as I did?

Whether I was close to the person who passed away or not, I mourn their loss just as I would a close friend. Because no matter what the circumstances are, it is tragic. Another child lost too soon, another empty chair in the rooms, another child left without a parent and countless broken hearts.

I don’t avoid the funerals. Recovery has taught me to be comfortable being uncomfortable. I gather with the women in my life and we show up. We show up, because that is what we do in recovery. We show the family members, that even though we cannot even begin to comprehend their pain, we still feel their child’s absence. We grieve with them, we remember with them and we remind them their child was loved, that their life mattered and they will not be forgotten. I can sometimes feel their pain radiating off of them and burning into my skin. It’s enough to break a person’s heart in half. I could give one half of my heart to the person who was taken from us, and the other half to the parents who now have to face the unimaginable reality of losing a child.

I have found that my reaction to death is no longer what one might consider normal. When I first came into recovery, every time I heard of a death in the community I couldn’t stop the tears. Today, it seems, that I have returned to that numb feeling of hopelessness. The tears rarely come…even when I wish that they would. I get frustrated and ask myself, “Isn’t anyone finding recovering anymore?!?”

No…I no longer have a normal reaction to death.

I understand how the disease of addiction looks from the outside. Addicts and alcoholics look perfectly normal, until they start to self-destruct. I feel like the people who refuse to acknowledge addiction as a disease have never experienced the pain of watching someone you love throw away everything that makes them who they are. Maybe they have. Maybe they are incredibly angry thinking that their loved one just isn’t strong enough, not realizing it has nothing to do with willpower. 

No…addiction doesn’t look like a disease, but neither does a heart defect.

I understand that there are those who will never believe addiction is a disease. And that is OK! I normally don’t let it phase me. My purpose in life is not to change the minds of those who disagree with me, or those who disagree with medical diagnosis for that matter. But I am a sensitive person by nature. Just because I understand it, doesn’t mean that I have built some impenetrable wall around me where the words of others don’t still hurt like hell sometimes. It doesn’t mean that I don’t still find myself reading insulting comments on the internet and feeling that they are somehow directed towards me. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t moments,  however brief, that I don’t still question my own decisions as a moral failing. And then I get angry at those people for making me feel this way; for making me question everything I have worked so hard to overcome. I know that’s what they want, so I try not to give in. What else could possibly be the motive for such viciousness?

When I start to feel this way, I’ve learned to tell on myself. I tell on myself all of the time to other recovering people. Because just as the disease of addiction doesn’t make sense, neither does recovery. It doesn’t make sense to me that doctors tried to help me for years, but the only cure I found was the conversations I had with other recovering women. Women who showed me mercy, instead of condemnation. Men and women who knew that there wasn’t a single pill in this entire world that could fix me. 

I used to read so many books about the disease of addiction. I thought if I could just dissect the disease and understand all of the ins and outs of my addict brain, I would never relapse again. I was baffled when I did relapse; I mean completely blown away. 

The disappointment that I felt after each relapse increased exponentially. I would tell myself I should have known better. I am smarter than that. I graduated college and I have a career! I have a family and I own a house for goodness sakes! 

was trying to intellectualize a disease that hardly makes sense to a medical professional, let alone a person who is in it’s grip. I had such an ego. I really thought I was smarter than my illness, as if knowledge would deter my addiction from destroying my life.

If I have learned one thing throughout my recovery journey, it’s that all of the knowledge in the world cannot save a person from that first drink or drug. I knew exactly what I was doing to my body, but it got to a point where I didn’t care anymore.

The only time I ever stopped drinking throughout my 10 year slide, was when I found out I was pregnant. You see, I didn’t care what I did to my own body, but I cared about the baby growing in my belly.  What breaks my heart is that the entire time I was pregnant, I was irritable and discontent. I started resenting anyone in my life who drank alcohol in front of me. I was so pre-occupied with not being pregnant anymore, that I missed all of the beauty and wonder involved with being pregnant. A realization that still plagues me today.

As I sit here writing this, there has undoubtedly been another addict who has lost their battle to this disease, another family is left to pick up the pieces and a community shaken by the “silent epidemic” caused by….you guessed it! Stigma! 

refuse to let anyone stifle my voice today, because  I worked so hard to regain it. I am proud of my recovery and of the woman I have become. I worked hard to rebuild my life, and I continue to do so today. My struggle, and my courage, are what make me who I am today. 

I am compassionate, honest and fierce. I am a woman who has fought the battle of a lifetime and persevered. I am a woman who is still in the process of healing, and a woman who understands that a person can be both heartbroken and grateful at the same time. 

Sometimes I am a woman who just  needs to vent, and I know that’s ok today, because I feel so much better now…

Vanessa Day

Milwaukee, WI




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