Let’s Drop the Idea There is Such a Thing as an “Average Addict”
I think I have lost count of how many times I have heard someone say, “I never would have guessed you had a drinking problem, you seem so nice and normal!” I’ve been sober for a little over six and a half years now so I’ve gotten used to turning down drinks. I usually don’t introduce myself as someone who has struggled with addiction, but on the other hand, I am no longer ashamed to tell people about it because it is something I have overcome.
The longer I get to know a person the more likely it is that the topic will come up. It always starts off innocent enough, I get invited over for a barbecue, get asked what I do for work, get offered a drink and then eyebrows are raised when I say no thank you. Some people will leave it at that, but most don’t. There is a saying that goes “Alcohol: the only drug you have to explain why you don’t use instead of why you do.” On my journey through recovery I have found this to be true, many people can’t seem to imagine a life without drinking. Some people are polite enough to just drop it after I say I don’t drink, which I appreciate, but for the most part, I usually end up having to explain myself in order to move on with the conversation.
This experience highlights part of the problem this country currently has with addiction. Many people have this false assumption that there is such a thing as a “typical addict” and that only “certain people” can develop a substance abuse problem. I think that mentality goes to show how little many people actually understand about addiction. It causes people in recovery to feel less inclined to talk about their journey out of fear of being labeled and judged. The sad thing about this is that if more people in recovery did open up about their experience it would help lessen the distorted ideas that many people have about addicts.
The thing of the matter is that when I was drinking, I behaved differently than I would have had I not been drinking. This rings true for most people, drugs, and alcohol make people say and do things they normally never would had they not been under the influence. So when a person is caught up in active addiction, they are not truly being themselves. Because addiction drives people to do things that are selfish and hurtful towards others, many people falsely assume that all addicts are just inherently bad people.
In the news, we usually only hear about all the people who aren’t doing well, and how high the death rate has gotten. We don’t typically hear about all the success stories from people in recovery. The media doesn’t usually highlight all of the people who have regained control of their lives and have gone on to be successful. Since there is a lopsided view of addicts being broadcasted to the general public a misleading portrayal of addicts has been developed.
What can we do to make this better?
If you are currently in active addiction, know that there are thousands of people out there who have been in your shoes and have made it out to the other side. If you currently love someone who is in active addiction please know the same thing. If you are in recovery and are doing well please consider the idea of becoming more open about your experience in order to inspire those who are still battling the demons you have faced.
If you don’t know anyone (that you are aware of because statistically speaking odds are you do) who is struggling with addiction try to remember that every addict is someone’s son or daughter, brother or sister, mother or father. We all fall down in life, we just do it in different ways. We all have our struggles and we all have our burdens to overcome and bear. Just because an addict’s story may look different than yours doesn’t necessarily mean they are a bad person because of it.
As a society, if we began to judge others less and worked on becoming more empathetic and compassionate it would make a world of difference. Don’t get me wrong, I am not by any means saying that it is ok to enable someone to continue on with self-destructive behavior. What I am saying is that we usually don’t know a person’s whole story, we don’t know what lead them down that path and we might not know how difficult things may be for them.
If you have never struggled with addiction then it can be very difficult to understand the inner turmoil that it creates. The battle that is faced and how hard it can be in the beginning to get sober. Because of this lack of understanding, it can become easy to look down on someone instead of trying to understand them which only contributes to the problem.
We need to get rid of the idea that there is such a thing as a “typical addict.” We also need to get rid of the idea that people who have an addiction cannot go on to overcome that adversity and be successful in life. I have seen it happen in myself and many of my friends. Having worked in the addiction field for several years now I have also seen it happen with many of the people that I have worked with. I have seen mothers regain custody of their children, people go back and finish school, people go on to own their own businesses and homes.
There are a lot more of us out there than most people realize and only by opening up about it will we be able to work on ending the stigma that all too often wrongly surrounds an addict in recovery.