When I got sober one of the things that plagued my mind was the stigma of addiction in our society today. How would people who weren’t affected by this disease view me? I was terrified of their judgment and worried myself over the thoughts of others. The sad truth is that society today views drug addicts and alcoholics as second-class citizens, as people that are weak willed and do not deserve to be cared for like you would a sick person. Addiction and alcoholism is seen as a moral failing, an issue that you can never recover from. I know all of this because I have had these same beliefs before, even in my addiction. I would call others junkies, crackheads, alcoholics, meth heads, and the list goes on. I would call people these hurtful, demeaning, evil things and six months later I couldn’t get a needle out of my arm or keep the alcohol out of my belly. I became that very person I was judging six months previous without even realizing it. I had lost the power to choose if I did drugs or drank alcohol. There was no other option for me. This is the case with addicts and alcoholics. Does society really believe that I enjoy hurting people, losing friends and family, stealing, cheating, lying, being depressed, struggling every day with a brain that won’t shut up, and putting poison in my body? If I was normal and if I had a choice in the matter of course I would stop! Addicts and alcoholics aren’t bad people. We are just people who did bad things because we had no idea how to handle reality, so we escaped from it.
Coming into recovery this last time around in Austin, Texas, something amazing happened. I discovered that this stigma about addicts and alcoholics who have recovered from a hopeless state of mind and body is a complete delusion that society refuses to acknowledge. The people that I have met here helped save my life and have continued to save me on a daily basis. They are teachers, restaurant owners, entrepreneurs, baristas, waiters, janitors, and CEO’s. They have become functioning and useful members of society again. They are the strongest, most kind-hearted people I know. They are constantly seeking growth and their only aim is to help others before they help themselves, which is unusual in today’s society. They have recovered, which simply means, according to Webster’s Dictionary, that they have “returned to a normal state of health, mind, or strength after a period of difficulty.” Society is beginning to change their views, but like anything great, it’s going to take some time and effort.
What I came to realize is that I cannot worry myself with how society views me. I cannot get caught up in the opinions and judgment of others because it will prevent me from reaching out and helping others recover. I cannot change society’s views by simply worrying about it. The only way I can change how other people view me is by action and more action. If I want something different then I better do something completely different. I know the opinion and stigma of drug addicts and alcoholics isn’t going to change anytime soon and that’s okay because societal changes of opinion happen over long periods of time. It’s those people on the front lines that don’t give up, no matter what, that make all the difference in the eventual change. So I choose to be just that. I am no longer ashamed to be a heroin addict and an alcoholic in recovery; and in fact I am proud. I had to go through a lot of pain and hurt in order to get where I am today, and today I am happy, joyous, and free. Now I have a duty to bring that freedom that was so freely given to me to others and their families. Therefore, I don’t regret any of the actions that society judges me for. They are my greatest asset today because I can use my past struggles to help others with the same issues. We as a society are all perfectly imperfect and that’s okay with me today. At the end of the day, I dictate how I feel about my situation, not others. Today I choose to focus on how I can help the addict who still suffers, not on how people I don’t even know view me. I no longer have to escape reality because I have found peace, happiness, serenity, and people I am proud to call my friends in recovery.
-Mark Rector (Tech at The Last Resort)