Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Ignorance and Hope

Addiction can bring out the ugliness in people. I am not just talking about those battling this chronic brain disease. I am talking about the judgers and the haters who have a lot to say but, in reality, know very little about the disease. They would be wise to listen to the farmer on the news last night who was talking about a problem they are having. He said, “We can’t know what we don’t know” or something to that effect. He is absolutely right!

Why then, do we feel so free to judge and make hurtful comments about those battling addiction? I am quite confident that if you do not work in the field of addiction, or you do not have a family member suffering from it, then you probably give it very little time and attention. I get that. There are a lot of illnesses out there. We can’t possibly become well-versed in each one especially one as complex as addiction.

Addiction is a terrible disease where the symptoms are behavioral and that is not fun for anyone. I get that, too. What we have to understand is that no amount of shaming will make the problem go away, but compassion might help! Dig deep and find compassion and accept that there are things that you don’t understand about the disease.

Do you know that cancer was stigmatized once too? It was stigmatized because it was misunderstood. People at that time would have had many reasons why it shouldn’t be called a disease and why the person ended up with it (she was always sad; he was cranky all the time, etc.). Over time the truth came out and people began to accept that it was, in fact, a disease that could happen to anyone, not just the weak-willed. We’ll get there with addiction, too!

As my connections expand, I am exposed to the addiction problem in many areas around the world as well as the level of ignorance and stigma that surround the disease. One lady recently told a story about how her friends were discussing the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman on Facebook. They didn’t know her child was addicted because she was keeping it a secret. Every negative comment about addicts cut like a knife.

One friend of many years posted a comment that was so hurtful that this mom decided to send her an email and share their secret. She had hoped to make her friend realize that it can happen to anyone. Her friend was very unsympathetic and said, “Well, I can’t be your friend anymore”. The lady was devastated that her friend would be like that. 

My heart ached for this poor woman. It takes so much courage to tell your secret, and that is what she got in return. I commented on how terrible that was. I also wrote the following:

“I don’t know if I am super blessed or if I just live in a really great place but I have NEVER had anyone say anything negative to me since I shared our secret. People have been very supportive, which has empowered me to continue speaking publicly and try to make a difference.”

Of course, I realize that this may not be everyone’s experience when they open up about their struggles but I am so grateful that it was mine. It allowed me to start the healing process.

As I often do, I felt proud to be an Islander where people are, for the most part, kind and respectful.

I wanted to thank you – my fellow Islanders – for your kindness. Those of us who have spoken out, or who are enduring this nightmare in silence, are always grateful for your compassion and support.  Of course, we know that there are still people who don’t get it (read the anonymous comments in The Guardian lately) but I think we’re changing some attitudes, and that’s a start!

May you never experience this nightmare in your family but if you do I pray that things will be better and you won’t face any obstacles in getting treatment. By that time, I would hope that addiction will be treated with the same level of care and concern as any other illness. That is my greatest wish for all of us.



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