People who struggle with substance abuse are often judged as being bad people. We steal money and possessions from others, we lie to the people we love, and we act in reckless ways without thinking of how our actions can affect others. Now that I am sober, I am able to take responsibility for the terrible things I have done in the past and do the best I can to make these things right. Whether this means paying money back that I have stolen, rebuilding relationships with my loved ones, or contributing my time and service to people in need. In order for me to be truly forgiven, I must break the stigma around drug addiction. I am not a bad person. I have done horrible, hurtful things, yes, but I firmly believe that I am not a bad person.
Addiction led me to do things that I would never do in sobriety because while actively using, I was overwhelmed by selfishness and desire. I was incapable of thinking of anybody but myself because the only thing my mind could focus on was getting my next fix. It didn't even cross my mind that I was hurting other people. The mental obsession I suffered from was far stronger than any other aspect of my life. Each and every morning I woke up with a firm resolve that I would not, under any circumstances, get high that day. I would spend the next few hours fighting the demons in my head that tried to convince me that I could just take one. Just one time.
Over the course of the day, this firm resolve to stay sober would somehow disappear. I wouldn't even give it a second thought before I found myself sticking a needle in my arm once again. Once I was high, I was baffled at the fact that this happened. Why couldn't I control this? Where had this promise not to get high disappeared to? Why was I so weak?
When I went to treatment, the idea of addiction being a disease was presented to me. A disease is defined as a condition of the living animal...or one of its parts that impairs normal functioning and is typically manifested by distinguishing signs and symptoms. Certainly I had something wrong with me that impaired my normal functioning, because I was unable to stay sober and function without a substance in my body. In people with addiction, there are signs and symptoms such as intense urges for a drug, developing a tolerance to certain substances, inability to meet obligations, continuing to use drugs knowing that it is causing problems, risky behavior, and experiencing withdrawal symptoms.
It was also explained to me that with this disease of addiction, I also suffered from an allergy. An allergy is simply an abnormal reaction of the body to a substance. Some people break out in hives when they eat peanuts. I develop an intense craving for more of a drug whenever I place one in my body. This craving is beyond my mental control and no amount of will power is able to stop it. Once I have developed this allergy and have the disease of addiction, I no longer have the choice of whether or not I take more drugs. If I am not actively treating my condition, it is inevitable that I will relapse and use once again.
Treating my condition means I sought out treatment, underwent therapy, developed a support group, and changed every aspect of my life. I got a new job, I moved to a new state, I made new sober friends, and I have changed the way I react to situations. I do my best to treat people with love and kindness. I have begun to make amends to the people I have harmed by taking responsibility for the things I have done and asking what I can do to gain back their trust and forgiveness. I pay my bills on time while paying back old debts.
The more we spread awareness around the disease of addiction, the more we allow people with this disease to recover. By breaking the stigma around addiction, perhaps people who are struggling will be more willing to seek out treatment to get sober. People are dying every day due to the opioid epidemic we are facing. Parents are burying their children. Children are losing their siblings. Friends are losing their loved ones. If we are more understanding of addiction as a disease rather than a bad choice, maybe we could save lives. Maybe we could instill some hope in people who are hopeless that recovery is possible. Maybe one less person has to die today.