The Truth About Addiction
No one can dispute this fact. Addiction is toxic. It seeps its way into everything, for those who are caught in its grip, and overflows into the lives of those around them.
Addiction affects children. Every day a baby is born drug dependent; a child buries his mother — because of addiction. For over fourteen years I have worked in this field, and witnessing the devastation never gets easier. Some days, it feels like the problem is so huge there might be nothing we can ever do to stop it. And then I get back to work.
“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
~ Mahatma Gandhi
As a woman who has personally struggled with addiction and experienced the miracles of recovery, I many times pause to look honestly and closely at the work ahead of us where addiction is concerned. I do not have all the answers. No one does. We cannot possibly, as individuals, see the growing problem of addiction from every aspect. There is no problem that will ever be solved from one standpoint, and so we must all work together. We must be open to hearing stories that challenge our personal narratives and realities.
We must be open to listening.
If we are ever to make even the slightest bit of progress, we must all be committed to stepping outside of our comfort zones and remain willing to listen to the voices of differing perspectives. If we are unwilling to do so, I fear there is no hope for a solution. If we are not willing, addiction will continue to have the upper hand.
Through my work with Sober Mommies, I advocate for both mothers and children every day. I am a firm believer that the best way to protect and support children is by connecting their mothers with the help, treatment, and guidance they need to be their best selves. I have received much criticism over the years regarding my approach, and my refusal to comply with the ways in which addiction has been historically handled. I do not and will not ever simply tell women what they “should” or “have to” do to appease society’s view of them, and then send them on their way. I will continue to speak my own truths and challenge unethical, inappropriate and harmful means to eradicate addition. I got sober when I was 22, and almost a year after I gave up physical custody of my daughter; because I felt ill equipped to be her mother the way I was living, which was actually dying.
Everyone was talking at me, telling me who and what I had to be in order to get what they suggested I must want — to get my daughter back. No one was asking me why I was running from those responsibilities, but instead shaming me into acting as if. It was expected that I must know how to take appropriate action to fix my circumstances — that I must be refusing to comply, but that could not have been further from the truth.
I was trying my best every day, with limited resources and confidence, and I just kept “failing” and disappointing everyone. It wasn’t until another woman came along and took my hand to walk me through some of the actions necessary to improve my life that I even realized I was worth that time and effort.
People with substance use disorder are humiliated and demoralized everywhere we look. Words like “dirty junkie” and “choice” get thrown around and we are demonized for the assumption that we are in fact asking for whatever horrific things happen to us during our active addiction. For some of us however, it’s what happened before those addictions started that keep us stuck in the rat wheel of cyclical disaster.
Women trapped in addiction are not monsters. They are human beings trying to survive a world that often seems to set them up to fail. They are women who need to be heard, with a howling pain that needs desperately to be taken seriously.
Many of the women I work with come feeling the weight of the entire universe on their shoulders and unable to climb out. I know what that’s like. Feeling the guilt and shame of walking away from my beautiful daughter, as a means to an end, believing I was nothing — unworthy of her unconditional love and acceptance. I was a terrible mother, and I knew it. I couldn’t see the forest through its ugly trees, and was without appropriate guidance.
The systems in place to aid addicted mothers are insufficient, and play a huge part in the ineffectiveness of treatment. Even if a woman is connected with “help,” it is assumed she’ll know what to do with it. Maybe she’ll be locked up in a psych-ward for two weeks, or perhaps she’ll be medically detoxed in three days, but inevitably she’ll be dismissed right back to the same street she’s spent a lifetime trying desperately to escape.
Wrap around services are great — IF someone is willing and able enough for treatment and somewhat self-propelled. Women who struggle with feelings of worthlessness and unspeakable shame are falling through the cracks in service daily — the gaps between providers and lacks in effective and efficient communication.
A mother may have six different professional aids to help maneuver recovery, however it happens that none of them may speak to the other in her case. One hand may not be helping the other. Often times providers don’t even have the same goals in place, which can be extremely confusing and feel defeating to someone who’s limited in capacity or self-esteem. Providers may often be conflicting in ideas and expectations. She may not even feel able to advocate for herself and her family, out of fear that it will cost her what little rights she currently has.
The stigma attached to addiction and recovery is ugly. It’s cunning and sometimes baffling, and also everywhere. It lives within our system, and infects even the most well-intentioned “helpers.”
Sober Mommies advocates for the rights of both mother and child, and makes no judgement about whose life is more important. This means having really uncomfortable conversations and talking about things we all wish were an easy fix. Supporting families is not easy, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Addiction is gray, and there are so many aspects to the hows and whys. How should recovery be any different?
Our mission is to provide women support within the gaps of whatever services they choose by offering a judgement-free arena where they can heal. Within this space, breathes hope and opportunity. Suddenly life is not a death sentence, and possibility can live. We get to witness the miracles of sisterhood, and watch women learn from each other and grow in ways they never thought possible. Women use their experiences to help others find their voices and advocate for their own lives and the lives of their children. Within this space we have witnessed reunifications and welcomed newborn babies born into the arms of mothers who know their worthiness of recovery and all its glorious gifts.
I do not pretend the success of our organization or the evidence in the lives of the women we support will serve to change the minds of those who choose to believe in the floppy statistical fact that many will not find recovery. I don’t imagine our mission will much impress those committed to shame and blame to offset the responsibility we have as a society to support the health and wellbeing of our communities.
This stigma will not deter me or our mission, but instead serve as further evidence that our work is a vital part of the entire picture necessary to combat addiction and all its ramifications. We will not be silenced or excused from this conversation. Our voices matter and we shall continue to share our truths and advocate for the women who have yet to discover their own.
“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” ~Maya Angelou
Click HERE to watch The Doctors TV episode I appeared in
to discuss whether or not struggling addicts should be sterilized.
Julie Maida lives in Massachusetts with her amazing husband and three children. She has been in abstinence-based recovery since May 2, 2000.
Julie is eternally grateful for all the gifts of recovery and fiercely determined to advocate for, and connect ALL women with the appropriate support and resources necessary to achieve their personal recovery goals. She writes about mothering with mental illness at juliemaida.me.