An Open Letter To Friends Who Don’t Understand Addiction
Dear Friends Who Don’t Understand Addiction,
Please stop referring to people who have, or are struggling with an addiction, as “they.”
“They should just…” “Why can’t they just…”
“They should know better…”
“They did this to themselves. It’s not my problem.”
It pisses me off more than I can express.
The mindset that addicts have control over their addiction and could stop if they just wanted it enough has stood the test of time. And just like every other blanketed form of ideology, it’s not nice…and it’s wrong.
Thinking of addiction with a black and white, all-or-nothing mentality does nothing but feed into “Us vs. Them” and the stigma associated with addiction.
It leaves people, and families dealing with addiction, feeling isolated, alone, and reluctant to reach out and share their struggles.
Even after kicking my addictions to the curb years ago, I still experience subtle, accidental insults and stereotypes that you “don’t mean” to hurt me with.
You think you are doing me a favor by prefacing your judgmental opinions—by saying things like:
- “Well this doesn’t apply to you, but…”
- “I am talking more about the ones who are really bad…”
- “You did the work, I am talking more about the ones who don’t want to…”
You are all intelligent humans. Some of you even earned degrees from
Trump University solid, accredited, learning institutions. You have children, successful careers, and have even formed friendships with other intelligent humans.
I used to struggle with my anger toward you, because I couldn’t understand how you could possibly be so cold and unwilling to bend or think.
I wondered how your heart cannot see that everyone suffering with addiction is human.
Over the years I have learned a few things about you and other people who categorize drug-addicts.
Since you all like categories so much, here are a couple possibilities for you:
“The Angry Victim”
You have been affected by addiction in some way, and your life and heart have been harmed by it. Maybe your life has been changed because of it. Your anger and built up resentment have caused you to live a zero-tolerance life. This means that there is no reason for anyone to try to change your mind, because your disgust for ‘junkies’ has forced you to live by the ever popular no grey area mentality, and after all, “they made their own beds, didn’t they?”
“Neutrals” or “NonPartisan Peeps”
You have deeply held opinions that you keep close to you, but you are still willing to accept that your conclusions are not absolute — maybe there could be more to learn. You ride the fence between offensive and empathetic, but you have not taken a firm stance on the matter. You understand that the issue is much more than a moral failure on the part of over twenty-million people, but that’s as far as you’ve come.
You don’t really give a shit about facts or data or all that science-y stuff. You know all the things about all the things, and are more interested in schooling people than listening. You ignore personal stories shared by people with actual experience. You make it clear you have nothing left to learn and no interest in new information or advances made. You believe phrases like “evidenced based practices,” are wordy distractions meant to deter you from the truth and trick you into changing your mind.
“The Paranoid Preacher”
You are the special gems who believe your religion of choice tells you to avoid people like drug-addicts, because it might be contagious and permanently damaging to your life and the lives of your children and pets. You pray for “them,” but from a safe distance; like really, really, far away. Deep down you know that God wants you to do more, but you’re afraid — because what limited information you have about us is scary. Your fear acts a barrier between what you know you should do and how you choose to live out your beliefs.
See? Shoving unique people into pre-cut molds and stereotyping isn’t very much fun. Being categorized by someone who doesn’t know you doesn’t feel good, either.
It doesn’t help the problem.
Here are a few things that might…
1. Be careful what you say and aware of who you are speaking to.
At the very least, try not to group all addicts into “them” or “they.” We are not one person. We are a very diverse group of over twenty-million.
2. Educate yourself about addiction.
It’s easy. Get on the internet machine and read some stuff. It will help your brain.
3. Talk to a human being who has struggled with an addiction.
I bet you might like them.
4. Phone a friend.
If you happen to have a change of heart (and mind), please tell someone about it! We all generally run with cats who think in very similar ways, and it never hurts to share new information and help to educate others with what you have learned.
Brittany Shelton is a person living a sober life. Having spent the better part of her adolescence & young adulthood held captive by polysubstance dependence, depression and trauma related dissociation, she was also comfortable with chaos, loud bars, and abusive men.
Brittany’s personal recovery experience has shown her the value and necessity of having support available, and she has dedicated the last nine years of her sober life doing her best to give back in various ways.
Today, she is a happily (not perfectly) married wife and a stay-at-home mom to three young boys.