Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Note: this post based on my own experiences and, as with all my posts, are my personal opinions and may not reflect the opinion of my employer.

Before I worked for Hazelden, my knowledge of addiction was limited to what I'd learned from media and common observation. The last three and half years has brought my level of understanding to a different level. Not just from learning the talking points, but from meeting individuals who are survivors and for whom each day is a struggle and a miracle rolled into one.

My naivety was evident to everyone when one of my co-workers shared that she was a recovering meth addict.

"A meth addict? But you look so normal!"

I guess I had this vision in my head that all meth addicts must be stick thin with paper-like skin and pock marks from where they picked at themselves. She was healthy and happy and had a great complexion. Every once in awhile, I'll still be surprised by admissions of past drug or alcohol addiction by someone. It's a great reminder for me that addiction is an equal opportunity disease.

I've learned that the stigma attached to addiction is because alcoholism and drug use has been viewed by many as a moral or character flaw. And although addiction/alcoholism was recognized as a brain and physical disorder by the medical profession years ago, that belief is still held by many. Sometimes it may be easier to judge someone's character than to understand a very complex disease.

Maybe because sometimes it is easier to be angry at a living, breathing person than an abstract concept of the disease. It may be hard to separate the pain that the disease is causing you when the pain is delivered by someone who is supposed to love you.

There have been many times when I've talked about addiction as a disease that individuals have told me that I'm wrong and I don't understand the way it really is. Many of the comments came from people who have lived with an addict/alcoholic and perhaps have emotional scars from the experience. I can't blame them for feeling that way and I'm not sure anything I share with them (either scientific fact or stories of redemption), would be heard.

It's not about forgiveness, it's about understanding.

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