Is it just me or does that term sound so...dirty? I can’t imagine the weight and difficulty one must carry to be labeled that, but what often goes unnoticed is the similar feeling that person’s family, and other close people, also bear.
Growing up, I’ve never known anyone with this disease (Yes, I said disease. Whether society likes it or not it’s an actual medical condition. But more on that later). Sure I had been exposed to it in some form by books and movies and whatnot, but never anything close than an outsider’s distanced view.
It wasn’t until my early twenties that I experienced it firsthand.
At the time I was still working at my first job at a gym a few minutes from home. I was also still in a bit of an awkward phase, but somehow managed to befriend my coworkers, one of whom was James.
Now, James and I didn’t really run in the exact same circle of friends, as we were from different departments, but our paths still crossed occasionally from other members of our groups overlapping and hosting parties or just bringing people in by being very extroverted (which I was, and currently am, definitely not). One of our first interactions was actually at one of these parties.
It was actually as awkward as you could guess. Seeing him sitting alone on a couch, I tipsily headed over and asked over the blaring music, “Where’s your girlfriend that was here last time?” “We broke up.” “Oh, sorry.”
Surprisingly, though, we somehow managed to overcome the uncomfortability, and very quickly over the course of a few weeks became very close.
I never suspected anything was wrong during this entire time until one night he said he had something to share with me. At the time he didn’t say it point-blank, but rather explained that he had an issue with some stuff he was taking, and that it was something that he had dealt with for awhile and it had come back.
Given that I was pretty naive and uneducated on the topic, I simply told him I hadn’t met anyone with that issue and so would look into it. This response was apparently not normal and therefore surprising to him.
Through the years since then we have gone through quite a few storms as a result of his affliction. Numerous rehab stays, sober livings, therapy (both together and individually), countless fights, enough tears to fill the Pacific Ocean, and of course, the judgment and concerns, whether well-meaning or not, of everyone around us. To call it overwhelming would be an understatement.
A lot of this can be contributed to the point of this that which I am writing: it’s a dirty topic.
Dirty, shameful, scary, misunderstood, and many more negative adjectives.
Let’s say someone you’ve seen in a movie, or someone you know, has cancer (I’ve experienced that, too. My mother-in-law fought bravely and up to the end was a force to be reckoned with). How are they viewed? As a warrior: someone who faces their battle head-on, and through their victories and struggles, is someone who is viewed with admiration and pride. Which is how it should be. That fight is a valiant and courageous one.
But what about an addict?
How is it viewed when we hear someone has an issue with any vice, whether alcohol, pills, or needles? When they get sober? When they relapse? Do we listen when they talk about it? Or do we hush it or deem it inappropriate?
“What do you have to be proud of? You shouldn’t have done it to begin with,” the World says. “How could you do that to your family?” “Why can’t you just stop?”
For those close to them the questions come, too:
“Why don’t you leave them?”
“Why do you put up with it?”
“You could do better.”
“Don’t you want someone who you can be proud of?”
No one questions the cancer patient why they couldn’t be healthier. No one asks their family to stop associating with them. And rightly so. But addiction really isn't much different.
But still, there are the exceptions in any situation.
There are some people, who are also addicts, who are violent, abusive, and dangerous. But you can find people like that anywhere and in any situation. They can even show up in the prettiest of packaging. They should not, however, color an entire group of people who are already labeled so harshly.
Also, there are those of us who decide that they no longer want to have the role of partner anymore, and so choose to take their life in a different direction. And each of us has the choice to do what's best for us, no matter what that means to us.
I am not an addict. But I know someone who is. He has a name, a face, a family, a daughter, a partner, and a story.
And so do I. And I’m tired of being too nervous, scared, and embarrassed to tell it.
So I will.