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MOTIVATIONAL MUSINGS: Addiction is an illness, and those of us in recovery are beacons of hope

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If I were to come into work today and, God forbid, I have cancer, the outpouring of sympathy would be monumental.

My friends, my coworkers, even colleagues with whom I only have a passing familiarity, would rally. I would be inundated with offers of help, with suggestions, with questions about my doctor, my treatment, my prognosis, my financial situation. If it were serious, I have no doubt that meals would start showing up at my house by day’s end, and many of you would reach out to my wife to see what could be done. If you’ve fought your own cancer battles, or you have a loved one who’s been through it, you would likely give me a list of helpful coping tips, oncology recommendations and pleas to drive me to wherever I needed to go as I fought to get better.

Assuming we’re not awful people, that scenario would be repeated for everyone who has a circle of friends, family and peers with whom they share a small corner of this world and make an impact. We take care of our own, as the song goes, and do our very best to make our passage through this corporeal realm as gentle and loving as it can be. Cancer … diabetes … COPD … kidney disease … all of those ailments afflict millions of people the world over, and the communities in which they live circle the wagons, start GoFundMe campaigns and give of themselves, through money or time or thoughts and prayers, for speedy and painless recoveries.

Unless that ailment happens to be addiction.

It struck me this week that despite our work, despite our mission, addiction is still stigmatized as something beyond the illness that we know it to be. A social media post by a local television station on Narcan doses in East Tennessee brought out a whole lot of visceral ugliness, and it nauseated me to read some of the comments that were directed at those who suffer from addiction.

Consider, for example, the public outcry whenever a proposed halfway house or treatment center tries to establish a new location. It has to be out of the way, away from local residences and schools and churches, because the general public doesn’t want “those kinds of people” trying to get help where they eat and sleep and learn and worship.

I can’t help but wonder, every time I see read about such public protests — would those individuals say the same thing if it was a hospital or a dialysis clinic that wanted to open in their neighborhood? Something tells me the answer is no. And that saddens me, because it’s another sign that the public stigma about addiction is still alive and well in this country. The opposition to such treatment facilities is rooted in fear and misunderstanding, and it shows that many people think of addicts not as sick individuals, but as drug-crazed criminals who are a danger to the community.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Such opinions make it that much harder for addicts to admit they have a problem and seek help, which is why what we do matters more than ever. Even more than that, who we are as members of the recovering community matters more than ever. I understand the reticence to talk publicly about one’s personal recovery; the 11th Tradition is an invaluable way of protecting our precious fellowships, but we should always remember that we are beacons of light in what is often a dark and unforgiving societal circus.

We don’t have to trumpet our membership in a specific recovery organization; we don’t have to tell anyone what kind of meetings we attend; but neither should we hide the fact that we are recovering. Do cancer patients refuse to discuss their remission? Do those who have arrested other chronic diseases hide their victories? No. We share their stories and celebrate their success and lift them up as shining examples of what medicine, perseverance and grace can do. We look to them as inspirations for our own struggles.

We’ve come a long way with the public perception of addiction, but the stigma is still out there. Whenever it’s discussed, an ugly undercurrent of the baser angels of human nature will rear its ugly head. It’s up to us, as those beacons of recovery, to push back against it.

Don’t hide your recovery today. Don’t stay in the shadows. You, every one of you, are the examples that this is a disease that can be arrested … that we’re sick people looking to heal, not bad people looking to be good … that what we have accomplished through honesty, openmindedness and willingness is available to anyone who might seek a way out of the darkness.

You are the light. And we must take care of our own, all of those who seek the hope that we provide. The lives we live today are proof that it is real, and it is available to us all.

Here’s your Friday motivation, friends.