The Addiction Epidemic

By Jessye Sedergren


We need to have a serious conversation. As a nation, we are living in a state of emeregency. There is an epidemic that has infiltrated our communities. According to the CDC, in 2015, 47,055 people have died from it, and that number will likely reach 60,000 by the end of 2016.  It has been declared a national emergency, but efforts to cure the disease have been alarmingly uneffective. The number of deaths is increasing every day, but neither presidential candidate even mentioned it.  Unsettling, isn't it?

You are likely wondering what I could be referring to.  Admittedly, I am hesitant to tell you, as the stigma attached to the carriers of this disease generally has side effects of eye rolls, snide comments and victim shaming by those who do not understand.  However, the consequences of this disease are fatal in nearly all cases. Something needs to change. Something must be done.  I cannot continue to be silent.  I am a carrier of this disease, but miraculously, I am in remission.  I found a way to survive, which puts me in a unique and rare position to speak out for my fellow carriers who are dying from our disease. I must do this, because I am only one person, and I cannot alone reach all who suffer. So, here it goes. My name is Jessye, and I'm a drug addict.

Addiction, and the stigma attached to it, has been around throughout history.  It literally kills those who suffer from it. It is unlike any other disease, in that the side effects cause its sufferer's to behave in ways that can, and normally do, produce proufoundly painful and horrific consequences for both the addict, and all of the people around them.  This is what causes the stigma. It's a heartbreaking disease.

I want to share with you something I wrote when I had just gotten out of treatment. i had 34 days off heroin, alcohol, meth and crack cocaine. These were my drugs of choice, and also the cocktail that brought me to my knees and broke me. My family told me that they had given up on me. I had lied, and cheated on the father of my kids, stolen and lost everything. I was homeless, couch hopping, unemployable, broke, utterly hopless and terrified. I desperately wanted sobriety.  Despite having acquired a great deal of self-knowledge about my condition through the 16 years I spent trying to get sober and maintain recovery, I had absolutely no idea how to exist in my own skin, let alone doing that sober. In short: I was a hot mess.  This is what I wrote:

I wish addiction was something that was more understood. I wish people knew what it feels like to need a substance to survive, and how that substance takes precedence over everything else in life. I wish they knew what it was like to obsess over that substance every single day, all day long. Everything else is secondary. Everything. It turns you into a mindless drone, who only lives to
serve that substance. You don’t want to cause hurt and agony, so you lie, sneak around, cheat and manipulate. You live a horrific double life. If your head happens to clear enough, or the consequences are severe enough, and you seek
help...IF you get that lucky, (and getting to this point is not a choice. It’s situational), and you somehow find it in yourself to trust the people offering help, which goes against every grain of your being, you might stay sober long enough to feel human again.

Then, you have to face the wreckage you caused while you were walking around like a zombie. Literally, imagine a zombie waking up and having to face his wake of destruction. Go through that without using the one vice you have used to numb emotions. Now, while you’re doing that? Figure out how to live life like normal people. Figure out how to relate to people. You look like a grownup, so act likeone. Handle your business. You have no practice, and have the emotional
unbalance of a 3 year old, but just figure it out. This leveling out process will take years. And don’t use in between.

ALLL the while, if you don’t CONSTANTLY keep yourself in check, your brain will try and convince you that you in fact, do not have a problem with drugs and alcohol, or you can do it just once. Once drugs reenter the system, this whole process begins again.

Very few of us recover. I don’t want sympathy. We don’t want sympathy (okay, some probably us do want sympathy, but that’s another story). We just don’t want to hear that this is a choice. That we are weak willed. We just want you to understand it. As you can possibly see, at this point, just living this life is hard enough. We don’t need to hear the rest of it. Thanks.

As I said before, I am sober still, and have been for over two years.  I have a new lease on life.  I did not get here easily.  I am not employable, honest, useful, and loving. I'm responsible, I don't steal, I pay my bills, I have integreity, and I'm an incredible mother to my twins.  I do not look or act like the stigma attached to "drug addict" would have you believe. I am not a bad person. I never have been. I told you all of this, because I need your help; we need your help. We need to end the stigma attached to addiction.  This will not, alone, help addicts and save their lives. There are many evidence based treatments available, but discussing those is outside the scope of this narrative. We must make this simple beginning before we can proceed.

No one wants to be a drug addict. No one. We don't choose it. If you love an addict, good. Set boundaries, and protect your heart. Know that you can love someone and not be physically present in their life. But please do not confuse setting boundaries with shaming someone. I speak from experience when I tell you that they are not doing any of the things they are doing in order to hurt anyone. They are not using to escape. They are using to overcome a craving beyond their mental control.