One of the first times I tried to get clean, I did not feel clean. I sat shaking in the third row of my mother's mini van. The sleeves of my sweatshirt stained from wiping the vomit from the side of my lips.
There was nothing "clean" about this.
I did not stay clean for long. This was nearly five years ago, and I am now a little over two years clean. I don't blame people for not understanding what I just wrote about, or for not understanding addiction or even addicts themselves. However, since getting clean now two years ago I have made it my mission to help others understand.
So this is an open letter to you, the person who does not understand.
I want to ask you two questions.
What is the worst thing you've ever done?
The worst decision you have ever made?
Did you maybe cheat on a significant other? Did you steal something? Did you bully someone in high school? Was it a prank gone wrong? Maybe you lied on your taxes or maybe you rode your bike without a helmet.
Now imagine this thing that you hate that you did, this thing you are ashamed of, this thing you dread others finding out — is something you are labeled and stigmatized for the rest of your life.
This is what being an addict is like.
But I can take a wild guess of what you're thinking right now reading the above two questions to you. You are thinking "addiction is not a disease, it's a choice, right?" Wrong.
Addiction is an equal opportunity destroyer.
Addiction does not care who you are or where you come from.
Addiction does not care what you look like.
Addiction does not care how successful, talented, wealthy, or smart you are, addiction will take all this from you.
Regardless of who you are when addiction comes barreling into you, it will turn you into someone that you are not, someone who you never wanted to be.
Addiction will make you deceive, manipulate, disappoint and let down.
Addiction will drive a wedge between you and your loved ones, addiction will make you hurt the ones closest to you and hurt yourself.
And addiction make you hate yourself in the process.
The thing is, though, nobody asks to become addicted to drugs. Nobody asks to be turned into an empty shell version of themselves. Nobody wants to become an addict. Addiction can start with a choice but addicts are not the only ones who made that choice — it was the same choice you made at high school football games, parties and sleepovers.
We drank the same water bottles filled with vodka. We bargained for the same cigarettes. We smoked the same weed. We raided medicine cabinets to have a bathroom potluck of white lines. You were able to walk away from it, though, while myself and many others were not.
This was never part of anyone's plan.
In third grade, when I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I did not answer "an addict." I did not want to become an addict rather then a teacher or a doctor.
I did not reply "I cannot wait to grow up so I can pass out drunk in my friends front yard in the middle of winter."
My friends did not reply "I cannot wait till I am stealing from my parents so I can afford to use."
My friends did not reply "I cannot wait to overdose and die before I can graduate college, get married or have kids."
Nobody wants to have substance use disorder, some of us just do.
We can never know what it is like to be another person, to see what they have seen, to feel what they have felt. We are all made up of our different experiences, including those of success and failures. A lot of us made those same choices. However, some just got lucky that it was me, and not you.
Do not give up on us. Do not hate us. I can understand the need to separate yourself if need be, but please remember that we are human too. We deserve compassion, kindness and care. We deserve to live a life free from judgment and hatred.
Addiction is no doubt a difficult disease for anyone to wrap their head around, including those who suffer from it. But that doesn't mean it is any less real or valid for those who are struggling with it.
I ask you to dig down deep, educate yourself, and show love to those who are still fighting this battle.