We’re joining the calls in Addiction Awareness Week 2022 for greater understanding about addiction. Breaking down the misinformation around addiction is life-changing. Support not stigma is life-saving.
- Open and honest conversations about addiction matter because denial traps people in cycles of drinking and using drugs.
- Secrecy, shame and avoidance keep people with addiction, and their loved ones, stuck.
- Every real conversation about addiction chips away at the concrete walls of denial.
- With greater addiction awareness, right across society, people can reclaim months, years, or even decades of their life.
- We live in hope that one day affordable addiction treatment will be universally available.
- Right now, we know that addiction awareness saves precious time, and it saves lives.
- To book an assessment for alcohol or drug treatment, contact Help Me Stop. Message us on Live Chat or call 0208 191 9191.
It’s not possible to know which conversations about addiction change lives…
…but conversations about addiction DO change and save lives. In Addiction Awareness Week, Kate is sharing some key moments that mattered in her active addiction, times when people listened and spoke up honestly.
Kate says, ‘I want to write about some of the moments where people listened to me, or said things that really mattered. During my fifteen years of active addiction, these are some of the times when people didn’t say or do the easy thing. They told me the truth with kindness. Over time, these conversations broke down my denial around addiction. They all added up to the moment when I became open to addiction treatment. Long-term recovery then became possible. I am now 15 years’ sober and drug-free, still grateful for the people who made the extra effort. Some of them, I’m still in contact with today, and they know how much their actions mattered to me. Others, I am not in touch with, and it hasn’t been possible to track them down to say thank you. This is one way I can thank all the people who helped me – not just the people I am writing about here, but everyone who cared – because all these helpful moments led to my recovery.’
In my early 20s, I had a teacher who listened so well
I was in my final year of university, often drinking from eleven o’ clock in the morning. There was a pub opposite the campus called the Tram Depot. My friend and I used to knock on the door at opening time. We ordered a bottle of white wine, drank that, then we ordered the next one. Some of the teachers would join us at lunchtime, drink with us. One teacher noticed that things weren’t right. Several times, I went to her when the bottled emotions spilled over. My teacher listened. She didn’t judge the mess of my addiction. Her door was always open when I needed it to be. That really mattered to me.
Around the same time, there was a boss, Dave, who gave me so many chances
Consequences have been helpful in bringing me to the point of readiness for addiction treatment and recovery, all the lost friendships, health problems, and the missed opportunities. It was important that many people said no to me, and walked away. However, equally important were the people who gave me chances – people like Dave, my boss. It’s a fine line, of course, between people putting up with my unacceptable behaviour and giving me another go, but Dave’s acceptance and kindness was memorable. It made a difference to me when I really needed consistency and stability in my life.
In the end, I was phoning in sick so often that it became untenable to work for Dave any longer. He started to question with kindness the truth of my reasons for missing work. So, I left. I was still drinking and using, and it became too embarrassing to stay. But this was another step towards my recovery.
After getting treatment for addiction, almost a decade later, I went to see Dave. He was still working in the same company. I loved that he was so easy to find, still so reliable. I made my amends to Dave, letting him know how much I appreciated his considerable efforts to keep me on, despite being a terrible employee. We had a good laugh about it, which was brilliant for both of us.
A year before I stopped drinking for good, my friend Daisy said something that really mattered
My friend said, ‘I like you even more when you’re sober.’ For years, I thought that alcohol was required for me to be liked. Adding alcohol, and often drugs, seemed like the only way to be sociable, outgoing, interesting and funny. I was much quieter without a drink inside me. That didn’t seem to be enough in the social circles of my teens and twenties. Everyone was so noisy and confident and talkative (or so it seemed to me). Fuelled by alcohol and drugs, my peers were loud, and I believed to be part of it, I had to turn the volume up. Daisy said she much preferred our chats when I was sober. Though it didn’t stop me drinking immediately, it was a conversation that lodged in my mind. It was a possibility that there could be another way. Daisy and I are still friends today, and I have told her many times that she made a difference to me.
There was a nurse, three months before I stopped drinking, who went the extra mile on her shift
I was in hospital, again, having taken too many stimulants over several days, no sleep, alcohol and cigarettes all the way, possibly a piece of toast or a bag of crisps, but absolutely no nourishment for days. My body and mind were exhausted. I was so broken in that hospital bed, absolutely alone. There were no family or friends with me because I was beyond the point of calling anyone by then. It was just too much to bear the frustration and fear of those who loved me.
The nurse was kind to me. She said, ‘You nearly didn’t make it. I’m glad that you did.’ She didn’t lecture me about alcohol or drugs, nor did she tell me how stupid I’d been. But she didn’t avoid the real issue either, by just relaying clinical facts. Instead, she told me about her daughter, once addicted to drugs, now in recovery. She said her daughter had got clean and sober by going to church. Though religion wasn’t my thing, for some reason I could hear the message of hope from the nurse that day, because it was a message that was delivered with no judgment. The kindness of a stranger made it memorable, as she didn’t need to invest so much care in me, but she still took time to connect. It didn’t stop me drinking or using straight away, but it was another moment that mattered.
A few days before I stopped drinking, there was a colleague in HR who believed me and acted fast when I asked for help
Of this time, my recollection is hazy. How it all came together so quickly, without much effort on my part, is some sort of miracle. But really, I know my colleague must have done a lot of organising. I went into a rehab. Finally, I got the help I needed. I started to feel my feelings again without alcohol and drugs. Aged 30, the wall of denial came down. There were hundreds, if not thousands, of conversations I needed in rehab – waves of love and hope. Those conversations continued after I left rehab, in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous, and in therapy, and with good friends. They continue to this day, 15 years on.
Addiction awareness: why support not stigma works
You can’t shame a person out of addiction
Telling an addict they are bad, stupid, a bloody idiot, embarrassing, disappointing, lazy, crazy – it’s understandable, sure, because addiction is immensely painful and frustrating for loved ones. Addiction causes a lot of damage, and the tremors are far-reaching. BUT, shame won’t beat an addiction down. These comments reinforce addiction because they match what most people who are addicted believe about themselves. This compounds the cycles of drinking and using. Addiction recovery becomes possible when core beliefs shift, and when people begin to care about themselves and others. This creates a gap for treatment to fill.
Empathy gives people an experience of feeling different
Whilst no one can fix a person with addiction, showing empathy can give them an experience of who they really are. It may not make a difference immediately, but if they have enough experiences of being treated as a valuable human being, they may find their own route to change.
Support is challenging in all the right ways
Specialist addiction therapy is as much about offering positive challenge, as it is about being non-judgmental and empathic. Skilled professionals know when and how to confront denial around the harm of addiction, and how to reinforce a person’s sense of self in the process. Stigmatising a person in addiction is the wrong sort of challenge because it closes down their willingness to be vulnerable.