I have spent a long time working in recovery services, and when I think about recovery, I think of all of the people I’ve met along the way. I can flip through a mental photo album and remember each person’s story, which in some ways are all the same and in some ways unique to the individual. When I flip through the album I don’t see a single face of someone who set out to become addicted to drugs or alcohol. My photo album looks a lot like what yours might look like: moms, teachers, best friends, baseball fans, book lovers, movie buffs, gardeners, bakers, neighbors, friends, and family.
It’s not an accident that my pages look a lot like yours, it’s because they’re the same people. Your family member might have surgery and a prescription for painkillers and then become a member of my family. Your friend may sample something that was laced with an ingredient designed to be instantly and powerfully addictive and then become my friend. Your colleague may be struggling with their mental health and trying to self-medicate with alcohol rather than seek or pay the high cost of treatment and then eventually become my colleague.
We’ve created such a stigma around addiction in our society that most people don’t want to recognize the people in recovery as people who would fit in seamlessly in their own lives. There’s a temptation to treat addiction as a weakness and recovery as a punishment. But recovery is a strength. The women who walk out of these doors at the Brighton Recovery Center for Women after completing the program are some of the strongest women I have ever met. They have built themselves back up from almost nothing, against unimaginable odds, in the face of a society who thinks they’re not worthy.
When they first enter the program, they are desperate, undernourished physically and spiritually, and feeling lower than they ever hope to feel. They have the same inner voice telling them that they’re worthless that we all do, but theirs are shouting at them and using real words that their friends and loved ones have said to them at the height of their addiction. But through our long-term peer-driven recovery model, they start to value themselves again. They meet other people in the program, they share the ugliest truths about themselves, and they still find love and acceptance. And they help each other become whole again. One of the secrets I’ll never tell them is that their sisters didn’t fix them and they didn’t fix their sisters: the act of building someone else up rebuilt themselves. That’s why Brighton Center has “giving back” as one of the steps to self-sufficiency: helping others is soothing to the soul.
So what happens after these women get the drugs out of their systems and they learn the skills to live an addiction-free life? Then the real fear kicks in – the fear of facing all of you.
Addiction and diabetes affect the population at nearly the same rate with the same seeming randomness and yet we only concern ourselves with helping the victims of one. Addiction tears apart families and communities like no other disease out there, but we keep trying to hide from it instead of providing the support and resources that may help before problems get out of control. Imagine if people felt as comfortable seeking help from addiction as they do from other physical diseases. Imagine if we had safeguards in place to prevent fatal overdoses before our loved ones have a chance to recover.
The women who enter our doors are never the same people who leave back through them again. They meet themselves along the way, and it is a joy to watch recovery act as the key that unlocks their true personalities from the prison of addiction. I promise to help them find that key and treat them with dignity along the way. All I ask is that you are open to doing the same.
Anita Prater has worked in the field of advocacy and recovery for over 34 years. She has a M. Ed. in Agency and Community Counseling, presents at conferences, and continues to advocate for recovery in the Northern Kentucky community. She has been invited by numerous organizations to discuss and demonstrate the success of the peer-driven recovery model and has spent the past 15 years as the Director of Recovery Services at Brighton Center, where she oversees the 108-bed peer-driven Recovery Center for Women in Boone County, where the completion rate is over 60% and the Sober Living program. According to The White House, more than 40 million Americans 12 years and older had a past-year substance use disorder, and less than 20% of them received treatment. More than 100,000 Americans die each year of drug and alcohol overdoses.