We Are Worth Saving from Addiction
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We Are Worth Saving from Addiction


teenage alcoholismEverywhere I look, there seems to be death and devastation due to the misuse of some chemical substance or other. Of course the world is very aware of the death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman of a heroin overdose. In my own country, the story of the death of two young men will probably not have reached American shores: 22-year-old Ross Cummins, who was found unconscious in a house in Dublin, and 19-year old Jonny Byrne, who was discovered in the river at Milford Bridge in County Carlow. Both men are believed to have been taking part in Nek Nominate, a drinking game craze that apparently originated in Australia. While of course we have no idea if either of these two men were addicts or alcoholics, clearly they were abusing alcohol at the time of their deaths.

And there will be many more nameless and faceless victims all over the world who will have died from addiction or abuse of some chemical this week; their stories will never be told or heard.

While the reporting on the lifestyles and sometimes tragic deaths of famous addicts and alcoholics does help highlight the reality of the chronic disease of addiction, it also at times seems to distance the dangers of addiction from people like you and me. In truth, it’s not until some extreme incidents are splashed all over the news that many even really think about addiction. Then there seems to be a sort of “that kind of stuff only happens to the rich and famous” mode of thinking—something that, in my mind, glamorizes and romanticizes the actions. While the deaths of the two young Irish men will probably be blamed on the government, churches or some other superpower, I believe we’re all responsible in some way. I think we have to take a look at how our own attitudes and beliefs about alcohol add to or diminish the acceptance of our drinking culture.

Any addict or alcoholic already caught in the grip of this hell will tell you quite clearly that it doesn’t matter if you’re living in a penthouse or an outhouse—your possessions, social class, financial status or religious inclination are all totally irrelevant. The addiction owns you and all that you possess. Nothing will save you from the grips of it unless you want to be saved and even then, the uphill road to recovery is so difficult that it deters some from ever even trying to get well.

Addiction must be treated like any other disease of the mind or body. None of us chooses to be an addict. Nobody wants to go through the living nightmare that is dependence on a chemical substance; and even when we try to recover, as the Philip Seymour Hoffman story highlights, the need for constant vigilance and action to prevent relapse is absolutely necessary.

The negative judgment of society towards those living with addiction and the still gross misunderstanding of this progressive disease is worrying, especially when it is approximated that one in 14 people on this planet have an addiction of some description. Wide-scale ignorance does little but drive those of us who struggle on a daily basis to get and stay clean underground into isolation, away from the glaring lights of ridicule and moralistic opinion.

I actually think I’ve been judged more since I decided to get sober than when I was active. I’ve been accused of declaring myself an alcoholic in order to not have to take responsibility for my past behavior and told I’ve done it for attention. I’ve been rejected by people I was once close to and verbally abused because of my decision to write about my experience. I’ve been mocked and gossiped about because I refuse to live in denial and fear. While I know that this disease will kill me if I let it, unfortunately just knowing this will not save my life. As an alcoholic, I am expected to feel shame by the wider community for my weak will and lack of morals. In my recovery, I have been encouraged to become very aware of my past behavior and how it has impacted others and myself and to accept it and make amends—all of which I have done on numerous occasions. But I could have chosen another path and allowed the pressure of other people’s opinions of me to keep me stuck in active addiction.

What I have had to come to terms with is that having this disease comes with responsibilities that most other diseases don’t. Defending yourself against judgment and blame is not something you normally associate with having a disease. But with addiction, I’m afraid it is all too present. I also have had to come to terms with the fact that there is no magic cure—no pill or potion to obliterate it from my body. For me, the most important aspect of my recovery is that I have to want to be clean and sober more than anything else in the world. As Yoda said in The Empire Strikes Back, “Do or do not—there is no try.” I have to not care what anyone else thinks of me and I have to want better for myself than to poison and harm myself until I become a shell of a person or die. The death of the two young men shows that you don’t even need to be an addict for substances to kill you. But how do we prevent death from something that is so socially acceptable? I believe we have to want more for ourselves. We have to get real about the dangers and stop fobbing off this craziness as normal behavior. And we have to want that for the rest of the people in the world as well.

Unfortunately, the loss of these valuable lives will do little to stop the abuse of chemicals or the onset of active addiction. Each day of every week, there will be hundreds of similar deaths. Drugs and alcohol have been here since time began and they will be here until the end of human existence. We can see that criminalization of addicts and prohibition has done nothing to lessen the devastation. Ultimately, it has to be a personal responsibility. It has to be about what we want for ourselves. It has to be about what we think we are worth as human beings.

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About Author

Nicola O’Hanlon is part of the blogging community for the recovery website intherooms.com. You can see her blogs on iloverecovery.com. She was born and still lives in Wexford, Ireland.