Addicts are People

Addicts are people. They are not trash to be thrown away. Please don’t talk about them like they are human refuse. There are plenty of people who use substances who are good, kind and decent people. There are many people who use due to the trauma they have experienced or because of their circumstances. Some are born into a life where drugs or alcohol is a part of their culture, where using is normalized. Maybe a person uses drugs to treat their mental health condition, or maybe just to escape from the reality of their life. Drug addiction happens to all ages, genders, colors, socioeconomic statuses, it can happen to literally anyone. There are many ways in which people start down the path of addiction, no two are the same, so don’t assume that because you know “one worthless drug addict” that everyone struggling with addiction is the same. That’s called overgeneralization and it’s not fair to do to any group of people.

Some addicts commit crimes. So do normal people. When you are someone with an addiction, some of your time is spent feeding that addiction. Many of your behaviors are focused on satisfying your need for the substance of your addiction. The normal cycle is use, come down, buy more. Sometimes in trying to get drugs, a person becomes desperate and uses whatever means they are able to in order to get what they want. Sometimes this results in crimes like robbery, check fraud, panhandling, prostitution, and, in extreme cases, murder. While I am not justifying any of these crimes, I’m telling you that there’s a reason these crimes are being committed and why someone fighting an addiction might see it as a means to an end. Once again, these can be desperate people. This is also why some people choose to make or sell drugs. It means that their own use costs less and they are able to even have an income on which to base their lifestyle if they sell enough. I once had someone tell me “I can make $3,000 cash in two days selling meth. Why should I ever work 40 hours a week to make $400 at the end of it and then wait another week or two to be paid?!”

Some addicts struggle with completing drug treatment, and some normal folks struggle with finishing EVERYTHING. Where there are drugs, there’s demand. Where there’s demand, there’s drugs. It’s an unending cycle. You can’t incarcerate people fast enough to stop it, and you can’t treat addicts quick enough to stop it. There’s no good cure for the drug addiction plaguing our country. Incarceration of addicts doesn’t cure them of their addiction, but then again, sometimes neither does treatment. There are some really good treatment centers out there, but they don’t have a 100% success rate. There are people who go to all the meetings they possibly can, have a sponsor, have a good social support system and who still relapse. Recovery isn’t perfect. There are really two ways out from addiction: death or successful treatment. One of those options doesn’t have a 100% success rate, the other does.

Some addicts have priorities which are not the same as yours (so you refer to them as “the wrong priorities”). Picture yourself living the life of an addict. You need to choose whether to buy food or drugs. To me this is probably one of the most difficult choices a person could possibly make, but many people think it’s easy. Most people don’t understand why addicts would choose drugs over food, rent, medical care or their children. Drug addiction is a sick and twisted thing and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. It’s hard for someone struggling with addiction to hold down a job, especially if using leaves them unable to function properly. “Desperate times call for desperate measures”… as the saying goes, once an addict loses their job, the result is desperation to meet EVERY need, not just addiction.

Let’s not pretend for a minute that all addicts are breaking the law. Alcohol is legal. A person can drink themselves stupid as long as they don’t drive, be drunk in public, etc. There are very few laws related to drinking at home. Alcoholics are probably the most common addicts, and yet they are somehow viewed as “better” than people who use meth or heroin, probably mostly because they are not breaking the law. But alcoholics break the law all the time. There’s many people with violations due to drinking and driving. There’s many assaults, including domestic violence and sexual assault, which were escalated due to alcohol. So how is this type of addict somehow “less bad” as compared to a hard drug user?

Addicts are people.

They love, they live, they contribute to society. They play music. They create art. They work. They play. They have families. They have spouses and significant others. They own property. They rent. They care for others. They teach. They learn. They have skills. They are kind. They can sometimes see the best in others. They are smart, sometimes bordering on brilliant! They are resourceful, much more resourceful than I will ever be. But most of all they are someone’s family member or friend. They have people who care about them and love them.

So before you say something unkind about someone struggling with addiction, think about how you’d treat someone you love who was facing this struggle. Each of us contributes to this world, and there’s enough negativity in it already. Be kind.

 

Thirteen Reasons Why and One Reason I Won’t

I just finished the show Thirteen Reasons Why on Netflix. First let me tell you there are spoilers included in this post, so you’ve been warned.

I read some articles discussing the good and bad points of it, but I wanted to give some additional feedback about the show from my experience and also share my personal experiences with mental illness, bullying, sexual assault and suicide.

Hannah Baker

Hannah Baker from “Thirteen Reasons Why” as played by Katherine Langford

Let me begin by saying that yes, some of what Hannah Baker experienced can be attributed to “normal high school experiences”. Yes, feeling outcast as the new girl, feeling alone sometimes, gaining and losing friendships, etc. are all normal. But there are other parts of Hannah’s story that are far from normal.

 

Overall I felt that the show was more focused on the trauma Hannah experiences than a mental health condition or a clinical definition of depression. Given all the trauma Hannah experiences during a short amount of time, it’s a normal thing to feel sad, depressed and low. Never once does the show reveal that Hannah is affected by any kind of mental health diagnosis or undiagnosed illness. No one ever says anything about mental health at all other than the scene where Clay’s mother suggests he try medication. Therefore, the hopelessness and loneliness that Hannah experiences, in my opinion, is not a byproduct of a mental health condition; it’s a reaction to trauma. She’s bullied, sexually assaulted and abandoned. She’s experiencing everything from guilt and shame, to flashbacks and triggering and the people she does turn to for help don’t recognize the signs or do nothing and her normal coping skills aren’t working. Maybe they just didn’t ask the right questions.

Hannah Baker experienced trauma.

It’s not her fault. She’s a victim in all of her trauma. To blame Hannah for what led to her suicide is ignorant. In the long run, Hannah did have other choices, but the choice she decided was best for her was taking her own life. Yes, it’s always sad when a preventable tragedy like this happens, and it’s a senseless loss of life. I’m not making judgments on Hannah for this choice, nor am I saying “she shouldn’t have done it”. I’m only saying that it was Hannah that made that choice, and it was hers to make.

I don’t get to decide what is best for Hannah’s life, only Hannah does.

While watching the show I identified with Hannah. I know what it’s like to feel alone, bullied, assaulted and hopeless. I know what it feels like to experience trauma and the lasting effects of trauma. I know what it feels like to think the only option is suicide. Even as I watched and knew what would happen eventually, I found myself screaming at the TV at the people who could have helped Hannah. I yelled at them about what else they could have done or resources she could have accessed. As I was sobbing and watching helplessly as Hannah slit her wrists, in what was the most heart wrenching scene of the show, I thought about all the ways her story had gone sideways, and all the ways it could have gone differently. I was thinking about why she felt suicide was an option for her, and why it isn’t an option for me.

I’ve been where Hannah Baker was. I’ve reached out to people to get help only to have them tell me to “move on” or “cheer up”. I’ve felt like I wanted to disappear, like my life was too hard. I’ve had people say I was a “drama queen,” a “slut,” and that I was making things up or making them “all about me”. Even this blog will be misconstrued by some as all about me. (It is, but it’s also about trauma reactions and mental health and it’s my blog.)

I’ve sat with that razor blade at my wrist willing myself to cut. I’ve had two failed suicide attempts. I’ve used cutting as a form of coping. I’ve had many more times when I contemplated suicide or even had a plan but didn’t carry it out. I’ve wished that I didn’t exist or wished I could disappear. And still I say that suicide is not an option for me.

Here’s why:

Suicide isn’t the end of my pain, it’s the transference of my pain to those I care about.

Think about it for a minute.

I love those who are in my life. I want the very best for them. I have family, friends and coworkers who care about me as well. If I were to take my own life, they would be the ones to feel the fallout just as the friends and family of Hannah Baker did. They would be left with the questions, the guilt, the shame and sorrow of what I had done. They would stay up late at night, unable to sleep because they were thinking about something they could have done differently to help me or stop me. They would cry at my funeral and every time afterwards when my name came up or they were reminded of me. They would be embarrassed when someone talked about the stigma of suicide and what it meant about me as a person, when they implied that I was selfish, weak, or unable to cope or when they blamed my bipolar.

Suicide isn’t an option for me because I can’t bear the thought of leaving them my pain. I want to leave a legacy of my accomplishments, my victories, my happy memories. I want people to cry because they miss me, and because it’s a shame that I am no longer alive, but know that I had a good life. I want people to talk about how I tried to dispel the stigma of mental illness and was open and honest about my symptoms and mental health. I want people to know that I lived with passion, I loved as much as I could, I lived my life to the best of my abilities regardless of my bipolar and the challenges it posed.

I want people to know that there’s no shame in asking for help, and if you can’t ask on your own, have someone help you or let someone know you need help. They don’t have to hide it. Just tell them “I need help” or “I’m suicidal. Can you help me please?”.  I want people to know they can offer help even when it’s not asked for. Like this “You seem pretty down. Are you feeling like hurting yourself?” or “Do you ever feel like hurting yourself?”

Let’s talk about mental health and suicide!!!

Suicidal thoughts are not shameful, I think everyone has them at one point in their life. So let’s talk about what is a shared experience for all of us regardless of the cause or reason we feel/felt that way. We can say “We can rely on each other and be honest about our feelings.” or “I’ve had suicidal thoughts. Have you?” or even “I’m a safe person to share suicidal thoughts with.” I guess it’s been my experience that offering help and having someone say “No, I just need to talk.” is much better than not offering. Discussing things makes it so that having future conversations isn’t awkward or difficult. If someone had cancer, they could talk about it openly. If someone had a broken leg and needed to go to the emergency room, they’d ask for help. Why should mental health be any different?!

I want people to know that medication can be a helpful tool for some people, and there’s no shame in that either. No, medication (or therapy, or anything else) cures mental illness-at least not yet. And finding the right meds, or combination of meds, or combination of therapies is BEYOND CHALLENGING and can be so frustrating! But it’s important that you do what works for you. Don’t judge yourself based on the meds you take. Don’t let others judge you based on your meds either. Everyone takes some kind of medication in their life because they need it. So if you need it, and that’s what you want, then there’s no shame in it. And if you don’t want meds, that’s ok too because it’s YOUR choice.

Lastly, I want every single person on this planet know that you are cared about, you matter and if you were gone this world wouldn’t be the same. This is true for every single person alive. Sometimes your brain will try to tell you this is a lie, but it’s not. So think about what will happen when you’re gone before you go. We all will die someday, that’s the nature of this fleeting journey we call life, so just be sure you really lived. And above all, be kind to yourself and to others. You never know what is going on with them.

Choosing Sides

For years my family has been fighting. I’ve missed birthdays, weddings, anniversaries and the birth of several babies. I’ve missed losses, tragedies in which I should have been there for my family. I should have been weeping with them, mourning their loss, but instead I was blissfully unaware of what was going on. Not by my own choosing, but by a path set in motion by an extended family member. For over 20 years now this war has been waging, and I’ve been struggling to stay neutral. Well, today I’m choosing a side.

I’m choosing the side in which I enjoy holidays and special occasions with my cousins.

I’m choosing the side where love prevails and no matter what the other party has done, we’re still family.

I’m choosing to be there for my cousins in good times and in bad times. I’m choosing to have a relationship with people who haven’t done anything and are the unwilling victims like myself in this terrible family battle.

I’m choosing the side where we don’t ignore the others or hide our communications with them. I’m choosing a side where I communicate openly with my family without shame or guilt.

I’m choosing a side where I don’t have to worry “What will they think?” when I post on the Facebook pages of my family.

Because we’re family.

Because I love them.

Because it’s not my battle.

Because the whole fucking thing is stupid and pointless.

Most of all because they are family and family sticks together.

And if that isn’t what this family values, then I’m out. I’m done. I don’t want to be a part of a family waging war against itself. That isn’t how family behaves. My grandparents would be ashamed of what my family has become, and I won’t be a part of that shame.