I Want To Change The Way We Talk About Addiction
I need to share something with you all. I need you to take a moment and listen to this 13 minute speech by clinician and researcher Jacki Hillios. Everything this woman stands for hits extremely close to home for me. I haven't shed much light on this topic because despite the openness and transparency I strive for here on Run, Selfie, Repeat, I still feel the stigma and shame that accompanies growing up with a family member who battled addiction. One thing I really hope to do is inspire and omit shame from our everyday lives. Life is hard. Good things happen to good people and bad things happen to good people. We have very little control over what happens in our lives and maintaining resilience, in my experience, is the only way to endure.
I grew up around alcoholism. One thing I have experienced and seen first hand is that addiction destroys lives. Growing up I didn't understand the chaos and devastation that accompanies substance abuse. We live in a world where addiction is something we hush, hide, and feel ashamed of. Here's the kicker, everyone knows someone who is or has battled addiction. Everyone has a Sister, Brother, Father, Mother, Cousin, Friend, Aunt, Uncle, Grandma, or Grandpa battling substance or alcohol addiction. Over 23 million Americans are addicts and of those 23 million only 10% will get help. Addiction is lifelong. It's a chronic relapsing addiction and it isn't a choice. It isn't a light switch that can be turned on and off and as much as we want to "fix" or "help," there isn't much we can do but be supportive in whatever way we can.
When an addict spirals or hits rocks bottom they don't do it alone. They take everyone around them with them. Because of my relationship to it, I developed an intense need for control in my life. One of the ways I sought control was my relationship with food and I would either binge eat or starve myself. My weight was constantly in flux. Now don't get me wrong, despite the chaos, I had an incredible childhood. I was lucky enough to have incredibly strong, successful, and loving family and family friends who fought to make life fun and as normal as possible.
As I got older, I started taking their alcoholism personally. I started internalizing everything that was happening and I was constantly on edge. I stopped making myself invisible and I started getting vocal. While I was vocal with how disgusted I was at what I felt were selfish and preventable actions, I didn't want ANYONE at school to know. I was deeply ashamed and I didn't believe anyone could relate. So I tried to conceal everything and seem OK. I was essentially living a double life. But I couldn't fix the situation. I became incredibly angry. So I self destructed and I cut my family member out of my life until the day my brother passed away.I decided to work to absolve the shame, blame, and anger I had harbored for so long.
I 100% agree with Jacki when she says you are not your disease. You can not allow your disease to define you. And that goes for all diseases, not just addiction. I believe that diseases are shared because they affect so many people. I have seen how incredibly difficult and complicated addiction is. It's a beast that I will never understand. I am not an addict myself and I won't pretend to know what it is like to fight to get sober. I used to believe it was simple, you just had to want to change enough and work hard enough. But it's not that simple and this is why I want to start a dialogue and change the way we look and talk about addiction.
We need remove the stigma and shame associated with addiction. We need to stop the isolation of everyone involved. Out of the 23 million Americans living with addiction only 10% get help and out of that 10% only HALF will stay sober. That is an embarrassing number. I've seen my friends go to rehab and I've seen how financially draining it is. Anyone who's had to send someone to rehab, normally multiple times, knows how expensive it is. And you know how emotionally taxing it is. Our health care system in America does absolutely nothing to get addicts the help they need and it's a disgrace. Clinical help is absolutely necessary but it takes so much more than one detox or one stint in a rehab facility. Some people need a spiritual awakening. There isn't one way. It's become next to impossible for anyone to get help. There is no immediate fix. It's extremely complex and it's extremely hard to stand by, watch, or be affected by the destruction that accompanies addiction. But a pursuit for a better quality of life should be made readily available. Most addicts want to get sober, they just can't.
I love everything that Jacki and Phoenix Multisport have created. They have created an active sober community where addicts aren't defined by their disease. I love Jacki's message. They have created a community where people can connect and rid themselves of any and all shame. It's impossible to feel shame when you are surrounded by people who are incredibly open and proud of their sobriety. And sobriety is not something to be ashamed of. It's something to scream from the mountain tops. At Phoenix Multisport, people pursue rock climbing, hiking, running, yoga, cycling and other active lifestyles. They become endurance athletes who in turn develop healthy lifestyles and minds.
One thing I hope you take from Jacki and her TedTalk is that tomorrow matters. "If you can envision a bright tomorrow, it's easier to get through today." I think this is something we all need to put into our tool belts and whip out when the going gets rough. Tomorrow always matters. You always matter. You never have to go through anything alone, ever! You are not defined by your disease or by the people around you going through it. We all have worth.
I wish it were easier. I wish we all could redefine the way we approach addiction but it won't start until we change the conversation. No one is a victim. It's not easy watching someone battle addiction. It's very difficult to want to salvage a relationship that has weathered the addiction cycle. Just remember you aren't alone and you just need to take it one day at a time. Find someone you can talk to. I don't even want to think about where I would be had I not gotten into therapy. It's helped me see it in a new way and it's changed the way I look at life. I wish I could go back in time and tell my teenage self that it really was out of my control. That it not only wasn't my fault but that there was nothing to be ashamed of. It was just a fact of my world. I wish I could tell myself that there was no need to act brave. I wish I didn't feel to ashamed to open up to my friends. And most of them could relate because they were going through something similar. Everyone knows someone battling addiction. Everyone. It's just time to stop hiding it.
Pay it forward friends. One day at a time. Life is hard, find joy wherever you can. And share this video! Until tomorrow, #RunSelfieRepeat.