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[ Opinion ]

Our Voices Matter

It’s been a couple of weeks since I have written anything, which is unusual for me because I usually write about my recovery every day. I’ve been feeling uninspired and frustrated with myself, like I no longer have anything worthwhile to say. I have started writing and then deleted paragraphs about 50 times. I have been so focused on all of the social stigma still plaguing addiction, that I have started to forget why I even began fighting so hard to help change that in the first place. I realized that even when I am feeling like I have nothing new or important to offer, I still have a voice today, and voices are what the disease of addiction needs in the wake of the astounding number of deaths sweeping our nation. Our voices will help put an end to the stigma, and THAT matters to me! 

Negative comments about addiction bother me. They do! I’m a sensitive person by nature, and have often had people in my life point it out to me, but I will not allow anyone to tell me that I am too sensitive about the language people use when discussing a person with an addiction. I will not sit in silence when I hear people use words like “junkie” or “druggie” or “crackhead.” 

It’s no longer about validation or proving to others they were wrong about me or addiction as a disease, it is about doing what I can to help the addict who still suffers. It’s about bringing hope to the family members who feel that they have taken a backseat to a substance and are now forced to watch as their loved one self-destructs. It’s about carrying the message to the still suffering addict, whether it’s one-on-one, in a meeting, going into a prison or treatment center, or simply writing it down. 

I realize that in person, I blanket myself with the warm embrace of those in recovery; those like-minded people who can understand what ails me. I have so much love and support in my life, so many people rooting for my success, that I sometimes forget about the skewed perception society has of my disease. It sometimes feels like I have gotten the wind knocked out of me when I hear those hateful, vicious and misinformed comments regarding addiction in every day conversations and on the internet. Or when someone decides to send me a message telling me I should keep my recovery to myself as it should not be a public matter. 

It’s comments like those that instilled fear in me for many years. The fear of what my life would be like if I did admit that I was an addict. Would I ever find work again? Would my daughter be taken away? Would I lose my friends? Would people laugh and judge? Would I ever be happy? Would I be forced to live the rest of my life under a microscope? 

I kept all of those fears bottled up inside and as a result they fueled my addiction for a long time. It is no surprise to me that at the end of my active addiction those fears catapulted me into a life of legal consequences, financial instability, relationship troubles and physical deterioration; an explosion of my addictive behaviors, if you will. 

It wasn’t until I found recovery, that I began to understand that all of my biggest fears were based on a faulty assumption that I was a BAD person, not a SICK one, and it was society that had taught me that. It wasn’t my family or friends who convinced me I was bad, it was social stigma and the feelings of inadequacy that accompanied it. 

My goal has never been to change the world, or to change the minds of those who disagree with my view of addiction as a disease. I am not that important in this world. My goal has simply been to touch at least one life in such a way that they might start to believe that they can do it too. My goal is that one person may start to feel the most blessed feeling of all…HOPE! 

I can sometimes lose sight of that goal in the midst of the blatant social stigma and complete lack of understanding associated with addiction. I read insensitive comments from strangers on the internet and wonder when they lost their sense of compassion? Did they ever have it at all? 

I also recognize that if a person is not ready to hear something, they won’t. I remember when I wasn’t ready to listen. Moving forward, I will do my best to focus less on the negative and more on the positive. 

So I decided to write today, not for myself or for those critical of addiction and recovery, but for the ones who feel that they do not have a voice. The ones who are currently suffering in silence. 

Today, I am writing to encourage the still struggling addict; not necessarily to use their voice publicly, but to use their voice to advocate for themselves in their own lives. We are allowed to stand up for ourselves,  no matter what we have done in the past. If you are working towards a better life with vigilance, you do not have to allow people to disrespect you just because you carry the guilt of your past on your shoulders. You are fighting a battle they will never understand, and you are worthy of love and respect! It takes courage to change. It takes courage to make yourself vulnerable. It takes courage to stand up and say, “Do not speak of me that way, because I do not live that life anymore!”   

I want to share with you some of the things that were shared with me when I first stumbled into the rooms. 

First, I know what it feels like to believe with every breath you take that there is no fixing this; to feel the tightness in your stomach when you start to remember those things you have done that you are not proud of. Now, do me this one favor. Raise your chin from your chest, take those eyes off of the floor, and meet my gaze for a moment. Don’t believe the lies you tell yourself. Any addict, ANY ADDICT, can stop using and find a new way to live. It does not matter what you have done in the past, or how far down the scale you have gone, you CAN change. You don’t have to be ready, we are hardly ever ready to give up our substance, you just have to be willing. Are you willing? 

I want you to know that I understand what it feels like to lose everything in life that was once so important to you. I know the depths of your despair, because I have lived there too. I want you to know that I care about you and I want nothing more than to see you succeed. If I could do it for you, I promise I would, but I can’t. It will take work. At times you may want to give up. You will question whether you are strong enough. There will be tears. You may sometimes feel that it is getting worse before it gets better, but if you just stay a little longer more will be revealed. Don’t give up 5 minutes before the miracle happens. Please, just stay. 

I want you to know that recovery is possible. You may not believe it today, or tomorrow or even a month from now, but I will continue to pray that you find your way into the loving arms of those who wish to help you. When I first found recovery, I thought there was absolutely no way someone could stay sober for years. I thought people were lying to me, or simply trying to sell me recovery. What I actually found, were the friends that I had been searching for my entire life. The ones who would hold me up when I felt I couldn’t stand on my own two feet, the ones who hugged me in my moments of despair and the ones who wanted nothing more than to see me overcome my addiction. They did not expect anything from me but an open-mind and the willingness to change. What they taught me was how to be honest, how to have integrity and how to take care of myself so that I could take care of others. 

I want you to ignore those who doubt you. They are not in charge of your recovery. They may find it hard to trust you at first, and they may have good reason for this, but in time you will show them through your own actions that you have changed. Remember, apologies lose their power when actions are repeated, and those close to you are probably healing too. Be gentle with yourself and others, and have patience. 

 I want you to ignore the comments of others who wish to instill fear or sadness into you. Ignore the voices that make you feel inadequate and unworthy. I want you to know that you matter; your life MATTERS! You are capable of changing your life, and this is not how your story has to end. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. Every person you meet who has months or years of recovery, though it may seem like an impossible goal, started with that first sober minute…just like you. Minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day. You are not alone in this fight. 

Do not listen to and/or read negative comments about addicts; those comments that say addicts deaths were warranted because they chose to use in the first place, or the ones who say society will not miss the addict should they die. People can be cruel and often times they don’t realize the impact their words can have. They don’t understand, and ignorance is bliss. You are needed here, you would be missed and you are irreplaceable. Instead of internalizing these comments, pray for those who wish you harm. It may sound crazy and you may not want to do it, but it works. Pray that they never lose a child to this disease, pray that they never know the depths of your despair, pray that they find love in their life. Love may be what they need at this moment. 

I want you to take a moment and envision yourself healthy, happy and free from active addiction. This will probably be a difficult concept for you at first. You will probably find it difficult to believe you will ever feel joy again or experience laughter. I know things feel awful now, but they will get better. They WILL get better. Please just stay. 

At the end of my active addiction, I had lost everything. My husband had filed for divorce, I had 2 charges pending, I was financially bankrupt and I had nowhere to live. I gave up. I was exhausted. I had no more fight left in me. I didn’t believe I would ever recover, and at that point I wasn’t even sure I wanted to. On my final run, I went missing and it took 5 days for anyone, including the police, to locate me. 

I remember being in the hospital and sobbing uncontrollably because I wanted to use so badly. It was the only way I knew of at that time to make myself feel better, and that was one of the biggest lies I ever told myself. Today, I no longer answer to that voice in my head that still tells me I’m not good enough, or that just one won’t hurt, or that I am unforgivable and unloveable. 

Today, I am guided by the voice of love. My Higher Power is with me every day, encouraging me through the hard times and making sure I never forget the bad times. My life changed when I finally stopped fighting for my addiction and started fighting to be in the solution. You can do this too. You CAN do this! 

Raise your chin from your chest, take those eyes off of the floor and meet my gaze for a moment. Take a deep breath and repeat after me, “I am worthy of recovery, love and forgiveness. I am worthy of life. I can and will recover!” 

We can do together what we cannot do alone, and when we come to accept this, we do recover! 

I believe in you! It’s time for you to start believing in you too! 

Vanessa Day

Milwaukee, WI

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