The following is from my friend Ryan...
I wanted to let all of my friends, family, co-workers, and acquaintances know that I have a terminal illness and I'm in the fight for my life. I don't know how I got it, and that doesn't matter. The wonders of modern medicine cannot help me. They cannot tell me how much time I have, so I try to live each day to the fullest. What I do know is that I can keep this thing in remission one day at a time. If I choose my actions thoughtfully each day and carry my higher power with me, I can live a long and full life just as anyone else can. I am suffering from a thing called addiction.
When I drink alcohol the pleasure center in my brain kicks into overdrive and rewards me with a feeling of euphoria which helps me stuff the pain and harm I've caused in my life from my previous drinking episodes. Or it helps me escape life's unwanted circumstances of which I have no control. It then puts me to sleep, so my body can rest where I otherwise would not be able to. I'm sick the next morning so I need to repeat the cycle again. I don't remember what I did last night. I don't know why people are looking at me in disgust. I need to drink again to make the nerves, self-pity, paranoia, and self-loathing go away. I am an alcoholic.
Maybe you read the first couple sentences and your heart sank. Another person you've known for years will suffer from an untreatable illness to the bitter end. Maybe you felt sorry for me and my family. Maybe a lump in your throat developed and your eyes started to tear up. That is a normal human sympathetic reaction to this type of heavy news. Did your reaction change as you read on? Did thoughts like: wow...."he should just try a little self control", or "if he cared about his family he wouldn't do that", "what a loser, he tricked me into feeling sorry for him".
I am an advocate for recovery. I want to change the way people view others afflicted by addiction. I want people to rally behind someone in active addiction or in recovery just as they would with a friend in chemo or remission from cancer. This is one of the most prolific public health threats and is only getting worse. We as a society need to change our perspective and support a movement to dispel the social stigma of substance abuse that currently exists. Remember HIV/AIDS? It's onset came with paranoia, stigma, generalizations, and fear until science stepped in and revealed facts. A courageous community stepped forward and created a movement towards responsible thinking, medical advancements, acceptance, and treatment.
Think about how small the HIV/AIDS community is compared to addiction. You can do an informal scientific study using your hands: on your left hand, count the number of people you know who've contracted the HIV virus. Now use your right hand and count the number of people you know or suspect who have an alcohol or drug problem (feel free to use your toes when you run out of fingers). Now answer this question....how did such a relatively small group of people surmount such a daunting epidemic and enact change, policy, laws, healthcare, and generalized education in our schools to help our kids avoid contracting such a disease where the substance abuse community has not?
In my view, the answer is ANONYMITY. Why must someone in recovery, or someone needing treatment remain anonymous? Because even though this disease affects nearly all of our lives in one form or another, it's icky, gross, shameful, pathetic, weak, disgraceful, socially unacceptable.
I choose not to be anonymous. I am a person in recovery. I am an advocate for recovery. I hope you are too. Maybe someday together we can push to change the stigma and help our fellows into recovery and support the sober community.