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Hope Justified

How I Hope To Keep Parents From Losing Children To Addiction
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We all understand on some level that life is a journey and not a destination, but it is hard to keep that perspective when we are choked by our fears and lost in our day to day dramas.

I have shared the journey of my family through the painful maze of addictive illness very publicly, and I have always promoted the concept of choosing hope over despair. Today, I feel so lucky to see both of my sons alive and well. My hope was justified because they are survivors, and as a proud mama, I am truly blessed. But, I am also aware that today is a gift, and that I would diminish that gift by engaging in worry over what tomorrow might bring. The world of recovery is expanding, and people across the cultural and economic spectrum are joining together to show that recovery is not only possible, but that it can be joyful and restorative. My sons have a loving community that welcomes them unconditionally and without judgment.

Both of my sons struggled with heroin addiction for decades, compounded by the damaging effects of a criminal justice system based on punishment and retribution rather than rehabilitation as well. My older son found his way out of the maze of addiction 13 years ago and works as an alcohol and drug counselor, and my younger son was able to find and sustain recovery 21 months ago. Witnessing them walking together with candles during a recent celebration of recovery event pushed my heart right through my chest.

But, at the same time, I am so aware of how many people we have tragically lost to this disease. The only hope for mothers who have lost their children in this senseless and heart-crushing way is for their stories to pave the way for a better tomorrow for others.

Perhaps it is my age, but I sense that we are at a critical point in the history of our nation. I feel a war being ignited between the good angels and the entrenched demons in our nature which seek to diminish, blame and, yes, discriminate against others in a vain attempt to bolster one's own self interests. I believe at my core that we are only as strong as our weakest link, and that only with a unified respect for the common good of all, will we survive, not only as a nation, but as a people.

The intersection of the drug war, racism, the war on poverty, guns and violence is clear and shameful. We must press back against those who seek to demonize people who are "different," as our diversity is our strength. We are a nation of immigrants, so we must not shun those who seek and are willing to work for the same American dream that we do. Although I have been working for years to reduce the stigma associated with addictive illness and advocate for therapeutic justice, the interrelationship between all of these issues compels me to broaden my message.

Through our non-profit advocacy organization, A New PATH we are making progress with building a strong coalition of voices who demand an end to the war on drugs. I am proud to be a signer for Proposition 64 (The Adult Use of Marijuana Act) on the California ballot this November. There are other advances across the country to end punitive prohibitionist policies and to adopt strategies that reduce the harms associated with drug use and substance use disorders. Our Moms United to End the War on Drugs campaign now has representatives in 32 states, Mexico, Canada, The Philippines, Kenya and the UK. These issues are global, and when mothers and fathers unite around the world, I believe that we will pave the way to a peaceful society where all lives are respected and honored. This should be the universal hope of all parents for the futures of our children.

Gretchen Burns Bergman is Executive Director and Co-Founder of A New PATH (Parents for Addiction Treatment & Healing) and Lead Organizer of PATH's international Moms United to End the War on Drugs Campaign.