It’s well known that one of the top reasons people are deferred from treatment is stigma and shame. People do not want to admit they have a substance use problem. They don’t want to ask for help because of the shame that surrounds addiction. I didn’t either. I didn’t want the world to know that I had issues with prescription pills. I didn’t want my work to find out that I was swallowing pills just to get through the day. I didn’t want anyone to know that the first thing I thought about in the morning was a drug. A magic pill that would make me feel like something other than myself.
Being honest with myself was terrifying, but it was also equally terrifying to not be honest. When you know something, you can’t unknow it. And the truth was that I knew I had become addicted to prescription pills. I knew I was using them for non-medical reasons and I knew I needed help.
As a society and culture, we have yet to truly understand the power of vulnerability. When I was finally brave enough to admit I had a problem, I found support and I found love. It was love that I would not learn how to accept for many, many years, but it was offered. The willingness to stand in my truth and say “I have a problem and I need help” is the reason I am even alive today.
Brené Brown says: “You either walk inside your story and own it. Or you stand outside your story and hustle for your worthiness.”
I had a choice to make. Did I want to hide my addiction, my truth, my story? Did I want to stand outside my experiences and not face them? Or did I want to own my recovery, my story, and my life? I made the choice to stand inside my story and own it. And by doing this, I am able to rewrite the ending.
Here are 5 reasons why I speak out about my former addiction to prescription pills:
1. Telling the truth heals me and it heals others.
The importance of honesty was one of the first lessons that I learned in my recovery. I was told I had to be rigorously honest. I learned that the truth will set me free.
When I began telling the truth in sobriety, I felt lighter. I felt free. However, there was nothing that healed me more than being public about my recovery. For many people, the idea of being open about their recovery is worrisome. Questions arise like “what will people think of me?”
The truth is that it does not matter what other people think of you; what matters is what you think of yourself. When I told my story and stood in my truth – I found unconditional love, understanding, and support. I found people who said “me too” and I found people who said “thank you.”
Nayyriah Waheed says “it is being honest about my pain that makes me invincible.” As I grew vulnerable, and soft, and willing – I discovered that my pain had purpose. I could talk about what hurt me and I could talk about what healed me – and in doing so, I could heal others.
2. I want people to see the other side of addiction; recovery.
There are thousands and thousands of stories in the media and the news about the opioid epidemic and the overdoses and the deaths. There are stories of mothers losing their children and there are stories of children losing their mothers. It is true we are in the middle of one of the worst opioid epidemics of all time. It is sad and it is frightening and I continue to ask myself “what can I do?”
I know what I can do. I can tell my story and I can talk about my recovery. I don’t need to highlight all the details of my past. I want to focus on what truly matters, today. I want to pass on the hope that we can and do recover. I want to show the world that addiction does not discriminate. I want to talk about my recovery to change policies. I want to be an advocate and I want to be a voice for the voiceless. There are over 23 million people in this country living in recovery. However, many of them choose to remain anonymous because of 12 step traditions. I do not. I want my story to reach the ears and hearts of those who need to know that recovery is possible.
3. There are not enough women talking about their addiction to prescription pills.
I am one of the millions of women in this country who have abused prescription pills, yet I hear very little women speak openly about this subject. I know many women who speak openly about their alcohol misuse. However, I don’t hear enough women and I don’t read enough articles about women who admit to having an issue with prescription pills.
I have written articles in the past about how women are not talking about this epidemic. They aren’t admitting they are struggling. In my research, I discovered that over 10,000 women died last year, after overdosing on prescription opiates.
Prescription pill abuse is more stigmatized in my eyes. Alcohol misuse isn’t fully accepted, but it’s more accepted than the abuse of prescription pills. I believe that the best way to break any stigma is to tell the story of your addiction and then bring the focus back to how you live today – to what recovery really looks like. Addiction does not discriminate and we need a reminder of this always.
4. I don’t believe anonymity is helpful.
As much as I respect the 12 step program, I do not agree with the idea that we should live anonymously. Shame hides in the dark. It keeps us fearful. It keeps us quiet and it doesn’t allow us to shine our light. If secrets keep us sick, then why would I hide the fact that I overcame my addiction and became a woman I am proud to be?
Anonymity is a touchy subject. I do respect people’s choices to not be public about their recovery. However, I do hope that in being public about my own recovery, I can pass the torch to someone else so they can be open about theirs.
5. Advocacy is the best way to change policy.
Last week I sat in on the “Opioid Listening Tour” that occurred in 4 different counties in Florida. The governor of Florida recently declared that Florida was in the middle of a public health crisis. As I listened to Florida’s surgeon general and a number of other government officials and healthcare workers talk about what they were doing to end the opiate epidemic, one thing stood out. There was no one at the table in recovery or at least no one who was willing to admit they were in recovery.
We need people in recovery to be advocates for change. There is no one more able to help than someone who has lived experience. When I tell my story out loud, I intentionally and at times, unintentionally, advocate for change. I reach families of people who have lost loved ones to addiction and they thank me for my courage. I touch women who are terrified to even admit they have a problem because of the shame and stigma that surrounds substance abuse. I reach the people who need to be reached and I help them understand what they can do to change. I advocate for a different story. I say “we need stories of recovery.” We need to know we can be healed.
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