Addiction Does Not Discriminate - Society Does
Stigma - A strong lack of respect for a person or a group of people or a bad opinion of them because they have done something society does not approve of. Also a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.
I was 23 years old - heavy into my drinking and in denial that I could actually be addicted. All I knew was that I needed help coping with a miscarriage I had two years prior that resulted from the hands of my then abusive boyfriend. I had became close friends with a women and two men that were enrolled in a college course with me. I looked up them, they were all 10 years older than me and had wonderful lives. I had needed their friendship - yet I noticed they started distancing themselves from me, so I one day I asked the woman what I had done wrong and she stated "You reek of alcohol, you are such a loser."
I held onto the pain from that statement and perception that I was in fact a loser for almost two decades after. Oh yeah, and I drank more to forget that too and feel like a winner. It didn't work - and that comment came to mind every time I felt bad about myself - which was often. I never did ask for help, I hid in shame and eventually I ended up losing everything I ever had.
For the past 23 years of my life - the last 8 of them living a amazingly beautiful life in recovery - I have been around a tremendous amount of people who suffer from addiction to substances of all sorts. I have been in treatment, in meetings and online groups with people from all walks of life; teachers, stay at home moms, professors, doctors, lawyers, judges, professional athletes, high school students, high school drop outs, actors, business owners, rich people and poor people, the young and the old, the list goes on and on and I assume you are getting the point. But they all have some things in common too; they all mean something to someone. They are mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, wives, husbands and friends and they have all been shamed at least once in their life by being called a loser, meth head, junkie, wine-o, crackhead, stoner or tweeker. Any of these negative connotations place a false belief onto others that substance abuse is a lifestyle choice.
88.2% of people who are struggling with addiction have felt stigmatized - therefore silencing them by fear and shame." Melanie Haber - VP of Brand Development at Recovery Brands.
Being Silenced Into Shame By Stigmas Can Be Life Threatening
Stigmas not only affect the person who is struggling with the addiction, but often stigmas can also interfere with the way the family communicates their efforts in trying to help their loved one who is suffering - and quite often they don't even realize it.
I had the opportunity to speak with Jacob, who prefers to currently remain anonymous. Jacob had grown up with very loving, nurturing and well to do parents. His upbringing was extremely positive, his parents were both in his life then and now, always supportive and encouraging him to do the best. He stated they were very hard working, everyone was always happy and always shared hugs and kisses.
Jacob's first experience with drugs was when he was hanging out with his older brother who was in his senior year of high school - Jacob was 10 and witnessed his brother smoking pot with his friends. Jacob was unaware then that his old brother had also been using meth. The family had witnessed his brother's life take a dramatic turn and worse; he became homeless and only focused on getting his next fix. Until this day Jacob's brother is still using - the focus on his siblings (his sister also became addicted to cocaine) had allowed Jacob's excessive use of drugs to fly under the radar. He started smoking pot at 16 and then that turned to experimenting with cocaine. He came off as the perfect child in his parents eyes and in the community; he showed his parents a tremendous amount of respect, he played every sport, worked hard, hung out with all the right crowds and he received great grades - no one knew that "The Golden Child" was addicted to cocaine.
"Whether you grow up in a nurturing family or the complete opposite, it doesn't matter - it will find you, it will find who it wants." - Jacob
"If My Dad Would Have Said More, It May Have Changed My Life" - Jacob.
It was very rare for an argument take place between Jacob and his father - he had too much respect to go up against that man that raised him so lovingly. One afternoon while Jacob was at school his father had found pot in his room and his father confronted him with it. Jacob stood up to him and said "I earn the money - I have the right to do with it what I want", his father left the room with a look of disappointment.
Jacob continued partying and living the lifestyle that he felt suited him.
At 18 years old, he found out his girlfriend was pregnant and he was full blown addicted to cocaine - he had no idea what he was going to do, had no intention to stop using and felt he had it all under control still - yet he told her that he had quit all drugs and his life became one big lie that everyone believed. There came a turning point when his daughter was 3 months old when he realized he actually needed cocaine to keep in character. He was more anxious to get his next fix than to be around the ones he loved. If he didn't have it he became very agitated and couldn't bear to be around any of his family.
There was so much denial that his parents struggled with regarding his siblings that it wasn't very shocking to Jacob when he found himself and his father in the garage with the only thing separating him between the man that was his best friend was bunch of lines of cocaine and his dad didn't have much to say. His dad was his baseball coach, his football coach, his best friend and Jacob was sitting in front of him high as a kite. His father knew it was there and only asked "How's it going?". Jacob knew he needed help at the time, he didn't know how to ask for it and he watched his father leave the room full of pain and disappointment.
At 19 years, when his daughter was three months old, he went on a binge. He had no idea that it was even possible to overdose on cocaine - yet he did. His belief that he was bulletproof was no longer acceptable. After he had come to he had found himself pacing his back yard at envisioning his parents finding him dead and he never had felt so low. This is when Jacob surrendered to his addiction.
"We never want to believe it's going to happen to us, or our parents never want to believe it will happen to their kids or loved ones but the one thing I can see now that what made all of this possible was stigma. With my parents it's always been such an area that been swept under the rug even with my brother and sister there is so much denial that they struggle with even to this day which led to them being in denial about me struggling. There have been so many times when I knew they were concerned but they waited for me to talk first - which was never going to happen. It's rare for someone to open up before the caring person to " - Jacob
Jacob would like to stress that he does not put the blame on anyone for any of his actions but does state that they was an opportunity for a huge turning point in his life when him and his father were in the garage. He counsels parents and people who are struggling now through a help line and he encouraging anyone who has a concern with a loved one facing addiction to say something - to speak up every chance you can get because the person struggling will rarely open up first or the first time.
If you would like to get involved to help end the stigmas, please join Recovery Brands in their efforts with the Lives Challenge.
The path toward a more accepting tomorrow must start today. And it starts by changing the way we talk about addiction.
We need a powerful message to catalyze this change: We challenge you to create a 1-3 minute video that inspires those struggling with addiction to seek treatment, while reducing the stigma associated with the disease.
LIVES CHALLENGE VIDEO
Two Grand Prizes:
-- The $5,000 People's Choice Award
-- The $5,000 Judge's Choice Award
LIVES Challenge Judges:
Chris Henderson, Three Doors Down
David Sheff, NYT Best-selling author, Clean
Justin Luke Riley, president and CEO of Young People in Recovery
Anne Fletcher, NYT best-selling author, author of Inside Rehab, award-winning medical writer, and speaker
Patty Powers - Nationally recognized certified recovery coach, recovery coach for A&E TV Series "Relapse"
Chris Bailey - Co-founder of Holdspace, an organization that creates content and orchestrates tours to raise awareness around addiction, healthy eating and living, social inequility and injustice issues.
Maia Szalavitz - Neuroscience journalist writing for publications such as VICE and TIME, and author of Unbroken Brain
LIVES Challenge Supporters:
A few supporting organizations who are helping to share our message include: Pura Vida, Young People in Recovery, National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), Kula for Karma, HealMyPTSD, Moms United to End the War on Drugs, The Mighty, The Campaign to Change Direction, We All Rise Together, Stamp Out Stigma, Our Young Addicts, Holdspace, and Sober Living Soulful Living
Abhilash Patel, co-founder and president of Recovery Brands, is an entrepreneur, investor and digital marketer who helps companies to grow and thrive. He has been in the internet marketing field for almost 10 years, founding the digital marketing agency RankLab Interactive in 2007 and then moving on to co-found Recovery Brands in 2009.
Abhilash received his Bachelor of Arts in Economics/Philosophy from Columbia University in 2002, and his MBA from UCLA's Anderson School of Management FEMBA program in 2012. While at Anderson, Abhilash was an MDE fellow at the Price Center for Entrepreneurial Studies. He was a guest speaker for numerous classes while and since attending business school.
In addition to his current role, Abhilash is an active venture investor, advisor to a VC fund in Santa Monica and multiple growing startups. He is a budding triathlete, loves to golf and above all spend time with family, his wife Kelly and two young boys Bodhi (4) and Archer (2).