It should come as no surprise that one of the biggest barriers to equitable treatment of addicts is a lack of understanding.
The reputation of addiction
Society has spent years demonising those of us who experience addiction, painting us as a drain on society, using up valuable resources while failing to contribute to the system that is supporting us.
On top of that, people believe that addiction is a choice, a moral failing. They are taught that addicts continue to use drugs because we want to.
This fails to understand the fundamental and insidious way in which addiction works. Addiction is more than the need to use drugs. But, that is what people see and understand.
As with autism, addiction is about more than observable behaviours. It is an internal experience that cannot be intuited from observation.
Finally, there is a tendency for people to see addicts in recovery as “a different sort of addict” to those who have not found recovery. This is invalidating and untrue.
An addict is an addict, and it is impossible to compare our suffering.
Finding recovery is a privilege, and it is unfair to treat those of us who have not made it differently.
So what is it like to be an addict?
This is a difficult question to answer, as the experience is incredibly subjective, but I can answer from my own perspective.
For me, addiction was like having another entity controlling me from within.
There were times when I really did not want to be using drugs or alcohol, and I could feel myself trying to fight it as I prepared my drugs or alcohol for consumption.
I was like a puppet, and addiction was pulling the strings.
Worse than the loss of self-control was the horrific feeling of sobriety.
When I tried to restrain myself from taking drugs or alcohol, it felt like suffocating.
Have you ever tried to hold your breath underwater?
After a while you become desperate to reach the surface and take a breath, you will do anything you can to have that oxygen in your lungs.
That is what withdrawal is like.
It’s like being starved of something that is essential to your existence. The walls cave in, crushing you under their immense weight.
This, perhaps, is what makes finding recovery so complicated.
Getting sober is like swimming in the ocean fully clothed, with your clothes full of rocks. You have to remove the rocks, one by one, so that you can reach the surface and return to shore.
Stopping using is just one of those rocks. Other rocks may include mental health problems, making reparations for any wrongs you may have committed, and rebuilding bridges with friends and family — this is far from an exhaustive list.
Finding recovery from addiction requires you to completely redesign your life.
It is more than the simple act of getting sober. You must create a life where it is easier not to use. This requires a tremendous amount of support from friends, family, and professionals.
It is critical to remember that recovery is a lifelong journey. Addiction can be put into remission, but it never truly goes away. Recovery must be maintained daily.
Even now at four years sober, I must be mindful of how easy it would be to slip back into the old behaviours that would ultimately lead me back to active addiction.
Recovering addicts are not “a different sort of addict.”
Shifting your perspective
Next time you see an addict, begging for money or stealing to survive, I want you to remember the tremendous battle going on inside their head.
No one chooses addiction. It is a lifelong battle that we must endure.
If you yourself are currently battling with addiction, I want you to know that I have been where you are, and there is always hope.
Never be afraid to reach out and tell people that you need help. You are not alone in your battle. There is an army waiting to be called upon.
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