Interview, September 13th, 2018
National Recover Month “Recovery is Possible”
By Shani James
Each year “awareness months” come and go. Some of us feel a call to action; others repost on social media or let them pass by. Eyes brows briefly raise at various stories of survival, triumph, struggle and celebration but ultimately we return to our lives. This particular month, admittedly, I wasn’t really paying attention. I was mostly caught up in the hustle and bustle of life, as many of us are at various times.
One particular evening I was caught in either the mindlessness of repetitive dinner chewing or possibly deep thought. At this point I can’t remember which one but I was completely zoned out when the phone rang. I’m thankful that it did. This phone call was an aunt I love to speak with but never talk to enough. She informed me that this month was National Recovery Month and advised me to tune into Dr. Peg’s radio show on September 13th.
I am so thankful for this call because in this casual conversation I received a snap back into reality. I am privileged to have these moments of thoughtlessness but I’d much rather fill those moments with service to others, positive energy towards those in need and support for my brothers and sisters still struggling. National Recovery Month is a perfect time to do this and I did not even know it existed!
Listening in to the SOS guest appearance was a blessing for me. I walked away feeling inspired to support. It sparked a period of pause and reflection for me that lasted at least for a 24 hour period. I’ve been hit hard and in all directions by the effects of substance abuse and mental health disorders. Both of my brothers have abused opioids, one of which I know has been through recovery and substance free for the last few years. My step mother, grandparents and countless friends and family have suffered from drug abuse and serious mental health issues. Unfortunately, just last year I lost a cousin to the effects of drug use and the party lifestyle that is so prevalent in today’s popular culture. And on my birthday January 19th 2017 we lost Raymond Rountree. I’ve never talked about it but the loss of Raymond has affected all who knew him, including me. I make sure to recall his laughter and kindness towards me whenever I have the chance to remember those I have already lost. I’ve lost so many dear friends and family but I know I couldn’t be the only person affected in this way by this terrible epidemic.
I am not a stranger to addiction myself; my vice was alcohol (7 years sober). I understand the shame and guilt that goes hand in hand with addiction. This epidemic is hardly new. I consider it to be the same old demon but more developed and resistant. This monster is like the Hydra when you cut one head off two more grow back in its place. It’s now to the point that the soldiers on the ground can’t see where to strike for defeat. We must call it by its name and gut it from the inside out.
I remember being high school/ college age and opioids being “serious” drugs whereas marijuana and alcohol were acceptable. Now, just ten years later, I’ve been shocked at the lackadaisical attitude I’ve encountered when speaking to young people about overdose, drug use and addiction. This is not to categorize addictions but rather to show the change in pop culture thus the increase in opioid use amongst young people.
There are no social stigmas holding young people back from drugs like cocaine, molly, lean and other “party drugs”. The goal seems to be to have the most fun you can possibly have right now and not to think about tomorrow. Unfortunately, fun seems to always include intoxication and it is not a sustainable lifestyle. We can see rappers and singers glorifying drugs and party culture only to post their RIP for their friends overdoses the next week. These people are soon forgotten with the next wave of party music and a dose of the next combo party drug. The cycle is truly disturbing.
It can even be discouraging at times to have conversations with young people who do not think of life beyond their college years. It has become hard to explain the value of sustainability if the value of life has not been communicated and received on a daily basis. I even find young people do not understand the permanency of death. This is even more serious and again disturbing.
However, in listening to Dr. Pegs radio show I felt a renewed sense of purpose in this fight. Not that I ever gave up, but I have come to realize it is not a fight for an individual. It is for families, friends, survivors and the community at large to come together and support those suffering. It’s also not for us to fight those who are battling these addictions and disorders. We need to fight the systems that keep people struggling, fight the mindsets that are causing shame, and fight our urges to blame or enable our loved ones.
Matthew Jarvis spoke about the difficulties for those who are struggling in their disorder to recognize that they have an issue. Many of us can attest to that from the outside looking in. However, Mr. Jarvis who has experienced the struggle of opioid addiction first hand, offered an inside perspective. He also highlighted some of the possible reasons for the denial. He mentioned a few barriers within treatment as stigma, shame, gender and sexuality, family as well as getting in the door for treatment and staying. Some of these obstacles I had never considered before.
There were a few things on the list that I could not change directly within myself, yet this got me thinking. What types of barriers as family and friends are we causing in the lives of the people we love most? As if I’d telepathically phoned in to Lorraine Hoover’s brain she addressed that very issue. Lorraine stated “Sometimes family is your worst enemy…they can push our poor choices.”
Now that was powerful! How can the ones we love the most “push our poor choices”? I decided to ask myself what I can do differently. How could I be influencing poor choices in people I want to make better choices? I entered a period of mediation and self-reflection.
While meditating on the words of Lorraine Hoover , Mathew Jarvis, and Dr. Peg I came to the realization that I could be in fact a barrier to my loved ones. So I formulated a few rules (and reflective questions) to help evaluate how I can better support friends, family and community members suffering from mental health or substance use disorders.
1. Never shame or guilt trip. Reflective question: What is the role of shame in the hesitancy in asking for help?
Shame can :
– Shape a person’s perception of themselves.
– Shame through familial relationships will influence positive or negative decisions and/or cause reluctance to act at all.
Lorraine said Raymond’s self-talk was negative he was a self-proclaimed “mess up”. Self-talk can develop into self-fulfilling prophecy. As family members and friends we should encourage positive self-talk and self-perception.
2. No Matter how many times it takes, support the journey to and through recovery. Reflective question: Have I mocked the process for someone else’s success? Lorraine mentioned that her brother went through a recovery process nine times that she knew of. That may sound like a lot but how can we quantify the amount of times it takes to tell your brain that it doesn’t NEED a chemical? I have personally questioned how many times does really take to stop addictive behaviors? Addiction is not a habit that takes 21 days to drop and it isn’t a self-control issue like avoiding your second cookie. We must remember addiction is a physical manifestation of a chemical process.
3. Love. Use love in our interactions, come from a place of love in expressing our concerns and love unconditionally. I’d rather have someone tell me I loved them through the hurt than I pushed them away at their time of need. Truly loving someone requires us to at least attempt to understand them. We have to try to understand our loved ones in order to support them properly. I personally prefer to be a driving force towards success than a barrier to a long life. That is what we are talking about here. Life or death.
My ask is that everyone reading here go listen to the radio show, then reflect and meditate like I did. We can all make small improvements that make a world of difference in someone else’s life. Because the truth is, as Mathew Jarvis put it, “The caution with addiction is, it’s fatal”.